The EU policy area of primary concern to my Department is the development of the military aspects of the European security and defence policy, ESDP. The mandate for the incoming Presidency, which was agreed at the European Council held in Brussels in December, invited the Irish Presidency to continue work on developing the European security and defence policy within the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC. The Government's priorities in this regard are outlined in the programme of the Irish Presidency of the European Union, which is fully consistent with the multi-annual strategic programme of the EU Council for 2004-2006 and the operational programme for the Council for 2004, which were drawn up jointly by the Irish and Dutch Presidencies.
My Department is progressing work in this regard at EU level using the established practice of meetings up to and including ministerial level. This will include an informal meeting of Defence Ministers of EU member states and accession countries which is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 5 and 6 April 2004, while EU Defence Ministers will also meet in Brussels on 17 May within the framework of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC.
Informal meetings at official level will also be held as and when required. The first such meeting of EU defence policy directors, which was held on 23 January, was a useful forum for senior officials from the defence ministries of the member states and acceding states to discuss the most important priorities of our work programme. Discussions took place on the development of the EU's capabilities to carry out Petersberg Tasks operations, that is, peace support, crisis management and humanitarian operations; progress regarding the creation in the course of 2004 of an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development as agreed by the European Council held at Thessaloniki in June 2003; developing and defining a 2010 headline goal; the development of an EU rapid response capability with an emphasis on supporting the United Nations in crisis management; and relations between the EU and NATO with specific regard to the capabilities development and operational planning.
An informal meeting of senior officials with responsibility for capabilities development and armaments procurement will be held in Dublin later this month to discuss more specifically the arrangements for the creation of the intergovernmental agency for defence capabilities development.
Given the developmental nature of the European security and defence policy and in line with established practice, agendas are normally finalised in the weeks leading up to the respective meetings. I will seek to ensure that discussions at ministerial meetings which I chair are focused on the priority issues related to progressing the Irish Presidency's work programme.