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European Council Meetings (Continued)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 802 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] I think that is a recognition that there is a blockage that needs to be released so that things can get moving. It is clear that the challenges from the Iberian Peninsula to Cyprus will not sort themselves out. They require political courage. Bigger countries need to support smaller countries. While it has been very challenging for people here in Ireland, I am glad to see the private sector is beginning to move. Some 1,000 jobs a month are now being created there. All of that is to be welcomed; the more the merrier. These discussions are helpful. Obviously, everybody wants to see results. We will be judged on that basis.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Five or six questions have been tabled. Deputy Adams asked what could be done to get more timely answers to the questions that were tabled before the last summit. I suggest we go back to the two-day arrangement that prevailed in previous Dáileanna, when the Taoiseach of the day took questions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That might give us a bit more time.

It seems to me from what the Taoiseach has reported that the defining characteristic of the work of the European Council over the last six months is that things have slowed considerably and very little is being done. The Taoiseach hinted at that when he spoke about the failure to follow through on decisions that have been taken. There is no question that we are witnessing slow implementation of existing agreements. It can be argued that the banking union has been delayed and downscaled by comparison with what was originally envisaged. It is fair to say that trust in the European Union and its leaders is at its lowest ever level across Europe. Unfortunately, surveys and barometers of public opinion across Europe are illustrating this serious point. This brings into question the legitimacy of democracy across Europe and the sustainability of the democratic norms and values we cherish.

I will cut to the core point. It appears to me that Europe needs to support economic stimulus, strengthen the foundations of the financial system and introduce wider reforms of the structures and systems that contributed to the economic crisis. Any discussion of the wider reforms that have been mentioned has been postponed until the end of 2014. We are not getting an economic stimulus. That is why I asked the Taoiseach earlier whether it is time for him to speak up for more radical action, for a radical change of position and for a move away from the one-dimensional economic model that is being pursued to the exclusion of all other ideas. There is a need to consider alternative approaches in light of the unprecedented levels of wide-scale unemployment across Europe. In the last six months, I have not witnessed any significant new jobs initiative emanating from Europe to deal with what everybody agrees is a chronic unemployment problem across the EU.

The real issue with the multi-annual financial framework is not the question of a breakthrough in the normal negotiations between the European Parliament and the European Council but that it is the wrong budget for the times that are in it. We are witnessing a net cut in the European Union's budget. That is the opposite of stimulus. It is extraordinary that the impulse of European Union leaders is driven towards reducing the European budget at a time when unemployment is at its highest, youth unemployment is at its highest and up to 115 million people across the Union are at risk of poverty. In that context, the driving impulse of the European leaders beggars belief. Our leaders have conspired with that. In my view, they have not questioned it in a sufficiently radical way. The Common Agricultural Policy, which is one of the best instruments Europe has had since its foundation, could be used as a vehicle to significantly improve economic activity in parts of the Union. It is wrong that its budget is to be cut by 10% over the seven-year lifetime of the next plan. This is the opposite of what is actually needed.

The provision of €6 billion for the youth employment guarantee involves the shifting around of moneys. There is a net budget cut. Supports have always been provided under various headings. It is not enough to create a new pigeonhole, a new brand or a new heading and claim it represents the provision of additional money, because it does not. Money is being shifted around within the existing budget, which is being cut. There is no argument about this. It is being cut because, in the middle of the worst crisis Europe has experienced since the 1920s, the British and the Germans wanted it to be cut. Different approaches were taken when there were crises of this magnitude in the United States and in Europe after the Second World War. Dramatic and radical approaches were taken to stimulate the European economy after the war. Radical policy departures were taken after the financial collapse of the Great Depression. I think Europe is at that juncture now. It needs to fundamentally revisit its position.

The Taoiseach might indicate, with specific regard to Question No. 5, whether any documentation was circulated prior to the European Council meeting in March from the perspective of the Irish Presidency or the Irish Government. Would he accept that the budget being proposed is totally unsuited and ill-equipped to deal with the crisis Europe is currently facing?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I begin by responding to the Deputy's first point. I am doing some work at the moment on how effectively our time in this Legislature is actually used. The programme for Government commits us to having many more Dáil sitting days. While that has happened, the amount of time devoted to legislation is not as much as it used to be. We need to have a discussion about how we want to run this Chamber, how we take the Order of Business and how the week is structured. I am sure nobody wants to be here five days a week, and people do not want to be here until 12 o'clock every night. I do not want to be required to go back to guillotining business every so often because of backlogs with serious legislation. We have had to use the guillotine, which has been used extensively over the years. When I have done that work, the leaders of the various parties will need to discuss the matter seriously.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach might discuss it with us before it becomes a fait accompli. We have been here for two and a half years now but no one has discussed a thing with me.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I will not come up with a fait accompli before we discuss it. I would like to get the Deputy's views on how best we can do what we are supposed to do here. We should consider whether we should have a committee week, as was tried before, or whether we should adjust the structure that determines how the Dáil is run from Tuesday to Thursday or Friday. We need to do whatever will have the best effect on Committee Stage debates on Bills, which is the really important part of the legislative process. We will have a chat about the matter before we make it a fait accompli, if that is okay with Deputy Martin.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach wants to discuss it before he makes it a fait accompli.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I share the IMF's view that countries that can borrow more money should do so. We cannot do so because our debt-to-GDP ratio is very close to 120% at the moment. It is not possible for us to do that. Of course it would be great to have an economic stimulus and another €500 or €600 million, or €1 billion, to throw into these things, but it does not happen that way. Somebody has to pay for this. The Deputy is aware that the Netherlands, as a paying country, has had to make some serious changes recently to deal with banks, the retail sector, taxation policy, etc. The provision of €6 billion in recognition of the problem of youth unemployment is an example of a new initiative that was well supported by Europe. Europe said in a forthright manner that it was willing to open trade negotiations with the US.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin This should be about jobs.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Europe and the US are the two greatest trading blocs in the world. There are differences of opinion in some countries in certain respects. The French have specific concerns that relate to their culture. There are issues relating to software and to the Common Agricultural Policy. Having said that, it is important to open the gates and see where the discussions go.

There was an expectation that the Common Agricultural Policy cut would be much bigger than the cut that actually occurred. It was very important for Ireland, as a food-producing nation, that the question of flat-rate payments was dealt with. There was a strong lobby in favour of doing this on a per-hectare basis across the board, which would have destroyed the principle of productivity in this country's case.

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