The Commission's communication on its proposals for the future financing of the EU, for the period 2007 to 2013, published on 10 February last, will require close examination by all member states, including the new member states joining on 1 May. The same will apply to the third cohesion report, which was published on 18 February last, and which sets out the Commission's views on how cohesion or structural policy should evolve after 2006.
The negotiations on the Agenda 2000 agreement, which provided the framework for financing of the EU for the period, 2000 to 2006, took some two years to negotiate. We can expect a similarly lengthy negotiation on the Commission's current proposals.
The Government is conscious of its responsibilities in its role as President of the EU in ensuring an effective and even handed conduct of the negotiations. The main priority for the Irish Presidency is to initiate a process, or road map, for the future negotiations, rather than to enter into detailed negotiations at this early point.
The Commission has not yet published its detailed legislative proposals for giving effect to its proposals in the third cohesion report. It is expected to do so about mid-year. The report proposes that regions like the BMW would benefit from transitional support when, because of strong economic growth in the region, they graduate from Objective One status in 2007. This would see the BMW region moving from Objective One status to eligibility for assistance from those programmes assisting competitiveness and employment in the more developed parts of the EU. The south and west region would also be able to avail of assistance from these programmes.
The Government will seek to ensure that the final agreement to be negotiated is in the best interests both of the EU as a whole and of Ireland in particular. The Government will seek in these negotiations the best possible arrangements for Ireland's regions within the framework of the EU's overall cohesion policy. The Government in this respect is particularly conscious of the ongoing development needs of the BMW region, especially in the area of infrastructure.
The Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Parlon, hosted a meeting of EU regional Ministers in Portlaoise on 27 February 2004. The main discussions at the meeting centred on how the EU will focus cohesion funding to best effect, how cohesion policy can best be dovetailed with other policies aimed at strengthening the EU economy and generating more jobs, and howthe procedures for implementing regional programmes can be simplified.
Even though just over a week had passed since the publication of the third cohesion report, the debate was a comprehensive and wide ranging one, allowing delegations the opportunity to exchange views. However, this meeting was only the first of what will be many more over the next year or so.