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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Meeting with German Chancellor/EU Council.

Wednesday, 12 June 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 466 No. 7

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 1. Miss Harney Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will report on his meeting with Chancellor Kohl in Bonn on 4 June 1996. [11568/96]

 2. Mr. B. Ahern Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  the agenda for the European Council meeting in Florence, Italy. [12050/96]

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

I met Chancellor Kohl in Bonn on Tuesday 4 June. The meeting was most successful and afforded me the opportunity of a wide-ranging exchange of views with the Chancellor. We discussed the major items on the agenda of the European Union against the background of the forthcoming Florence European Council and the Irish Presidency. The issues we discussed included employment, internal security matters, in particular the fight against drugs and organised crime, the Intergovernmental Conference, economic and monetary union, European security, the situation in former Yugoslavia and the external [1810] relations of the Union notably with the applicant countries, Russia and the US.

We also discussed the BSE crisis and agreed that the main concentration should be to support the efforts of the Italian presidency and the Commission to bring about a resolution to this problem. We agreed that the key issue was restoration of European consumer confidence in beef and that this can only be forged on the basis of measures taken in accordance with the best scientific advice available.

I was particularly pleased with the strong support the Chancellor gave to Ireland's presidency priorities, notably in the crime and drugs area. We agreed to keep in close contact during the Irish presidency. I also look forward to receiving Chancellor Kohl on an official visit to Ireland on 2 and 3 October this year.

In regard to the Florence European Council, as the member state currently holding the EU presidency, it is for Italy in the first instance to propose the matters for discussion at the Council. The Italian presidency has not yet finalised its proposals in this regard. I had a short meeting yesterday with the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Romano Prodi, in Brussels and we had a preliminary discussion of the likely agenda for the Florence Council.

At this stage it is likely that the main items on the Council agenda will be employment, the Intergovernmental Conference, economic and monetary union and the fight against drug trafficking and organised crime. In addition, a wide number of external relations issues will arise including the situation in former Yugoslavia and in Russia.

The BSE issue is also likely to be on the agenda for the Council. The Italian Presidency and the Commission are engaged in intensive efforts to try to resolve this issue before the Florence Council. It is my strong hope that these efforts are successful thereby enabling the Florence Council to address fully the major items on the EU's agenda to which I referred to earlier in my reply.

[1811]Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern From his discussion with Chancellor Kohl, does the Taoiseach see a realistic prospect for the resolution of the BSE problem and how does he see it being resolved?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton The British Government needs to stop its policy of non co-operation and that will happen if it is accompanied by agreement to a framework of procedures for a staged removal of bans on the export of commodities based on scientific and other evidence being presented in a structured way in accordance with an agreed framework.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley Will the Taoiseach agree there was no agreement between him and the Chancellor on how the BSE problem should be approached? Will he also agree there is a grave danger the BSE crisis will overshadow the Irish Presidency priorities? Will the Taoiseach give details of his discussions on policing the drugs problem? Apparently, the budget for the relevant EU agency based in Amsterdam has been blocked for this year and it may have to close.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton In my discussion on the drugs issue with various European colleagues I stressed the need to ensure that adequate budgetary provision is made at Community level for Community action. It is not sufficient to adopt measures unless the financial means are made available to realise the measures.

In my discussion with the Chancellor there was a large measure of agreement on the approach to be adopted to resolve the BSE crisis. There are deep concerns in Germany on this matter. The consumption of beef in Germany has fallen to a fraction of its previous levels. Indeed, beef consumption in continental countries has fallen more than in Britain. This is a great problem for Germany and other continental countries.

There is a desire to deal with the issue in a structured way without emotion and [1812] table thumping. It is on that basis, relying on science and properly monitored and enforced procedures, that the issue may be resolved, rather than through high profile political gestures.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Will the Taoiseach comment on the British Government's veto on EU business unrelated to BSE? Does he agree it is bad for partnership in the EU and makes a quick resolution of the matter all the more important? Does the Taoiseach see any merit in the suggestion that the UK could be divided into regions so that areas such as Northern Ireland, which do not seem to have the same BSE problems, could be treated separately? I understand it costs the Department of Justice more than £400,000 per week to prevent people smuggling cattle across the Border. Is there merit in the suggestion that Northern Ireland should be isolated in terms of the BSE issue?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton In so far as the first part of the Deputy's question is concerned, I publicly indicated my strong disapproval of Britain's approach in blocking unrelated business in response to this matter. That is not the way to transact business in a Union based on the concept of community. That approach must not continue and must not be rewarded. On the other hand, it is important that the Union demonstrates an ability to deal with issues of difference in a structured manner. For that reason I indicated my strong support for the approach of the Commission President and the Italian President of the Council — both of whom I met yesterday — who want to reach agreement on a procedure for dealing on a staged basis, on receipt of adequate reassurances, with the gradual removal of the ban. It is important that this is based on science and not on political pressure. Segmentation of the market in various ways is a possible ingredient in any framework for a gradual easing of the ban, but we must bear in mind that the consumer must be satisfied that he or she is buying a safe product. This can [1813] be achieved only if the Union is seen to act in accordance with properly enforced and researched scientific procedures.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley What specific initiatives has the Government proposed to deal with crime and drugs during the Presidency? What is the Taoiseach's view of the expressed preference of the German Government for the creation of an inner dynamic core of member states in the European Union? Does he favour the concept of an inner and outer tier?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I do not favour an approach which would divide members into categories of insiders and comparative outsiders. In doing its business, the Union should proceed as a union. Under the Maastricht arrangements for economic and monetary union, it is possible for some countries to proceed to economic and monetary union before others. That reality was established in the Maastricht Treaty, under which we are bound to operate. However, I do not favour the concept of a two or three speed European development.

On the question of crime, one of our priorities during the European Presidency will be to bring into effect the Europol convention, if that has not already been done during the Italian Presidency. In regard to the question of drugs, we are anxious to agree arrangements on co-operation and information exchange between forensic laboratories. We want to agree procedures for higher and more uniform penalties for drug trafficking so that there will not be any country in the Union where the penalties are so low as to make it an attractive location for people managing a European trade in drugs. We also want to enhance the existing controls and means of detection on external land and sea boundaries of the Union to interdict the importation of drugs. Furthermore, we will seek to use Community funds to support a programme of prevention of drug dependence and the enhancement of Community budget provisions in that regard. We will also seek the use of [1814] Community funds for the provision of alternative crops in producing countries outside the Union whose most profitable means of living at present is the production of crops which are subsequently used in the manufacture of drugs. We have agreed a programme of action for a range of issues and I have put these proposals to my colleagues when I have had occasion to meet them.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I thank the Taoiseach for his information, but I am sure he will appreciate that many of those issues have been on the agenda for a number of years. What does he propose to do about non-European countries, such as Afghanistan, where opium is grown and transported in half tonne lots, mainly through south eastern Turkey, into the Community? While people can co-ordinate actions, legislation and penalties, for almost 20 years criminals based in Turkey have been successfully transporting drugs into Europe. They brought one and a half tonnes of drugs into the Community from two separate locations last year and those locations and the people involved are known in Europe. What does the Taoiseach propose to do about countries that survive on producing such substances?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton The key to action in this area is the exchange of information between police and customs authorities in Union and non-Union countries. Apart from the establishment of Europol, one of our priorities during the Presidency will be to promote closer co-operation between customs authorities, the police and trade bodies so that conventional trading methods may not be used as vehicles for transporting drugs and those masterminding drug traffic through such methods are brought to book on the basis of good information sent to the authorities who are in a position to interdict such trade.


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