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Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin]  As the Taoiseach said, the EU Council agenda is wide. To what extent has dealing with Brexit slowed down, distracted or impeded the progress of the EU on the pressing issues I have mentioned? On the substantive issues of the Council meeting, this will be the first discussion of the 2021-27 multi-annual financial framework, MFF, for the EU. I recall the detailed discussions at the conclusion of the last MFF. First, are all background papers and projections being prepared on the basis that the UK will definitely be out of the Union by 2021 or are separate scenarios being drawn up that would include either a UK contribution to the EU budget or even a scenario based on UK full membership should a second referendum be held in the United Kingdom? Second, to what extent does this seven-year framework involve a stronger social pillar?

Throughout Europe we have witnessed the rise of far right, nationalists and populists feeding on people’s insecurities. Many of those insecurities relate to precarious work, unaffordable housing and weakened public services. The far right has scapegoated migrants and asylum seekers, but European socialist and labour parties know that the problem is largely to do with inequalities created and maintained by the economy. What will change in the next seven-year EU spending framework to address these issues and support jobs and people's living conditions in a way that is genuinely fairer?

The Council will discuss the Single Market. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, has said we have only 12 years left to take decisive action to prevent the worst climate change scenarios becoming a reality. To what extent is the EU Council deliberating on Single Market reforms that will make our economies more ecologically sustainable, with the radical reduction in emissions and fossil fuel use which is now manifestly required? It is amazing to think that this will be the last full seven-year spending cycle in which we will be able to do the heavy lifting on climate action. Within 12 years it will be too late. What changes are planned for the Single Market in that context?

The Council will also discuss migration. In that regard, the Labour Party supports the UN's global migration pact as the foundation of a humane and principled approach to dealing with global migration. Does the Government support the UN migration pact? Regarding Ireland's specific concerns under this topic, can the Taoiseach guarantee that every EU Head of Government has received or will receive tomorrow a written briefing on the common travel area so they are all clear about the free movement of people and workers between Ireland and the UK, which will continue regardless of the Brexit outcome and in parallel with EU migration policy?

The Council will discuss external relations. In preparation for the summit with the League of Arab States scheduled for 25 February 2019 what consideration has been given to the idea, which I have mentioned more than once in this House, of a Marshall plan for Europe's neighbourhood? There is instability and conflict in many Arab states, including Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan and Yemen. This instability is driving migration to Europe, as well as promoting radicalisation. Investment and stability are needed in all these countries. Will the Council discuss meaningful European assistance and investment in Arab countries in Europe’s neighbourhood on its border? We now have evidence of Russian involvement in online disinformation, seeking to manipulate elections and referenda. What concrete actions will be discussed by the Council to safeguard our democracies? I welcome the Taoiseach referring to these issues in his statement. What will be changed before the May European elections to mitigate any such interference?

EU leaders will also discuss the reform of the Economic and Monetary Union, EMU. Based on the papers made available, this appears to be tinkering with the euro currency rather than making any significant progress. I note in particular that while a stabilisation function was discussed including, most importantly, an unemployment insurance scheme, there has not been agreement on this. Why not? It was clear ten years ago that the euro monetary union was radically incomplete. Do we have to wait for yet another ten years and another economic crisis before measures are taken to ensure greater social protections are built into monetary union? It could act to automatically counterbalance unemployment during periods of recession. Will the Taoiseach commit to supporting an EU-wide unemployment insurance scheme?

Finally, the EU 27 leaders will meet on Thursday to discuss Brexit, in the absence of Prime Minister May. Mr. Donald Tusk and President Jean-Claude Juncker have made it clear that the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, including the Irish border backstop, will not be reopened. This is vital. When I met my colleagues from the Party of European Socialists last weekend, I was reassured by the detailed information available to them and by the level of understanding and solidarity for Ireland shown by socialist Prime Ministers and leaders from across the EU. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that no legal changes will be made that weakens the backstop, including in any legal text contained in side letters, annexes or letters of understanding?

The Council of 27 will also discuss the possibility of a no-deal scenario. The Northern Ireland energy regulator has acknowledged that there is insufficient capacity in Northern Ireland to generate electricity to meet its needs. Northern Ireland needs the all-island energy market. It is no exaggeration to say that the lights could go out in Northern Ireland if there is a no-deal scenario. I listened to the absolute bunkum of the some of the Tories when they spoke about floating barges with batteries. What they are saying about the reality facing people on this island and in Britain is mind-boggling and beyond imagination. The all-island energy issue is included in the withdrawal agreement but, without that agreement, what provision is being made for a rapid redeployment of energy into Northern Ireland in a hard Brexit scenario? Ireland cannot make bilateral agreements with the UK to restore it. I discussed this with Maroš Šefčovič, the EU energy Commissioner. This is an EU competence. Even if we wanted to, we could not agree a detailed arrangement with the UK so we need to be making those preparations now.

Can the Taoiseach assure us that plans are being made to put in place quickly a single issue agreement between the UK and the EU to mitigate the worst harm from a no-deal scenario, which could come about in a little over 100 days?

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