1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if the arrangements for his forthcoming visit to Berlin have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7861/03]
Vol. 565 No. 3
1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if the arrangements for his forthcoming visit to Berlin have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7861/03]
2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the arrangements for his forthcoming meeting with the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Verhofstadt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7864/03]
3 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the spring European Council meeting in Brussels on 21 and 22 March 2003. [7960/03]
4 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the likely agenda for his meetings with Chancellor Schröder and Prime Minister Verhofstadt on 3 April 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7961/03]
5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his bilateral meetings on the margins of the recent EU summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7972/03]
6 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcome of the EU March summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8106/03]
7 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the spring European Council meeting in Brussels on 20 March 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8558/03]
8 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his bilateral meetings on the margins of the recent spring European Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8559/03]
9 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his recent meeting in Dublin with the president of the European convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. [8767/03]
10 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting on 26 March 2003 with the president of the convention on the future of Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8830/03]
11 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach his policy priorities for the emergency EU summit on 30 June 2003 to discuss the draft constitution produced by the convention on the future of Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8940/03]
12 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in Dublin on 26 March 2003; the matters discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8941/03]
13 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach his priorities for his forthcoming meeting with Chancellor Schröder [8993/03]
14 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach his priorities for his forthcoming meeting with the Belgian Prime Minister. [8994/03]
15 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Luxembourg with heads of government of like-minded EU member states on 1 April 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9532/03]
16 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Verhofstadt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9534/03]
17 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the German Chancellor, Mr. Schröder; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9535/03]
18 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 3 April 2003 with Prime Minister Verhofstadt of Belgium. [9558/03]
19 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 3 April 2002 with Chancellor Schröder of Germany. [9559/03]
20 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with representatives of seven of the smaller EU states in Brussels on 1 April 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9560/03]
21 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meeting in early April 2003 of heads of government of like-minded states which he attended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9679/03]
22 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 26 March 2003 with the president of the convention on the future of Europe, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9681/03]
23 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the agenda for his forthcoming meeting with Chancellor Schröder; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9682/03]
24 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his participation in the special meeting of eight EU heads of government in Luxembourg on 1 April 2003. [9762/03]
25 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Chancellor Schröder of Germany. [9763/03]
26 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his telephone discussions with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, regarding the humanitarian situation in Baghdad. [10542/03]
27 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he raised the situation in Iraq with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair during their talks in Hillsborough, County Down, on 7 and 8 April 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10544/03]
28 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached during his recent telephone conversation with the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10601/03]
29 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached during his talks on Iraq at Hillsborough with the President of the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10602/03]
30 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached during his talks on Iraq at Hillsborough with the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10603/03]
31 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the use of Shannon Airport or any other airports here by the United States military during the current Iraq war in the course of his talks on Iraq at Hillsborough with the President of the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10604/03]
32 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the overflight facility granted to the United States military by this State during the current Iraq war in the course of his talks on Iraq at Hillsborough with the President of the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10605/03]
33 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the numbers of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured during the current Iraq war in the course of his talks on Iraq at Hillsborough with the President of the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10606/03]
34 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the numbers of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured during the current Iraq war in the course of his talks on Iraq at Hillsborough with the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10607/03]
35 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone conversation with the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on 7 April 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10656/03]
36 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussions with the US President, George Bush, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in Hillsborough on the issue of Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11092/03]
37 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent conversations with the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11093/03]
38 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any recent official contacts he has had with any members of the United States Administration, aside from President Bush, on the Iraq war; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11094/03]
39 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the agenda for the EU summit in Athens on 16 and 17 April 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11096/03]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 39, inclusive, together.
As regards the European Council meeting in Brussels on 21 and 22 March, the House will recall that on Tuesday, 25 March, the earliest opportunity following the Council, one hour and 20 minutes of Government time was allocated to statements on the Council, including a question and answer session. I would refer Deputies to my comprehensive statement on that occasion and the subsequent wide-ranging question and answer session. I do not wish to take up the valuable time of the House in repetition so I will not dwell too long on the Council in this reply. As I indicated in my statement, the meeting was a productive one. We built on the work of the past three years of economic reform and recommitted all member states to achieving the European Union's ambitious ten year Lisbon strategy.
