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Snippet Contents:

I rewrote it somewhat this morning and so there may have been a delay.
This is reflected in the conclusions we adopted. Without a level playing field internationally if Europe were to act unilaterally, we might end up handing an advantage over other non-EU economies. As Ireland has maintained on numerous previous occasions, the OECD is the best forum for dealing with this. That is why I asked for a reference to the OECD work in the conclusions ahead of any mention of the European Commission.
The Commission has also been invited to present proposals early next year but these will be for discussion and, as a taxation issue, will be subject to unanimity. A number of countries were very firmly of the view that taxation is and should remain a national competency.
As I flagged in June and again last week, given the challenges we face there is an increasing focus within the EU on security and defence issues. Most of our partners want to press ahead with permanent structured co-operation, which is known as PESCO, and is provided for in the treaties. It aims to provide a mechanism whereby military crisis-management capabilities can be developed by member states in support of Common Security and Defence Policy operations.
Discussions on PESCO are ongoing, with some aspects of governance, capabilities and projects still to be settled. The ambition is to be ready to launch PESCO in December. Ireland has been taking a realistic and constructive approach to the discussions and we hope that we will be able to participate in it.
We have a long-standing policy of military neutrality and of not joining military alliances. We also have constitutional guarantees which are reflected in the protocols to the Lisbon treaty. We will not, of course, do anything that compromises these positions. However, we are not a neutral country when it comes to issues such as human trafficking, terrorism or cybercrime. We are very much in favour of co-operating with EU partners on a range of security issues. We will approach PESCO and the other issues on the agenda in that spirit. The European Council agreed to have a fuller discussion and a progress assessment of PESCO and other security and defence issues in December.
We had lengthy discussions on a number of external relations items mainly relating to Turkey, but also relating to Iran and North Korea on Thursday evening. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will speak about these in her remarks.
The evening session also included a presentation by the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in which she made a number of positive points regarding the Brexit negotiations, including citizens' rights; the absolute necessity to protect the Good Friday Agreement; her wish to avoid any physical border on the island of Ireland; her recognition of the unique nature of Ireland as an island; her commitment that no member state will lose out or have to pay more into the current budget as a result of the UK leaving; and her intention that the United Kingdom should remain a strong security partner for Europe. Further detail is required on all these points but the presentation was welcome nonetheless and positively received.
While trade matters were not on the agenda and were not discussed in detail, there was brief mention of the EU negotiations with Mercosur, as well as requests for Council mandates to open negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. These are likely to feature in future Council discussions.
President Tusk chaired a useful exchange on Friday morning on the future of Europe, based on his leader’s agenda. I thanked him personally for taking the time to speak with each of the 28 leaders individually in advance of the European Council. The general consensus at the breakfast meeting was that President Tusk’s proposed process is the right one. The debate should not be led by any one country, Prime Minister or president or group of countries, but should be done by the community method as 27. His plan envisages additional meetings at the level of Heads of State or Government. While this requires is a significant time commitment, it should provide the impetus necessary for decision making.
As an issue, the future of Europe is at least as important for Ireland as Brexit is, because we are staying at the heart of the EU and we want to ensure it continues to work for our citizens. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to take the lead role on this and to begin an engagement programme which will interact with citizens and civil society so that we can set out and discuss what we want the future of Europe to look like.
After the discussions on the future of Europe, the European Council met in its Article 50 format to discuss progress in the Brexit negotiations. Michel Barnier reported on the recent rounds of negotiations on the withdrawal issues. As expected, he advised that there has not yet been sufficient progress to move on to phase 2 of the negotiations on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.