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Snippet Contents:

The Friday morning euro summit which met in its extended format took place in the presence of outgoing President of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem and the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, whom I welcomed to Dublin late last year. Both noted that the economic situation across Europe was much improved, how the single currency was in better shape and, in contrast to previous years, that there was greater convergence among eurozone economies. However, both called for this period of relative calm to be used to make European Monetary Union more resilient. I supported this call in my remarks, pointing out that the European Council did not predict the last financial crisis and that there could be no room for complacency about the future. We agreed that the banking union should be completed, although the timing and sequencing, particularly of risk reduction, was still being worked out. I expressed strong support for completing the capital markets union.
There was some discussion about institutional change, including the possibility of establishing a European monetary fund to replace the troika and a possible Finance Minister for the eurozone. Ireland has an open mind on these proposals and would welcome more detail before making a decision. It was also agreed that Finance Ministers should advance their work on these issues, with the European Council retaining oversight. President Tusk has announced that he will convene another eurozone summit in March, at which we will consider these matters further.
The European Council met in Article 50 format, without Prime Minister May, and formally took the decision that sufficient progress had been made in phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations to allow us to move on to phase 2. As the House is aware, Ireland was able to rely on the strong support and solidarity of our partners in ensuring what was agreed represented an acceptable outcome on issues related to Ireland and Northern Ireland. I expressed our thanks to my colleagues around the table and they, in turn, assured me that we could continue to rely on their support as the negotiations continued.

As we move into phase 2, when transitional arrangements and the framework for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union will be considered, it will be important to remain vigilant to ensure the commitments entered into in December are delivered in full. There can be no back-sliding. I am pleased that we agreed to negotiate a transition period and prioritise discussion of it in the first part of phase 2. Such an arrangement is essential if we are to provide certainty for businesses and citizens and enable them to plan for permanent changes that may occur as a result of Brexit.
In addition, internal preparatory discussions among the EU 27 on further guidelines at the European Council in March on the framework for the future relationship will begin. In parallel, the European Council called on the EU and UK negotiators to complete their work on withdrawal issues and start drafting the relevant parts of the legally binding withdrawal agreement. Later this month the General Affairs Council which will be attended by the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, will adopt additional negotiating directives on transitional arrangements and discussions with the United Kingdom on agreeing these transitional arrangements will then begin. This could be a status quo agreement, with the aim of avoiding gaps or cliff edge effects between the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and the entry into force of the future relationship agreement.
In parallel to the negotiations and related work in Brussels, the Government’s detailed planning to prepare for the United Kingdom’s exit, including contingency planning for all possible scenarios, will continue at home. We have already taken some important steps to prepare the domestic economy, including the Action Plan for Jobs and the trade and investment strategy. Several dedicated measures were announced in budget 2018, including a loan scheme for business and additional supports for capital investment in the food industry. The House can be assured that, as we have done up to now in the negotiations, the Government will continue to advance and defend Ireland’s interests and seek to mitigate the negative effects of Brexit for the country and exploit opportunities. I look forward to hearing Deputies’ views.