We were all agreed that the current economic downturn makes it essential to increase the capacities of our economies to grow and prosper. Since we agreed the Lisbon agenda three years ago, we have made significant progress. Five million new jobs have been created in the EU. Unemployment has also declined by two million. Other areas where we have got results include opening up energy markets, creating a single European sky, putting in place an integrated Europe-wide financial market, agreeing a Union patent and an agreement on the taxation of energy. However, the European Council recognised that much more still needs to be done.
Improving the employment position is central to the Lisbon strategy. In this context, the European Council invited the Commission to establish a European employment task force which will report in time for the 2004 spring European Council. I am confident that this task force will give added momentum to the employment strategy by rapidly identifying practical measures which will increase the European Union's employment levels. We also agreed that competitiveness must once again be placed centre stage and that entrepreneurship must be supported, in particular small business start-ups.
On the social agenda, the European Council underlined the importance of a number of key items, including the new action plans for social inclusion, pensions and care of the elderly.
International developments dominated much of the agenda of this Council. On Iraq, our shared hope was that the conflict would end with the minimum loss of human life and suffering. The EU is committed to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political stability of Iraq. We respect the right of the people of Iraq, including all persons belonging to minorities. We called on the Security Council to give the United Nations a strong mandate, particularly as regards co-ordinating assistance once the conflict in Iraq is over.
We also discussed the implications of the current crisis for the Middle East region. The importance of progress in the Middle East peace process was underlined. We agreed on the importance of the immediate publication and implementation of the quartet road map which has been prepared by the UN, the US, the EU and Russia. The Council also discussed other items on the international agenda, including Cyprus, the western Balkans and Korea.
I had a brief informal meeting with Prime Minster Blair en marge of the Council. I also had informal contacts with a number of other heads of government.
On Wednesday, 26 March, the president of the European convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, visited Dublin. At our meeting, at which I was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, we had a constructive and useful discussion on the progress of the convention. I stressed to the president Ireland's constructive and positive approach to the convention. I pointed out the active role that Ireland's representatives on the convention had played in its work. I outlined our concerns in a number of areas, in particular, that the principle of equality between member states and the overall balance between the institutions should be retained, that unanimity should be retained in the area of taxation and some elements of justice and home affairs issues.
The president will brief members of the European Council on the work of the convention at an informal Council meeting prior to the signing of the accession treaty in Athens tomorrow. The question of whether a special European Council should be held in June to discuss the final report of the convention is to be decided by the Greek Presidency shortly. While not strictly a matter for the president, I reiterated my view that there should be an adequate period of reflection between the conclusion of the convention and the commencement of the intergovernmental conference. In the course of his visit, the president attended a lunch hosted in his honour by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He also paid a courtesy call on President McAleese.
On Tuesday, 1 April, I attended a meeting in Luxembourg of like-minded states. Also in attendance were the prime ministers of the Benelux countries, Austria, Finland and Portugal. The purpose of the meeting was to examine common principles to underpin an approach to institutional matters on which all members could agree. Our meeting found a broad range of agreement.
In addition, we agreed: that the formula agreed at Nice which guarantees equality between member states should continue to apply in the appointment of the European Commission; that the President of the Commission should be elected by the European Parliament subject to modalities to be agreed – these modalities might include involvement of the national parliaments, as we have suggested; the desirability of retaining the essential elements of the system for rotation in regard to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the European Council; that there should be double-hatting, or a single person in the High Representative and Commission External Relations post; that there should be no new institutions; that there should be a period of reflection between the final European convention report and the commencement of the intergovernmental conference; and that there should be a convention before each intergovernmental conference.
A follow up meeting, to which the heads of state or government of 11 accession states have been invited, is to be held tomorrow. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and I will attend that meeting.
