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Snippet Contents:

The EU Council came to a number of important conclusions last week on migration, digital Europe, security and defence, external relations and Brexit. Since we last spoke on this issue, a number of significant developments have progressed. In his remarks prior to the Council meeting last week the Taoiseach spoke on digital Europe and the importance of delivering practical benefits to our citizens. For the vast majority of EU citizens the agenda of these meetings does not speak to the day-to-day issues that they face in their lives. That is why the agreement of a text on the European Pillar of Social Rights agreed at the meeting on Monday is a key event in the history and development of Europe. The European Pillar of Social Rights was first published by the Commission in March 2016. It seeks to enhance the rights of EU citizens across categories of equal opportunities, access to the labour market, fair working conditions, social protection and inclusion. In an uncertain age it is difficult to disagree with the assessment of President Juncker that agreement on the social pillar is necessary to avoid social fragmentation and social dumping in Europe. If we are to meet 21st century challenges, we must deal with strengthening the rights of our peoples. I understand the text will be signed by the Taoiseach at the Social Summit in Gothenburg in November.
The Taoiseach will recall that I raised concerns with him and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, about Ireland's negotiating stance at the inter-institutional proclamation. The original Irish position had aligned us with countries such as Hungary which, in terms of its outspoken objections on the development of social rights, does not make a good bed fellow. I am glad that we dropped those objections. The principles and rights set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights should be implemented at Union and member state level, within their respective competencies and in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. It also states that this does not entail an extension of the Union's powers and that it is up to individual member states to ensure those new rights are practically implemented.
The three broad categories and the 20 specific policy areas highlight the work that Ireland and Europe has yet to do. For example, secure and adaptable employment is a critical challenge for our people. Many find that although they work they cannot plan adequately for the future owing to technological disruption and the gig economy damaging and delaying family information, house purchases, pension plans and the planning of their lives. On equal opportunities and access to the labour market, education, training and life-long learning are areas in respect of which Ireland must examine how it proposes to ensure that all its citizens can fully participate in our economy as it evolves and changes. Despite being on track to full employment, an objective of the Labour Party and Fine Gael in government, there is need to ensure that not only jobseekers but all of our citizens are encouraged to upskill and to seek work. On social protection and inclusion, child care and support to children is an area where Ireland needs to do more. We know this. While there were token measures in this regard in the budget, there was nothing significant to reduce the high costs faced by parents in the area of child care. I attended a meeting in my constituency on this issue earlier this week. As I said, the budget provided only token measures in this regard. We need to have a comprehensive plan for this area. If we are to put Europe at the heart of people's lives and experiences, the pillars of human rights and social rights are a lot more tangible to people than the issue of digital Europe or other concepts that do not impact on their prospects for the future.
I welcome the report that the Taoiseach expressed serious concern about the conditions faced by refugees in prison camps in Libya and the doubling of Ireland's commitment to the EU Trust Fund for Africa to €6 million. I hope these sentiments will be backed by enhanced efforts to ensure Ireland meets its commitments on accepting refugees. In its conclusions on digital Europe the Council declared that, "it is ready to do what it takes for Europe to go digital." Has there ever been a more meaningless statement? The Taoiseach met yesterday with President Macron. Détente seems to have been declared on the French proposal for an EU-wide tax on digital companies by the insertion of references to a global playing field. As already referenced, the Commission has been tasked now with bringing forward proposals by 2018. It will be interesting to see how this will fair, along with the proposed structure that might evolve for a digital tax. Obviously, it is one in which we have a very clear strategic interest.
Once again, the move towards Permanent Structured Co-operation, PESCO, on a security and defence system for Europe was on the Council's agenda. During the Taoiseach's meeting yesterday with President Macron was this issue and the President's proposals for an EU army and a shared defence budget discussed? As I said last week, once a military intervention force is created we are on a path to a different EU to the one Ireland envisages and signed up to.