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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey] I also welcome what the Minister of State said about the multi-annual framework and the need to protect the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, in particular. Some reform of CAP is needed, but the policy is of major importance to Ireland and we should do everything possible to protect the payments under CAP.

I have a question about PESCO. I understand we are participating in two projects. There is a need to report back to the House regularly on this and maybe to put a formal mechanism in place because there was a great deal of concern about joining PESCO when the vote was taken in the Dáil. It is not necessary to go into the detail of the two projects, but how would the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, feel about putting a mechanism in place to report to the House on our participation in these projects and the contemplation on participation in further projects?

The elephant in the room is the major trade dispute with the US, and it would seem that President Trump is threatening the multilateral world order. It would seem also that the EU is very much on its own in respect of many issues because of the changed policy in the USA. There is a major trade dispute under way. Was there much talk about that at the European Council meeting? Are the Heads of Government concerned about that? Is there a danger that these tariffs will be extended to agricultural products? That would be a real concern for us in Ireland and the EU generally.

The eurozone reform is being driven by France and Germany in particular. There has been a suggestion that a eurozone budget will be created and other proposals arising from that. Does the Minister of State agree that Ireland would be cool towards these proposals? These discussions are under way. We would need to be careful in respect of these proposals if we are to bring the citizens along with us in support of any measures along these lines.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I thank the Deputy for his comments and questions. First, in terms of enlargement, Ireland has been consistently a supporter of the enlargement process, something which would have transcended Governments, given how it has transformed itself significantly through membership of the European Union over the past 45 years. There are three states, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro in the official accession process, and significant progress is being made in a number of the chapters in each country. There is still a significant way to go. I was glad to see that at the summit earlier this year timelines of 2025 were given for those countries to join. We need to work with and encourage them. Certainly in visiting them I got a sense that if we as the European Union do not engage with them, other larger powerful forces will. We need to continue to engage.

We are also talking about the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania. We had a lengthy and somewhat difficult discussion at the General Affairs Council last Tuesday where a number of member states had concerns that to open up the process to these two states would not be the right course given that they felt the states did not make enough progress in other key areas of reform. I was glad to see that agreement was reached. It was an important step in showing a European front, that we are open to this process and that we want possible member states to work with us to aim to become part of the European Union. It was a good signal to agree an overall framework to move forward. The two countries have not yet progressed as far as is possible. We need to keep negotiations and the process with Turkey open while, given the challenges we face, not moving it forward.

In terms of the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, I stress Ireland's priority is to ensure that our traditional forms of funding are maintained in terms of CAP, Cohesion, research and innovation, but we understand there are newer issues that need to be addressed. We will have much discussion about that in the months, and possibly years, to come.

The trade dispute was discussed but, as far as I am aware, it was not a significant item on the agenda. With the Council, there was a considerable agenda. From an Irish point of view, we do not want to see this escalate any further. The imposition of the counter-tariffs has taken it to the next stage, but we would hope that we would be able to reach an agreement and a settlement. The Commission is working on this. We have made clear our position that we want this to be resolved.

Eurozone reform is a topic that we thought would be opened up for much lengthier discussions last week. In the end, it was not. Ireland is clear in that our focus is on completing the Single Market, particularly in the area of services, the banking union and the capital markets union. Any proposed reforms that would require a referendum or change in those terms is not something that is a priority for us at present and not a direction that we are keen to go, but we are open to any proposed suggestions that may be put to us.

In terms of PESCO, I am sure there would not be any issue with these projects being raised on the floor of the House, although the Business Committee would have to find space for a mechanism through which to do that. The Minister for Defence would have to agree to it but I see no reason that could not happen. Our projects are very much focused on collaboration and peacekeeping, in particular, in terms of maritime surveillance. I saw a comment last week that throughout our entire membership of the European Union there has not been a day where we have not had peacekeepers working somewhere throughout the world. This is where we want to focus all of our efforts through our membership of PESCO.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and ask the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to conclude.

Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne As the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, outlined, the European Council considered a number of important issues on Thursday and Friday last. Meeting in three different formats, leaders discussed migration, security and defence, jobs, growth and competitiveness, digital innovation, external relations, economic and monetary union as well as, of course, Brexit.

  While Brexit remains the priority of the Government, migration, which is of concern to many partners, was an important focus of the meeting. As the Taoiseach outlined, although we are less directly affected than other member states, we have played a constructive role in the EU response to migration. In advance of the meeting on Thursday, the Taoiseach confirmed that Ireland is to take in migrants from the MV Lifeline. He also announced a significant increase in our contribution to the EU Trust Fund for Africa, bringing it from €6 million to €15 million, as the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, highlighted, and the third highest contribution per capita.

  The European Council called for substantial socio-economic transformation of the African continent so that the people are less likely to attempt dangerous journeys to try to get to Europe. This was especially welcome from our perspective, as the Taoiseach stressed. The EU needs to develop a close partnership with Africa to help build up institutions, improve security and provide economic opportunity there so that many people can enjoy better prospects in their home countries.

  Much of the focus of the discussions last week was on strengthening external border controls, including through bolstering resources for Frontex and addressing the internal management of the Schengen area. While Ireland is not a member of Schengen, we co-operate in many areas and seek to be helpful where we can. As there was no major breakthrough in terms of reform of the common European asylum system, leaders agreed on the need to find a speedy solution to the package and they will review this again at their meeting in October.

  The discussions on security and defence provided a welcome opportunity to review progress across a number of fronts, including permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, military mobility, co-operation with NATO and strengthening the civilian Common Security and Defence Policy.

  Ireland is a founder member of PESCO and we are participating in two projects: a centre of excellence for EU military training missions and the upgrade of maritime surveillance systems. This in no way affects our policy of military neutrality and we will continue to make our distinctive contribution based on our own traditions and strengths.

  Leaders also considered a number of issues relating to jobs, growth and competitiveness. There was strong support for the Commission's proposed response to the US steel and aluminium tariffs. Ireland fully subscribes to the EU view that these tariffs are unjustified and in conflict with WTO rules.

  There was a relatively short discussion on digital taxation, with more time devoted to effective VAT collection issues. Ireland supports the position that all companies should pay their taxes. We need an approach, however, that is global, evidence-based, sustainable and focused on aligning taxing rights with the location of real substantive value-creating activity. It was positive that Ireland's position was acknowledged in the European Council conclusions, which emphasised support for the ongoing OECD work in this area.


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