In addition, a paper co-sponsored by the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Roche, and the government representatives of 15 other countries at the convention, from both member and accession countries, was submitted to the convention. This paper set out the principles and premises that should underpin reform of the European Union's institutions. The paper was seen by the meeting as a good initiative and a positive input to the convention.
On Thursday, 3 April, as part of a structured series of engagements with my European counterparts in the context of the forthcoming Irish Presidency of the Union and the ongoing business of the Union, I visited Berlin for talks with Chancellor Schröder. Later that day, I travelled on to Brussels for a meeting with Prime Minister Verhofstadt. The focus of my discussions with both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor was on issues of concern regarding both European Union and international matters.
I informed both leaders that the effective and efficient conduct of the Union's business is the overriding priority and focus of our preparations for our Presidency in 2004. I stated that work on the development of our Presidency programme was ongoing and that I was anxious to hear their views and to have an understanding of their concerns as we identified and developed priorities. I informed both that the Lisbon agenda would be a priority for our Presidency and I had an exchange of views with each of them on how best to advance the agenda despite the challenges of economic slowdown, global uncertainty and in the context of an enlarged Union. Progress at the European convention was a major focus for discussion with both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.
Naturally, Iraq was also discussed at both meetings. In the discussions, I expressed Ireland's deep concerns at the various threats posed by the Iraqi crisis, including the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, the risk that other countries in the region will be destabilised and the potential damage to the United Nations system arising from the disunity of its members. I indicated our readiness to assist in international efforts to address the humanitarian crisis likely to arise from a prolonged conflict. I expressed the view that it is essential to begin repairing the damage to the United Nations and that a strong, united and effective Security Council will continue to be a vital guarantor of international order in the future. I complimented Chancellor Schröder on the manner in which Germany, as chair of the relevant UN Security Council committee, had negotiated an extension to the oil for food programme.
I spoke by telephone with UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in advance of the meeting in Hillsborough Castle with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. We discussed the humanitarian situation in Iraq and the role of the UN in post-war Iraq. The Secretary General said that UN organisations and NGOs were becoming involved in the aid process in accordance with Resolution 1472. I told the Secretary General that we want to do everything within our capacity to help the people of Iraq. I also assured him that Ireland is fully committed to working with the US and its EU partners to ensure a central role for the UN in post-war Iraq.
The Secretary General briefed me on his current concerns and priorities including the need for structures in post-war Iraq that will command widespread legitimacy and support. He said the issue of political facilitation leading to the emergence of a new or interim administration is an area in which the UN has considerable expertise. He felt the best way to do this would be to adhere to the Afghanistan model, co-ordinated by a UN nominee. We agreed to speak again after the Hillsborough meeting.
The main focus of the discussions I had at Hillsborough Castle with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair was on Northern Ireland. The President, Prime Minister and I also had a forward-looking discussion on the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. President Bush was accompanied by US Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, Ambassador Richard Haass and national security adviser, Ms Condoleeza Rice. I had no other official contacts with any members of the United States Administration during my visit to Hillsborough.
In the discussions on Iraq, I urged the President and the Prime Minister to take every possible step to avoid civilian casualties and to ensure that the utmost care would continue to be observed in this regard. I emphasised the immediate need to provide urgent treatment and care for the casualties of war.
The President and the Prime Minister told me how deeply conscious they were of the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. We agreed that the humanitarian situation in Iraq must now become the immediate priority as the fighting begins to subside. I informed them that Ireland had already pledged €5 million in emergency assistance and that we are ready to contribute more according to the needs of the situation.
We discussed the possible role for the United Nations in post-war Iraq. I stressed that a central UN role was necessary to give the post-war arrangements legitimacy in the eyes of the international community and Iraq's neighbours. The President indicated that he too wanted to see a role for the UN and the British and the Americans have since agreed that the UN should have a vital role. The precise nature of the role of the UN will obviously be the subject of discussion over the weeks ahead.
I urged that every effort should be made to heal the divisions in the international community. This is in everyone's interests, including the coalition's. I said that it was essential to begin repairing the damage to the United Nations.
The US has always appreciated the stop-over and overflight facilities at Shannon and President Bush reiterated his appreciation for these facilities.
