Written Answers. - Official Engagements.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

85 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on his participation on the most recent meeting of the EU Defence Ministers. [18889/03]

John Gormley

Ceist:

98 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the EU military capabilities conference he attended in May 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18864/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85 and 98 together.

I welcome the opportunity to report to the House on discussions which took place at the meeting of Defence Ministers, which was designated as a capabilities commitment conference, in Brussels on 19 May 2003. Meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, in the format of Defence Ministers, are usually held during the course of each EU Presidency term. Along with informal meetings of Defence Ministers, they provide a useful forum for promoting dialogue and establishing co-operation between Defence Ministers in the context of the development of the European Security and Defence Policy.

At the meeting in May, we discussed the continued work on the development of military and civilian capabilities for crisis management within the framework of ESDP. We also noted the start of Operation Concordia in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the progress of the EU police mission in Bosnia Herzegovina. The ongoing implementation of permanent arrangements between the EU and NATO was also welcomed by Ministers.

The ongoing development of EU military capabilities for crisis management operations, particularly the European Capabilities Action Plan, was also reviewed during the meeting. We reaffirmed our commitment to enhancing capabilities in an effort to alleviate the limitations of the EU's operationality. It was agreed that the means of achieving this would be through the establishment of specific ECAP project groups which will look at practical means of addressing capability shortfalls as previously identified by the ECAP panels. In accordance with established arrangements, participation by member states in this area continues to be on a voluntary basis. Ireland will participate in project groups dealing with nuclear biological and chemical protection, operational headquarters, special operations forces and deployable communications information services.
I am pleased to note that the European Council, at its meeting of 19 and 20 June last at Thessaloniki, welcomed the conclusions of the 19 May meeting and noted the progress which had been made in the field of military capabilities. Significantly, the Council also noted that the EU now has an operational capability across the full range of Petersberg Tasks, limited by the recognised shortfalls. It is hoped that these shortfalls will be alleviated by further development of the EU's military capabilities, in particular through the continued work of the ECAP project groups mentioned above.
Recent developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo have illustrated very clearly the importance of the EU's capability to carry out Petersberg Task operations. The rapid deployment of a French-led EU operation, which includes five members of the Defence Forces, in support of UN Resolution 1484 has already made a contribution to stabilising the security situation in a region which has suffered as a result of the horrific consequences of war.