Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Questions (193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 200)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

280 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if there has emerged to date, evidence of a tendency to realign countries within the European Union with particular reference to the possible emergence of a two speed Europe; if in such circumstances Ireland is expected to become aligned with Eurosceptic countries or the British Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38712/08]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

285 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the influence of organised Eurosceptics in the context of the debate on the future of Europe; if a particular trend has been identified or established; if leading groups are known to have particular associations in more that one country; if economic or political objectives detrimental to Irish interests have been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38717/08]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

286 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he and his EU colleagues have examined the wider implications of the influence of Euroscepticism with particular reference to the future of the union and the smaller countries in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38718/08]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 280, 285 and 286 together.

The results of the comprehensive independent research, commissioned by the Government, which were published in September, confirmed that our people want Ireland to continue to be fully involved in the Union. Seventy per cent of Irish people agree that membership is a good thing, while just eight per cent disagreed. In that sense, the referendum result cannot be described as an expression of anti-EU sentiment. Ireland remains one of the countries most positively disposed to membership of the European Union.

It is evident, however, that many voters had genuinely-held concerns regarding aspects of the Treaty and these must be addressed. Between now and the December European Council, the Government will work closely with the EU Presidency, the other Member States and with the Union's institutions, with a view to defining the elements of a solution which will deal with Irish concerns and also be acceptable to our EU partners.

Our determination to ensure that Ireland remains at the heart of the European Union has been strengthened in light of the recent global economic and financial upheavals. Our membership of the Union, and particularly the support our financial system received from the European Central Bank, were vital in securing our national position. In the absence of these stabilising factors, the experience of other countries suggests that Ireland could well have encountered far greater difficulties.

It is clear that an element of Euro scepticism exists in most Member States. This is to be expected in open pluralist democracies like ours. However, there is no future for Ireland in aligning ourselves with marginal Euro sceptical elements across the Union. Our best interests will be served by remaining at the heart of the Union and working closely with countries that share our values and aspirations. The Government is firmly of the view that Treaty-based arrangements between sovereign States offer the best guarantee that the interests of small countries will be protected and advanced.

Ireland has always been strongly opposed to any concept of a two-speed Europe and that continues to be the case. The other EU Member States share this view. Any such development would not be good for Ireland nor for the Union as a whole. That is why there is such determination across the Union to arrive at a solution with regard to the Lisbon Treaty that all 27 Member States can endorse.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

281 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if European countries with Eurosceptic tendencies can withdraw from the Union while maintaining their existing trade arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38713/08]

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At present, the Treaties make no provision for the withdrawal of a State from the Union. Under the Lisbon Treaty, if ratified, this however would change, as explicit provision is made there for withdrawal.

The withdrawal of any country from the Union would have a profound impact, including on foreign trade. Such a move would require a country to re-negotiate the terms of its external trading relationships not only with the Union, but also with individual countries, such as China, the US and India. This would pose very major difficulties, especially of course for a small country.

I believe, in this overall context, that it is important to stress that it is the strong position of all EU Member States that their place is at the heart of Europe, a view which in Ireland's case was emphatically confirmed by the recent research of people's views commissioned by the Government and published in September.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

282 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has identified the possibility of a better deal for Ireland as indicated by some opponents of the Lisbon treaty of reform; if he has discussed with the proponents the progress to date in securing a better deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38714/08]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

283 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has identified willingness at EU level to renegotiate the Lisbon treaty of reform; if countries with whom Ireland has major trading links have put forward suggestions in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38715/08]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 282 and 283 together.

While there is no appetite among Member States for a renegotiation of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU always works on the basis of accommodating the interests of all Member States. It has in particular an admirable record of consistently finding satisfactory solutions to challenging issues.

From discussions with EU counterparts, it is clear that there is a strong desire among other Member States to find ways of accommodating Ireland. Our task in the period ahead will be to translate this general willingness to address Irish concerns into commitments that all Member States can endorse. It is, of course, strongly in our interest, including in the context of the current global economic and financial uncertainty, to find a solution that will fully protect Ireland's position within the Union.

Between now and the December European Council, the Government will work closely with the Presidency, the other Member States and the Union's institutions in the search for a solution that will serve Ireland's economic, political and wider interests in the years ahead.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

284 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions which have taken place at EU level to facilitate the forthcoming European elections, if as appears likely, all 27 countries have not ratified the Lisbon treaty before that date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38716/08]

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The Government are aware of the sensitivities surrounding the timetable for the coming year as it relates to the European elections which are due to be held in June 2009.

In Brussels on 6 October, I addressed a plenary session of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee on the Lisbon Treaty. My appearance before the Committee provided a welcome opportunity to engage in a dialogue with many of the members of that Committee, to hear their views and to update them on developments.

Earlier this week, on Monday and Tuesday, I held meetings with my colleagues from Spain, Italy and Portugal en marge of a Foreign Ministers' meeting in Marseilles, during which we discussed a number of Lisbon-related issues, including the European elections.

It is not possible at this point to set an exact timetable for potential developments in 2009. If the Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified before June, the European Parliament elections will be conducted under the existing treaty provisions, as provided for in the Nice Treaty.

The decision on what basis the European Parliament elections will be held will be taken collectively by the European Council, probably in December.

Questions Nos. 285 and 286 answered with Question No. 280.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

287 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will identify the number of countries which have to date ratified the Lisbon treaty of reform; if it is expected that such countries may proceed with the European project leaving remaining countries an opportunity to rejoin at a later stage; if this is expected to be possible or beneficial to Europe or Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38719/08]

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To date, the Treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by twenty-two Member States, with ratification awaited by Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Poland. Two of these states have already completed their parliamentary procedures. It is anticipated that by January next year, Ireland may well be the only State not to have ratified the Treaty.

It is clear that the concerns expressed by the Irish people on 12 June this year need to be addressed. Similarly, there is an equally strong desire among our EU partners to see the Treaty ratified. There is, I should emphasise, great willingness on the part of other Member States to work actively with us in the search for a solution.

The Government have always been firmly opposed to any idea of a two-speed Europe and this continues to be the case. The other Member States share this view. Such a development would not be good for Ireland nor for the Union as a whole. That is why there is such determination across the Union to arrive at a solution on the Lisbon Treaty that all 27 Member States can endorse.