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European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

FVO: an excellent example of the practical work to protect consumer health

Opening of the new premises of the Food and Veterinary Office in Grange, Co Meath

Grange, 19 July 2002

Taoiseach, Minister(s), Ambassador(s), Minister(s) of State, Bishop, Deputies, Members of the European Parliament, members of the clergy, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to formally welcome the Taoiseach and to thank him for accepting my invitation to come here today to open this splendid building. His interest in the project and his willingness to take time out from his other duties to be here is most encouraging.

Today is an important day, because it marks the completion of a project which can be traced back to 1993. That was when the European Council decided that the part of the European Commission, called the "Office for Veterinary and Plant Health Inspection and Control", should be located in Ireland. It now has the more manageable title "Food and Veterinary Office". In 1995 its location here in Grange was decided by the Irish government. Having started with just 35 staff the Office now has 150.

Now that the work has been completed, I would like to express my sincere thanks to a number of people. First to Minister of State, Tom Parlon, and indeed his predecessor, Martin Cullen, for the excellent job done by the Office of Public Works in supervising the project from start to finish.

And a special word of thanks to OPW Commissioner, Sean Benton and also to Ciaran O' Connor, the OPW architect, whose design and choice of materials have produced a quite remarkable structure and setting.

I would also like to mention the important input of Nino Crea, formerly of the Personnel and Administration Directorate General of the Commission, who was our link man with the OPW for much of the preparatory and construction phases. A word of appreciation too for the builders, Macnamara's, who completed the project on time and within budget.

The building runs to 12,500 square metres with accommodation for 250 staff and the entire site consists of 9 hectares. And the landscaping shows the prospect of a most pleasant surrounding as the trees and shrubs develop.

There are some quite striking individual features - for example, the conference area, the central courtyard and the restaurant. What I find especially appealing are the links with the past, particularly the amphitheatre, and the spiral mound to the side of the building, which evokes the pre-Christian passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

For those of you who may not already know, I should perhaps explain that this site was originally part of the Teagasc beef research station, also known as Grange farm. I'd like therefore to thank Teagasc Chairman, Tom O Dwyer, and his colleagues, for their support in providing the site for the Office. Perhaps I should also say to our guests from Teagasc, having taken some of your land, the least we can do is promise to be good neighbours!

I would like to thank the people of Meath and especially the local community of the villages of Kiltale and Dunsany for receiving us into your midst. I hope we too will be good neighbours and that our arrival will have a positive impact.

By the way, I came across a recent book entitled "A History of Kiltale" and it talks a bit about Grange farm. It says that the word "Grange" comes from the Irish word "Grainseach" which actually means a monastic farm. And thinking about the layout of this building, it struck me that it does have similarities to a monastery - the central cloister, the individual cells, and the refectory! But I don't suppose the staff of the Office would want me to stretch the comparison by talking also about the traditional monk's vows of poverty, chastity and obedience!

Seriously though, I want to say a special word to you, the staff of the Office - my staff. Buildings are of course very important, but on this occasion we should also remember the people who occupy the buildings. And so I want to thank you, not for any role in the creation of this building, but because of your crucial role in the work of protecting our three hundred and ninety million EU consumers.

Though you are geographically separated from those of us who are based in Brussels, we never forget that you are the front line of our operation.

This very day, as I speak, teams from this Office are carrying out inspections in: Slovenia, Paraguay, the Slovak Republic, Greece, and Cape Verde. Their job is to check that EU rules, on food and other products supplied to the EU market, are being kept. In this way the health of the EU consumer is protected. Just to give you an idea of the scale of the FVO's activities, last year our inspectors carried out over 200 inspections in 52 different countries. So once again I would say "thank you" to the 150 staff and "keep up the good work".

You may have noticed that I mentioned two applicant countries - Slovenia and the Slovak Republic - in the list of countries, which the FVO are currently visiting. In fact, carrying out inspections in all 12 of the applicant countries with which we are negotiating, is one of our top priorities. That's because we want to make sure that their preparations for membership are moving ahead and that they will be ready to join when the time comes.

But before that can happen, the Nice treaty must be ratified by all member states. And so I would support what the Taoiseach has said about Nice. For my part I hope that the debate in Ireland will focus on what the treaty is about, that is, enlargement. And not all of the other extraneous issues that confused the debate on the last occasion. Ireland has developed greatly as a result of 30 years of EU membership. So I would hope that the Irish people will show the applicant countries the openness Ireland wished for when it applied for membership, and give them the chance to develop and prosper, just as Ireland has.

My last point, and in a way it's linked to the previous one, is to say that the Food and Veterinary Office, sited here in the heart of rural Ireland, is an excellent example of the practical work of one of the EU institutions. Too often we hear talk of the European Commission as being remote, unaccountable, and so on - the sort of criticism that comes up regularly, not just in Ireland but in other parts of the EU as well. Here in Grange we have the reality, not the fiction put out by our critics. An operation run by the European Commission to enforce EU laws, agreed by the Council and the democratically elected European Parliament, with practical benefit to all of the people of the European Union.

Once again, thank you Taoiseach, and thanks to our other guests and staff for coming here today. I am told that some light food and drinks will now be served, so I hope you will relax and continue to enjoy this happy occasion. I wish you all well.

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