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European Council in Brussels: Statements (Continued)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] We found a compromise that we were happy to recommend to our respective institutions. The European Council on Thursday night confirmed the political agreement of the member states and the Parliament will vote tomorrow at its plenary session in Strasbourg. While I cannot prejudge the result, the Parliament's leadership and its negotiators have endorsed the deal, and I am hopeful that this vote will confirm the agreement we brokered. I was happy to refer to this in my briefing to the European Parliament in Strasbourg this morning.

These were long and hard negotiations. I acknowledge the great work done by the Tánaiste and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs over many months. This is a real achievement for the Irish Presidency, but more importantly it is an achievement for the European Union, which can now get down to the serious work of planning and programming the spending of these highly significant resources of €960 billion.

As the meeting effectively marked the end of the Irish Presidency, it may be worthwhile for me to recall for the House some of the landmark achievements during our Presidency. We set out to make a difference, and we have. From the outset, we made it clear in three words that our priorities were stability, jobs and growth. Across every Council formation, we identified the measures that could best deliver and we worked hard to make progress. The results of our efforts are outlined in detail in the report that has been laid before the Oireachtas.

From the beginning of January right up to last Friday, the Government worked flat out to secure our objectives. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, in intensive negotiations last week delivered on banking resolution, a key part of the proposals to sort out Europe's banking system and to ensure we can never experience again what Ireland went through. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Deputy Coveney, fought hard for and delivered reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which is vital for Europe's agrifood industry and for the prosperity of rural communities across the European Union. As I have already set out, the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, led the long and tough negotiations with the European Parliament on the MFF that delivered agreement on a budget for the EU of €960 billion, a budget that will support jobs, growth and investment across Europe for the next seven years.

Across the Council formations they chaired, Irish Ministers worked to manage the EU's heavy agenda and to deliver results. I pay tribute to the commitment, energy and skill demonstrated by my colleagues in government over the past six months and to the hard work of the officials who tirelessly supported them. The extent of hours put in by public servants in all sectors is often misunderstood. This includes the permanent representation and the young people drafted in to assist them in the past six months.

We achieved agreement on Horizon 2020, the €70 billion programme for research and innovation, paving the way for the jobs of the future. We hosted last month's Digital Agenda Assembly in Dublin, one of the largest events of the Presidency, which highlighted the potential of the digital agenda to deliver growth and jobs. We made our contribution to freeing up the Single Market, providing new opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises. The new accounting directive will reduce administrative burdens and will introduce a simplified set of accounting rules. The public procurement package will make it easier to tender for public contracts across the EU, which in total are worth some €2 trillion a year. The €2 billion programme for the competitiveness of enterprises and SMEs, known as COSME, will help business to access finance and to trade more easily across borders.

Of course, the search for growth and jobs does not stop at Europe's borders - nobody knows this better than people in a small open economy like Ireland. A lasting achievement of our Presidency will be the mandate for the start of negotiations between the EU and US on an historic transatlantic trade and investment partnership, secured last month at meetings chaired by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. I hope that in the current circumstances the matters at hand will be addressed, clarified and dealt with so that these negotiations can take place in a transparent and equal manner.

In other areas Ireland sought and secured agreement on proposals that will underpin jobs and growth in the EU for investment across the portfolio of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, including telecommunications and energy networks, or Europe's transport infrastructure. Agreement was secured on a range of environmental legislation which will help to ensure that Europe's future is safe and sustainable. Sustainability was also at the heart of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, secured under the Irish Presidency. The endorsement of the Atlantic action plan will help drive sustainable "blue" growth in the coastal regions of the five Atlantic member states, Portugal, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Ireland along with Canada and the United States. I was delighted to be present with Commissioner Geoghegan Quinn in the Marine Institute in Galway for the launch of the EU, US and Canada Atlantic Ocean research alliance in May which will help to transform our knowledge and understanding of the Atlantic.

When the Government came into office, we promised to restore Ireland's standing as a respected and influential member of the European Union. The successful conduct of Ireland's seventh Presidency of the Council was always key to this process. I am proud of what our country and officials have achieved over the past six months. We have demonstrated that we are a serious, competent and responsible partner that has acted in the common interest while holding the Presidency.

Of course, Ireland's engagement with Europe does not end with the Presidency. I am determined that now we should build on the goodwill we have earned, maintaining and developing the contacts we have made so that Ireland continues to be an active part of the decision-making process in order to best protect our long-term interests as a member state. That means continual engagement with the European Council and Parliament on an ongoing basis.

Our experience over the past six months shows the determining role now played by the European Parliament since the endorsement of the Lisbon treaty. The Oireachtas also had a busy Presidency agenda and I had the honour to address the COSAC plenary session last week. I welcome the contribution of the Oireachtas to the consideration of the roles of national parliaments and the European Parliament in ensuring democratic legitimacy and accountability as the Union considers steps toward closer economic and monetary union.

This Presidency was our first in a trio that includes Lithuania and Greece. Lithuania has taken up the baton with enthusiasm and determination and I wish both our partners every success in implementing our joint programme with its focus on putting Europe firmly back on the path of growth and prosperity. I can pledge Ireland's full support for the work that lies ahead of them.

The outcome of last month's European Council was welcome, as it focused us on the two pressing issues of youth employment and access to finance. These are not abstract concepts. They are real and I am pleased that the European Council has responded in concrete terms to assist in addressing these challenges.

The meeting has placed us on the right track in areas such as the European semester, the compact for growth and jobs or our clear focus on concluding banking union. I was delighted to have had the opportunity, right at the end of our Presidency, to brief my colleagues on a wide range of substantive achievements which we were able to deliver on our watch. I had the privilege of doing that today in the European Parliament. I will continue to keep the House updated on all relevant developments.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The statement the Taoiseach has just delivered claims that the past six months has seen enormous progress. Even more than is usual for a government given to daily praising its own actions, he has presented a picture of Ministers having delivered Europe to a new frontier. The Union is, he claims, growing stronger because of this leadership.

In the middle of this it is striking just how much the Taoiseach has not mentioned. In his review of the past six months, he has managed to completely ignore the fundamental direction of the European economy. He has declared himself absolutely satisfied with what has been achieved, yet the citizens of Europe see a very different picture.

During the past six months growth rates have fallen, recession has returned, unemployment has reached record levels and sovereign bonds have experienced their fourth worst month in more than 20 years. The evidence is overwhelming that the policy of co-ordinated austerity in all parts of Europe has failed and will keep failing, yet the response has been to double down on the policy. The Taoiseach's primary argument is that it is a great success to have closed as many files as possible. It is a "never mind the quality feel the width" approach which sees reaching agreements as being more important than what is in them.

The agenda is exactly as was proposed in President Van Rompuy's presentation to the European Parliament last year when he laid out the work programme for 2013.

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