Programme of the Irish presidency

Mr President, Taoiseach, first let me say a few words about Lisbon before I go into the question of external relations. I agree with you and wish you well in your attempt to revitalise the Lisbon Agenda. At the same time, however, I think we need to be aware that Lisbon is not only about economic reform. It also involves investing more in training and further training for individuals. If we expect the European workforce to be more mobile, we must also provide them with a certain amount of stability and social security in return. This is the only way that people will be willing to contribute to the social side of this process of economic modernisation.
Let me come on to the subject of external relations, however. My colleague Mr van den Berg has already referred to the critical situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea. We could add Kashmir, another place where the European Union is being asked to support what appears to be limited rapprochement between India and Pakistan. However, I particularly want to focus on the Middle East. I think that it is up to your Presidency, Taoiseach, to seek to do more in order to ensure the European Union has a profile in the Middle East. Unfortunately over the last six months, a great number of opportunities in the area have been missed. In view of this, I would urge you to try everything in order for the association agreement with Syria, which is already almost ready to be signed, might still be concluded. I understand that the Commission has put in some very good work, but the Council or certain Council members have protested and vetoed it. Whatever the particulars may be, I think we need this kind of agreement with Syria so that we can put pressure on her to negotiate with Israel and to further the peace process. I think it is essential that we actually take advantage of the modest signs of an improved relationship between Israel and Syria.
More generally speaking, however, rather than simply ignoring this trouble spot, the European Union needs to do more on both sides to drive the peace process forward. Just a little while ago, we did see the Geneva plan, which also caused a certain amount of positive unease in Israel because those in favour of peace now also have something on which to build. To close, let me also add that in a long, very inflammatory piece for Die Zeit newspaper, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany, Avi Primor, called upon the European Union to do more to establish peace in Palestine and Israel. I also ask you, Taoiseach, to do more to involve the European Union in this very important peace process.