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Snippet Contents:

Tá áthas orm labhairt os comhair na Dála inniu faoi chruinniú Chomhairle an Aontais Eorpaigh a bhí ar siúl sa Bhruiséal an 14 Nollaig agus an 15 Nollaig. Bhuail an Chomhairle le chéile i gceithre bhfoirm difriúla le linn an dá lá. Bhí an phríomhchruinniú ar siúl Déardaoin, 14 Nollaig, agus dhírigh sé ar chomhoibriú sóisialta, oideachais agus cultúrtha, chomh maith le cúrsaí slándála agus cosanta. Níos déanaí an tráthnóna sin, bhuaileamar le chéile mar chuid de chlár oibre na gceannairí ar thodhchaí na hEorpa. Bhí béim ar an imirce, ach phléamar cúrsaí eile freisin, ina measc caidrimh sheachtrach agus trádáil. Maidin Dé hAoine, 15 Nollaig, bhí cruinniú mullaigh an euro i bhfoirm leathan leis an 27 ballstát chun an aontas eacnamaíoch agus airgeadaíochta a phlé. Ina dhiaidh sin, bhuaileamar le chéile i bhfoirm Airteagal 50, gan an Bhreatain, le dul chun cinn maidir le Brexit a phlé.
The Thursday afternoon meeting opened with a short exchange of views with President Tajani of the European Parliament. I look forward to meeting President Tajani again tomorrow in Strasbourg where I will be the first EU Head of Government to address the European Parliament as part of its debate series on the future of Europe.
The European Council then moved on to review security and defence. As on previous occasions, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, attended the meeting and in his remarks underlined the importance of complementarity between his organisation and the European Union and the need for strong European defence. A Europe worth building is a Europe worth defending and Europe should not rely on the United States and the United Kingdom to do it for it. Within the European Union work has moved forward with the launch of the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, arrangement. I am happy that Ireland is among the 25 member states to participate from the beginning. We are a founder member of PESCO, just as we were of the euro and the Single Market. PESCO provides a mechanism through which crisis management capabilities can be developed by member states in support of common security and defence operations. As I have said previously, participation in PESCO in no way changes our policy of military neutrality. We will continue to make our distinctive contribution based on our own traditions and strengths. However, we should also recognise that there are new challenges that confront all countries, including Ireland, such as terrorism, uncontrolled mass migration, cybercrime and drug and human trafficking and that it makes sense to work together to respond to them. No nation state can do so on its own. I look forward to Ireland participating in projects that are suited to our particular capabilities and position. I restate my view that our military neutrality and non-membership of NATO are a foreign policy strength and enhance our position as an honest broker and as UN peacekeepers in Lebanon and other parts of the world.
The next item for discussion was social, educational and cultural co-operation, following on from the successful social summit in Gothenberg in November. While member states remain primarily responsible for these areas, much can be achieved by working together. A number of interesting points were raised such as including the social agenda as part of the European Semester, although a decision on this was not taken at the European Council. The concept of European universities was also raised and we are very enthusiastic about exploring it further. The Commission will report back in the coming months on how some of these ideas might be brought forward. I see real opportunities in this for one or more Irish universities in becoming part of a European university. We also had a short discussion on climate change and the One Planet summit held in Paris last month.
In our evening session we had an extensive discussion on migration. While there were no formal conclusions, there was a clear recognition that much had been accomplished on the external dimension, with a sense around the table that the European Union needed to take further action externally to tackle the root causes of mass migration. On the internal dimension, different positions were aired and it was agreed that we would return to the discussion later in the year. Europe needs an effective and sustainable policy which will respect the responsibility and solidarity of member states. We also discussed a range of external relations items, including Russia and Ukraine and Jerusalem. The Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, will provide more detail on some of these issues and the social dimension in her remarks.
On Mercosur, we heard a presentation by the Iberian countries on the advantages of a trade deal for Europe. As the House is aware, while Ireland recognises the potential for a deal to be of great benefit to Irish industry and the economy, we have some concerns about the beef industry, in particular. France shares this position and both President Macron and I intervened to give our strong views on what should and should not be included in such a deal.