I had a further conversation with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan following the meeting at Hillsborough. I told him that I had conveyed his view on the post-war reconstruction of Iraq to the President and Prime Minister – that the UN wants to work in partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom. While there is a clear gap to be bridged, both the President and Prime Minister confirmed they were committed to a vital role for the UN in a post-war situation. I also welcomed the fact that the Secretary General would be meeting with the EU Council in Athens this week. I have now arranged a bilateral meeting with the Secretary General for tomorrow.
The European Council in Athens tomorrow precedes the signing of the accession treaties for the ten new member states. The purpose of the Council is to have an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, and with the Chairman of the European Convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The meeting will consider in particular a number of questions in relation to institutional issues which have been raised by the President. These questions include how to improve the continuity and coherence in the Council, the selection and appointment of the Presidency of the Commission, the size and composition of the Commission and the appointment of the EU Foreign Minister.
Over the coming weeks the European Convention will decide on a number of important matters regarding the institutions. Does the Taoiseach favour the appointment of a full-time president of the European Council?
We have already indicated that we can be happy if there is a president of the Commission.
What about the Council?
The Taoiseach has made a good try for extra time.
I must first listen to the Deputy's question.
That is not the case. I recognise the Taoiseach's tricks.
I must first know what the Deputy says.
The Taoiseach does not like short questions.
I like short questions. If Deputy Quinn resumed regular attendance at Question Time he would see that matters have disimproved. At present we get through very few questions, which is why I take so many of them together.
We remain to be convinced on the need for a president of the European Union. We do not believe that the case has been made to move away from a rotating presidency. The present rotational system works well and we continue to argue for the maintenance of this system. While we are probably in a minority on this point, the matter will be raised when we meet the grouping that includes the Benelux countries early tomorrow morning. We hold the position that the existing system contains many advantages and we should not move away from it.
Does the Taoiseach agree that if a full-time president was to be appointed, it would be to the detriment of the Commission? Has he or the Government formed a view on the size of the Commission and the extension of qualified majority voting and, if so, has this been communicated to the members of the convention?
On the question of the size of the Commission, we are committed to what was agreed at Nice and what was voted on by the Irish people. We will not move from that position. We will take a forward-looking view on the question of qualified majority voting. While we favour its extension to a range of areas where we believe it will be effective, we have also indicated a number of areas where we do not consider it to be appropriate. These include criminal justice, justice and home affairs matters and the area of taxation. We are of the group that believes the extension of QMV will be a good thing in an enlarged Europe.
Does the Taoiseach agree that the convention has done an immense amount of valuable work? Does he also agree that in so far as its task was to relate to the ordinary citizen, it appears to have been a failure? Will he outline specific initiatives or steps he intends to take to make up this deficit in the communication of the work of the convention to the citizens of this jurisdiction?
One of the purposes of the convention in the first instance was that it would simplify the treaties and present its work in a way that made it easier for individuals to understand. In fairness to the work of the convention, apart from the detailed legalistic work of the texts, I do not consider that the president or the membership have forgotten that point.
The important point is what happens after 30 June and how the work of the political and other experts engaged in the work of the convention is conveyed to the wider public. The Deputy is aware that there will be a break in the proceedings of the convention, probably until October. There will then be an Intergovernmental Conference involving all the member states. In this country, the Forum on Europe and the various other European bodies have endeav oured to provide information on the work of the convention, without becoming involved in detail.
I agree that the legalistic detail of the treaties and the work being produced each week by the convention is not very attractive to the ordinary citizen. The convention is endeavouring to realise the concept of making the European community work with 25 or more members to enable it to deal with EU business across member states over the next decade. The EU must be able to make decisions in a prompt fashion and communicate them across the Councils. The convention's work at this stage is not the presentational work which would make it attractive to citizens because it is far too detailed. I have made that point to the President. In fairness to him, the details in regard to justice and home affairs and under various treaty texts are not easy to communicate to the people. Neither are they particularly media-friendly. Speeches on these matters and explanations thereof do not attract much public attention.
Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Commission and the Council have the capacity to police the Lisbon process? Who is explicitly charged with driving the agenda and what is the particular role envisaged for Mr. Wim Kok? What role does the Taoiseach envisage in this regard for the forthcoming Irish Presidency?
The Commission is the driving force. It is responsible under the Lisbon strategy for following through the original strategy of 2000 and for all of the initiatives, initiated by António Guterres, which have arisen since.
The Lisbon process is followed just as well as the ten commandments and no better.
That is human nature.
The process has been three years in existence and the Commission is driving it. It is producing the reports and following them up. My personal view is that there are too many initiatives in too many areas and there are too many projects which means there is not enough debate on substance other than at official level. During the Irish Presidency, I will try to take a number of initiatives from which we will attempt to get some value while not forgetting the others. The updated work will go on.
What has happened in the Council over the past few years is that long debates have been taken up with the text of details with little involvement by Ministers or Prime Ministers. The follow-up will not be actively pursued either, a view shared by practically everybody. We must focus on a few areas while the ongoing work can be put in an annex report. During our Presidency, we must get agreement on the main areas and I have already begun the process of talking to people to determine these. Obviously, the first of those is the employment and unemployment situation. A team of experts has been placed on the employment committee, an initiative of the European Council not the Commission. The Commission has decided to go along with this having initially been reluctant to see the establishment of an employment task force. Wim Kok's name was put forward by the Greek Presidency and he has been appointed with a team of experts. I spoke with him last week by telephone and he told me that he will work to bring forward new initiatives. He plans to have his report ready by the end of the year for submission to the informal employment meeting to be held here in January.
Given the wide agenda involved, is it the Taoiseach's intention to designate a particular Cabinet Minister domestically to pursue the Lisbon process? Was there mention by any party at the spring summit of the USA's intention to move from Iraq to Syria?
Both the Tánaiste and I will take the initiative through the Lisbon strategy because it is a full European Council meeting. Most of the sections and areas in the Lisbon strategy are the responsibility of the Tánaiste's Department.
I do not think there is any question of activities against the Syrians other than diplomatic efforts. That was my clear impression from meetings last week.
The Taoiseach referred to there being too many issues. Does he agree that taking 39 questions together certainly represents a collection of issues which, from a parliamentary point of view, is comparable to a shock and awe tactic and which makes it difficult for the Opposition to ask specific questions and do justice to all the questions grouped together?
I will try to focus on a number of issues in terms of the Presidency conclusions from the March summit on which I would like more detail. One of the conclusions was that there would be accelerated progress towards compliance with the Kyoto Protocol targets. What progress does the Taoiseach see the Government making in the backdrop of Moneypoint not being transferred to gas, the cutting of incentives for wind energy by the Minister for Finance and increasing emissions from transportation? What is the Government's response to that conclusion from the summit?
Does the Taoiseach see the European Union being willing merely to accept a humanitarian role for the United Nations in the Iraqi crisis or will it push for the UN to have a role in the administration of post-war Iraq?
Has the Government a position on the verbal attacks on Syria by the US administration given that weapons of mass destruction have not been discovered there? Does the Government support going to war for regime change as an objective in itself? Does the Taoiseach support the calls for the United Nations Scientific Committee to be brought in to study the effects of depleted uranium as soon as possible given the widespread use of it in the first and second Gulf wars and the health implications of that?
On the Kyoto Protocol, the conclusions to the Lisbon strategy set out what everyone must live up to. We have to fulfil our targets.
The Deputy has heard both the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, and the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, spell out what we have to do.
Regarding tax incentives, there is not a completed deal yet on wind energy issues and I referred to this before. The Department of Finance is examining what it will do in this area. It has not refused, as the Deputy stated, to have incentives in this area. Different private sector interests made presentations concerning what we could usefully do to try to increase substantially the capacity of wind energy.
The Government cut the tax incentives.
Perhaps tax incentives will be introduced, but that is a decision yet to be made.
They were cut.
Deputy Sargent should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.
I am looking for answers.
