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Snippet Contents:

It is nearly a month since the December European Council meeting. Significant progress was made on Brexit and on the leaders' agenda, discussed prior to Christmas. It is unfortunate that debate on many of the changes under way in Europe has been limited and more often lost in the understandable focus on Brexit. Europe is changing, however. The rush to advance the defence agenda just prior to Christmas is just one example.
For six months, I called in this House for a debate on PESCO. I listened to the leader of Fianna Fáil give his view on it. It was perfectly reasonable but we should have the debate and a full, open discussion on these matters.
Permanent structured co-operation on defence and security matters has been central to the changes under way in Europe. It is a shame, therefore, that these matters were rushed through in two hours. We were not to have any debate at all in this House on the matter until I insisted on it. It was a joke of a reference to the defence committee of the House when the debate on its report was scheduled for the next day. Thus, there was no opportunity to hear any expert witnesses on important matters. That is not the way we bring people with us in an important debate on the future of Europe. We have made such mistakes in the past. Any changes will be subject to referendum in the future. Therefore, let us bring our people on a journey of understanding as we discuss fundamental issues pertaining to the future of Europe, including this country.
As I said in December, Ireland should have taken the same position as Malta, which adopted a wait-and-see approach because it believed certain operations may be in breach of the neutrality clause in its constitution. The Irish Government has still not informed us which of the 17 joint projects under PESCO it intends to sign up to. There should be no fear about an open and reasonable debate on these matters.
On foreign policy in the Middle East, I welcome the firm commitment by leaders reiterating support for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and the fact that the EU position on Jerusalem remains unchanged. It is three years since the Dáil unanimously voted to recognise the state of Palestine. The Irish Government should now move to declare its recognition of Palestine as a state, and more efforts are needed to stop and reverse the development by Israel of illegal settlements. This is an important item for the agenda of the European Union. It seems we are moving away from peace as opposed to towards it, as we had hoped. So many of the problems of the world have their genesis in the conflict in the Middle East.
The Council welcomed the progress on climate change and the outcome of the One Planet Summit in Paris. That work now needs to be progressed further.
In the context of the next EU budget, there is an interesting proposal from the Commission that proceeds and profits of the EU emissions trading system should move from state level to EU level. This is one of the proposals put forward to fill the EU budget gap that will be created when the UK leaves the Union. The Government's view on this proposal and the other financial proposals should be set out clearly for us and we should have an opportunity to debate that also.
More than likely Ireland will be asked to make a larger contribution to the EU budget. There should be an open public debate on that. Again, we need to address that matter and explain, if there are to be increased contributions, what they are for and how they are to be constructed.
The second agenda item for the Council was the social dimension, education and culture. Last month, I flagged a number of ideas proposed by the Party of European Socialists. I hoped then that the Government would consider those. A key agenda item at the Council was extending the ERASMUS programme on its 30th anniversary. It is timely, as we recall with sadness the death of Peter Sutherland, to remember the work he did to create that ground-breaking programme when he was a European Commissioner. It is one of the really important instruments that brought European citizens together.