HC Deb 27 January 2004 vol 417 cc144-6
2. Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston)

What discussions his Department has had with the Irish Government about their plans for the EU presidency. [150688]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed Ireland's presidency plans with the Irish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister during his trip to Dublin on 16 December. He also spoke by telephone to the Irish Foreign Minister on 20 January. He and I met the Irish Foreign Minister and the Minister with responsibility for Europe yesterday in Brussels. Our officials are involved in frequent dialogue with their Irish counterparts.

Mr. Hendrick

What will the Irish presidency do to pursue the Lisbon agenda to turn Europe into the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010? Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been little progress on that since the Lisbon summit?

Mr. MacShane

Ireland is an exemplar nation for the rest of Europe in economic growth, job creation and social partnership. It is committed to making economic growth a key issue for its presidency. That was discussed here yesterday at the productivity summit, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer chaired. The Government attach the highest importance to it.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

Does the Minister agree with the Irish Prime Minister—in contrast with what the Prime Minister has indicated—that any understandings on so-called red lines reached in December are now irrelevant?

Mr. MacShane

The Taoiseach gave a very interesting interview to Le Monde on 31 December, in which he underlined Ireland's determination to maintain unanimity in regard to, for instance, tax, which is an important British consideration. I think that, in general, Ireland will be found to be very much in line with the thinking of Britain and other European member states that unanimity in a number of key areas is an essential part of progress on the European constitutional treaty issue.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)(Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that no country is better fitted to take forward the constitution than Ireland, not least because the Taoiseach himself is extremely skilled in negotiation owing to his ministerial experience? Is there not some urgency, in that the longer the debates on the constitution last, the more difficult it will be to maintain the major advances that our Government made in December?

Mr. MacShane

I wish the Taoiseach well in his consultations with the 24 other European Union states to establish whether we can make progress. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the Taoiseach's European and national experience as an extremely skilled negotiator makes him perhaps the best of our Heads of Government to assume the presidency at this crucial time of discussions on the future of Europe.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD)

One of the major failings of the European Union is the ineffectiveness of its overseas development aid. Does the Minister agree that all possible encouragement should be given to the Irish Government to deal with this important issue during their presidency?

Mr. MacShane

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. That was one of the themes discussed yesterday at the European General Affairs and External Relations Council, when the Government were represented by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). I think we have worked not just with the Irish Government but with a range of Irish non-Governmental and other organisations, including those connected with churches, to make development and a more sensible European approach to it a core issue for the presidency.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab)


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Mackinlay.

Andrew Mackinlay

I just wanted the windows opened, Mr. Speaker.

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