Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Questions (187)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

272 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he has observed an undercurrent of realignment within Europe in the context of the future of the European Union; if this entails Mediterranean, African, Nordic, British Commonwealth or other configurations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38704/08]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The current international situation poses very real challenges for the European Union. The Union's agenda at present is dominated by such issues as the international financial crisis, climate change, the Union's role in the world and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The recent European Council dealt with all these issues in a very positive and effective manner. The Union is clearly playing an important leadership role in the global arena, especially in relation to the financial crisis and climate change.

While I have not detected any significant realignment among the Member States in recent discussions within the European Council and the Council of Ministers, the fact is that all EU policies represent compromises between the Member States and their respective national positions. This is the way in which the EU has always functioned and its success requires openness to compromise on the part of the Member States, mutual goodwill and a commitment to shared objectives.

The EU's relations with neighbouring countries and regional groups are receiving considerable attention at present. When it comes to the conduct of external relations in a body as large and diverse as the European Union, there will always be issues of particular interest to certain Member States or groups of States, based on the existence of traditional economic and cultural ties with third countries.

Last week the EU participated in a Ministerial meeting of the Northern Dimension with the Nordic partners, Norway and Iceland, and with Russia. This week, I attended a Foreign Ministers' meeting of the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean, which took place in Marseilles. This meeting involved the EU and countries from the Mediterranean and North Africa and is aimed at reinvigorating the Union's relations with this vital neighbouring region. Later this month, the European Commission will submit to the Council proposals for a future "Eastern Partnership" within the European Neighbourhood Policy.

The Union's role in the world and its relations with third countries and regional groupings is likely to be a matter of continued priority in the years ahead. Indeed, I would remind the House that a key aim of the Lisbon Treaty is to provide greater coherence in the EU's external relations, including through the appointment of a permanent President of the European Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.