Other Deputies who submitted questions may wish to ask supplementary questions.
The decision has yet to be made. Presentations have been made. I am not against some of these initiatives, but the aim is to generate a demand capacity under Kyoto, as some – not many – other countries have done whereby we can make it productive. The Deputy knows where the difficulty lies. It is not a viable industry without tax initiatives, not only in the Irish market but also beyond it. That is the difficulty for people who make the type of investment required, and they seek tax initiatives.
It would be viable if the Government subsidised it properly.
The Deputy should look at AER VI.
I want to get accurate answers.
If Deputy Sargent does not cease interrupting I will have to ask him to leave the House. Other Deputies who submitted questions are entitled to submit a supplementary question to the Taoiseach.
On Deputy Sargent's second question on Iraq, Ireland's position is the EU position, which is that the UN, with its expertise and experience in this area, should become actively involved at as early a date as possible and should participate fully in partnership with the UK and the US in dealing with the issue.
What was the Deputy's third question?
Does the Taoiseach support the call for the scientific committee of the UN to go to Iraq to investigate the effects of depleted uranium?
I am not sure that question arises from the 39 questions submitted.
Everything else arises.
It certainly does not arise in respect of the humanitarian issues.
What is the Taoiseach's considered view of the draft constitution produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe? He has been reluctant to share that view with us in the past and I hope he will do so now. Will he confirm the report that there will be a special summit on or about 30 June to discuss the draft? Will he confirm that this House will have the opportunity to have a full debate before the summit? Does the Taoiseach agree that the proposed constitution paves the way for a fully fledged United States of Europe and that this is anti-democratic in that it will move decision making and accountability ever further from the citizens for whom national Parliament and national responsibility at Government level will be subsumed or placed into a second tier?
What is the Taoiseach's view of the very worrying proposals to abolish the unanimity requirement in respect of justice and home affairs matters and in foreign and security policy?
On Deputy Ó Caoláin's first question, the discussion on the constitution is ongoing and I hope it will be finished by 30 June. The Irish representatives from both Parliament and Government have submitted papers on various aspects of it throughout the ongoing discussions. Amendments are produced on each section of the Articles as they are presented. The end game has not yet arrived in respect of any of these areas and it is far too early to offer a final view. As I have said already, I have no difficulty with having a debate in the House before 30 June and I would welcome it. It is taking place in the committee.
In reply to the question about the details, the formula agreed at Nice guarantees equality between member states who continue to apply, in the appointment of the European Commission and that the President of the Commission should be elected by the European Parliament subject to agreed modalities. This has still to be worked out and it must include the involvement of national Parliaments. That is our proposal and it is debatable whether this will be finally agreed. We are in favour of the double hatting of the position of high representative and the Commission external relations post. We are not in favour of new institutions. We believe there should be a period of reflection, a break from 30 June into the autumn and the length of this break is open to discussion. As I said to Deputy Kenny, I feel it should be until some time in late October.
We are obviously in favour of the Community method and of keeping the Commission as strong as possible because we believe in its right of initiative and that the role it plays is extremely important to all countries, particularly small countries.
What about justice and home affairs?
We have specified a range of areas concerning justice and home affairs in respect of which we do not believe we should have qualified majority voting. We continue to hold that view.
I appeal to the Ceann Comhairle to have a conversation with the Taoiseach about the taking of this huge block of questions. There are 26 questions on European affairs and 13 on the Taoiseach's meetings with the leaders of Britain and the United States regarding Iraq. These should have been blocked separately to allow us the time to ask adequate supplementaries.
I refer specifically to Questions Nos. 29 and 30. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair justified their criminal invasion of Iraq by saying its purpose was to disarm Iraq because it had weapons of mass destruction and was a direct threat to the United States and Britain. Did the Taoiseach, in his discussions with the two men at Hillsborough, seek an explanation for the massive contradiction that the army of the state that allegedly held weapons of mass destruction and was a such a threat was responsible for the death of 100 US and British soldiers, whereas the states that were under threat killed countless thousands of innocent civilians and conscripts? Did he point out that no chemicals or poison gas were used? Did this strike the Taoiseach as a massive contradiction? If he did not know about the background to this war, who would he say held the weapons of mass destruction?
