Report likely to reflect concerns over neutrality


Concerns about sovereignty, neutrality, the role of small states and the rights of the individual citizen in the European Union are likely to be reflected in the latest report from the National Forum on Europe, to be published today.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and the Forum chairman, Senator Maurice Hayes, are due to attend the launch of the report in Dublin Castle. The document will review the work of the forum since its establishment last October.

It is understood that the report, while acknowledging the consensus on all sides in favour of EU enlargement, will also highlight the frustration expressed by many contributors over the idea of asking the same question about the Nice Treaty in a second referendum.

The widespread support for enlargement is regarded as encouraging but there is seen to be a need for reassurance on the position of Ireland in any new arrangements for the governance and administration of the EU.

The report is expected to note the necessity of accommodating Ireland's traditional neutrality with the developing foreign and security policy of the EU.

Another issue which surfaced in the debate was the lack of clarity on the respective roles of national parliaments, the European Parliament and other EU institutions.

A key issue which surfaced repeatedly, both in the plenary sessions at Dublin Castle and at regional meetings of the forum was the notion that a referendum on Nice would simply be a repeat of the last poll, as if the electorate were being asked to continue voting until it came up with the "right" answer.

The launch of the report comes within days of the inaugural meeting of the Convention on the Future of Europe, to take place in Brussels on Thursday. Senator Hayes is known to be anxious that the work of the forum should contribute towards and influence the convention's deliberations.

The forum is to hold an all-day plenary session in Galway on Thursday on the social dimension of the EU as well as issues of cultural and national identity.

On March 7th, at Dublin Castle, the forum will discuss the role of the European Commission, with Prof Joe Lee as one of the speakers.

On March 14th the topic will be the role of national parliaments with the president of the European Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament as a guest speaker.

On March 21st, the Polish Foreign Minister, Mr Cimoszewicz, and the Irish member of the European Commission, Mr David Byrne, will speak on "Ireland, Enlargement and Nice: What Path to Take?"

While Fine Gael is not officially participating in the forum, the former party leader, Mr John Bruton, is expected to attend next month as a representative of the European Affairs Committee of the Oireachtas.

The forum is likely to suspend its public activities at Easter, and there are plans to resume in June.