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Written Answers. - Convention on the Future of Europe.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the priority areas for the Convention on the Future of Europe, established at the Laeken Summit. [4162/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): The European Council, at its meeting in Laeken in December 2001, established the European Convention on the Future of Europe. The three main challenges for the convention identified in the [794] European Council's Laeken declaration are how to bring citizens closer to the European Union and its institutions, how to organise Europe in an enlarged Union and how to develop the Union into a stabilising factor and a model in the new, multi-polar world. The declaration set out a series of questions to guide the work of the convention in these broad areas.

The European Convention held its inaugural session on 28 February. The convention represents an important and timely opportunity to address certain key questions about the future of Europe as it stands on the brink of the most significant enlargement in its history. As I have made clear, the Government is approaching the convention in a positive and constructive way. It is our view that the convention should have a particular focus on bringing Europe closer to its citizens. The convention must listen closely to what the citizens of the EU are saying. As the Irish Government representative at the convention, Mr. Ray MacSharry, put it last week, we must listen to what our citizens are saying and we must listen even more when they do not speak. Our citizens want a more accessible Union in which jargon is minimised and procedures are simplified. They want a Union which is more transparent and which demonstrates more clearly its relevance to their lives.

The convention will also examine how the functioning of the EU institutions can be streamlined so that the Union preserves and if possible increases its effectiveness, internally and externally, as it enlarges. An effectively functioning European Union is very much in Ireland's interests and we will press for real and practical improvements in its operation. However, we do not favour change for the sake of change and will seek to preserve the essential institutional balances from which the Union draws its strength and legitimacy. The convention is also expected to consider, as regards a wide range of policy areas, both how more effective action can be ensured as appropriate at European level and where action or the detailed implementation of measures is best left for decision at national level. The Government will support an appropriate balance in this regard.

The early stages of the convention's deliberations are devoted to a listening exercise. Detailed consideration of particular issues is not expected to begin until later this year. The Government will consider publishing one or more discussion papers as the work of the convention proceeds and the key issues come into focus. The convention will be followed by an intergovernmental conference which Ireland will chair when it holds the Presidency in the first half of 2004. Decisions on any Treaty changes arising from the work of the convention will be for this conference.

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