Did the Taoiseach raise with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair the suspicion of many people on this island that they lied about their reasons for the invasion? Can I ask further—
It is not appropriate to use the word "lie" in the Chamber.
It was in the form of a question. I was asking the Taoiseach for his view.
Even in the form of a question, it is not a word that should be used in the House.
Does the Taoiseach believe that the reasons put forward for the invasion were fraudulent through and through? Finally, did he discuss with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair what their intention is in the Middle East now that phase one – I stress phase one -of the Iraqi war is winding down, particularly in view of their arrogant posturing, threatening sanctions, with regard to Syria in recent days? We know that what starts with sanctions finishes up with invasions. Did the Taoiseach express any unease about this with the President and the Prime Minister or is he prepared to trot along behind them as they move into other states, in the same way as President Bush thanked him for assisting the invasion of Iraq?
During Leaders' Questions on two different days last week, I outlined the issues I raised and discussions I had with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. I raised most of the issues surrounding the invasion and what was the position at that time. We must wait until the end of the conflict to see what weapons of mass destruction are found, what reports are made and what surrendering Iraqi scientists and others have to say. I am not in a position to give those answers now. I do not think anybody is until we see a full report—
Why were they not used if they existed?
In relation to Syria, Iran and other locations, the issue breaks down into two replies. There have been no indications in my discussions with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of any intention to attack Syria or Iran. Quite the contrary. The situation in Iraq evolved over a long and sustained period because of the non-fulfilment of UN resolutions over a 12-year period. US differences with Syria and Iran may give rise to concern but they almost certainly have to be addressed in a diplomatic way, and I have not heard, from the EU or elsewhere, of any reason not to believe that such issues can be handled through peaceful, diplomatic means.
On the other side of the Middle East issue, President Bush has changed his policy line substantially on the Palestinian-Israeli question. We have had statements from Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, which will hopefully be followed through in an effort to make progress and bring the peace process in Israel and Palestine back to the position it was in a few years ago.
Finally, President Bush did not thank me for helping the United States with the invasion of Iraq—
That was very ungrateful.
As I said last week, he appreciated that our overflight and landing facilities were made available, as they traditionally have been.
If weapons of mass destruction are not found in Iraq by the American invading force, will that undermine the justification for the attack on Iraq?
In regard to the double hatted foreign minister for Europe, which the Taoiseach says he favours, what would happen if that person lost the confidence of the Council? Would he cease to be a Commissioner as well? What would happen if, in turn, the Commission lost the confidence of the Parliament and had to resign? Would he cease to be representative of the Council in that situation? In other words, if he loses one hat, does he lose both?
I do not believe weapons of mass destruction were the only justification for the attack, although it was clearly one which was emphasised time and time again within the UN. Weapons of destruction were not the only justification and were not the stated justification in the 16 resolutions which were passed prior to the attack. The world was made believe that the Saddam Hussein regime had weapons of mass destruction. We all believed that to be the case and that somewhere along the line that would be—
Does the Taoiseach still believe that?
Frankly, I do not know.
Why did they not use them?
Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.
Thankfully, they were not used.
Why did they not use them?
They used them in the past.
Deputy Higgins, allow the Taoiseach to continue.
We should acknowledge and give some credit to people who were totally against the war, including President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder who made strident efforts through their contacts in the region to ensure weapons of mass destruction were not used. Although they were against the war, they made considerable efforts. The Deputy will have heard Gerhard Schröder make those statements in the past week. Perhaps that assisted. I do not know to whom they talked but they certainly tried to deal with that.
Riddled with contradictions.
I cannot answer for the United States.
In regard to double hatting, having been through all the arguments, it makes sense to have one person in this position. Obviously, if that person loses status and is acting as a Commissioner, I do not see how he can hold on to one position and not the other. This question has already been put. If one is in a doubled hatted position and one loses control or status, I do not see how one could hold on to one position over another.
If that is the case, does that not undermine entirely the collective responsibility and independence of the Commission in that if a Commissioner, who also happens to be a foreign minister of the Council, must resign as a Commissioner because he has lost the confidence of the Council, we are then in a situation where one Commissioner out of whatever number there are can be dismissed by the Council whereas the rest can be dismissed in another way. Does that not fundamentally undermine both the separation of powers and the separate accountability of the two institutions in a way which could ultimately corrode the entire Community method?
This has been debated and I have heard the various arguments. Deputy Bruton has asked me a fair question. If the position is double hatted and the individual loses the confidence of the Commission or the Council, I could not see the individual being able to lose one position on the basis of losing confidence. Let us say the European Parliament decided that a Commissioner or the President of the Commission was to lose this position but was to hold on to his status. I cannot visualise how an individual who had lost power or the respect and authority as a result of a decision by the Parliament could continue to fulfil that role. I cannot see how it is visualised. Deputy Bruton knows that I have said this in the debate already.
Does the Taoiseach not agree—
Sorry, Deputy, I must call Deputy Rabbitte. We are running out of time.
May I ask the Taoiseach about the one Government proposal of which I am aware, the establishment of an electoral college to somehow select the President of the European Commission on a 50-50 basis? Will the Taoiseach outline the developmental work that is ongoing in that regard? How would candidates emerge under the system proposed by the Government? Where would the threshold of eligibility be fixed? Would there be a process of nominations? How would the election happen? How would the combination of domestic Parliaments and the European Parliament work?
I will gladly make available to Deputy Rabbitte a presentation on this particular aspect or the full range of initiatives. Several initiatives have been made by the Government and its representatives, but I assume Deputy Rabbitte is talking about the Government's initiative. The concept behind the initiative mentioned by the Deputy is that institutions other than the European Parliament should have a say. The Deputy's earlier question related to the need to demonstrate that there is a link between appointments and national Parliaments and to ensure that the European Parliament and individual Parliaments have a role in making decisions on the same day. The Government's proposal is not the majority position at present, despite the fact that it deals successfully with the need to bring decision-making closer to the people.
The number of parliamentarians to be involved would have to be selected. The Government's paper makes suggestions in that regard – it suggests that 50% should be from the European Parliament and 50% should be from national Parliaments. The number of members of each national Parliament who will vote in the election of the President of the Commission will be based on the size of the country. The proposed system has the benefit of involving local Parliaments. Those who oppose the concept believe it is too cumbersome and that MEPs are already national Parliamentary representatives. They ask why members of the national Parliaments should be involved. The answer to such a question, which relates to the point made by the Deputy at the outset and which may be uncharitable, is that European public opinion is that national Parliaments are closer to the people and that if people could vote, they would feel more involved. That is why I like the idea. I have to be frank by saying that this matter is up for discussion with the Benelux group and ourselves tomorrow morning. I think there is merit to the idea and I will pursue it tomorrow.
How does a candidate emerge?
How can Deputy Quinn or Deputy Bruton become a candidate?
I ask the Deputy to allow the Taoiseach to conclude.
Are they nominated by the European party or are they nominated by the domestic Parliament?
We are coming to the end of Taoiseach's Question Time.
How would they emerge?
The Taoiseach to conclude.
A Cheann Comhairle—
They could be nominated in a variety of ways.
I have many questions.
I think the parliamentary groups—
I have asked four questions.
I have spoken to the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Pat Cox, about this matter.
There are three pages of questions.
The last thing we would like is for this to become a group issue. It would be far better if people of status and people who are qualified from the Parliament would come forward, rather than it just being a block vote. That would be wrong. I said earlier that the modalities of the arrangements for the election of the President of the Commission should not be on the basis of a block vote, or one side against another. The modalities must be agreed. Everybody agrees that we should not have a fixed vote, where it comes from one side or another in the Parliament. I do not think there is a difficulty in that. The value of the Government's proposal is that the election of the President of the Commission will not be just a remote European Parliament decision, as important as it is. The involvement of the national Parliaments would be a good thing.