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Snippet Contents:

The European Union is not just an economic entity, it is also fundamentally based on the values of liberal democracy which include fair elections, a balance of powers and respect for rights. The attempt by the Polish Government to take direct charge of the judiciary is clearly against these core values. That said, the various illiberal decisions of the Orbán Government in Hungary, including taking political control of every independent state institution, seem to have gone even further and been subject to no intervention. Before this matter proceeds, it would be a good idea to have a wider discussion on where it is going and the specific objectives involved. I do not think we have had sufficient debate on these issues in this House in terms of the drift in the direction Hungary and Poland are taking or as fully fledged members of the European Union in enshrining the values the European Union espouses. To a certain extent, there has been silence and a brushing under the carpet in the domestic debate here and at European level. That said, I welcome the more recent initiatives on that front at European level.
The euro summit which accompanied the full summit had no substantive outcome. The upturn in the euro economy is very positive, but the last thing it should lead to is complacency or a sense that the need for reform has been removed. The banking union is far from complete and the full separation of banking debt and sovereign debt has not been achieved. A unified system of control and a unified currency require a broad-based system for risk sharing and bank resolution. Continued German objections to it are holding back an essential reform. We are unconvinced by the Commission's proposal to subsume the mechanism for aiding states with borrowing problems under its oversight.
We repeat our call on the Taoiseach to state exactly what Ireland is proposing on the digital taxation initiative. During Taoiseach's questions I repeatedly asked him to clarify his strategy for the March summit which is due to decide the issue, yet he has repeatedly refused to say anything. The more he does that the more it will look like he is simply waiting to see what will happen.
While leaders noted actions concerning migration, there was no substantive discussion of the continued humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 5.4 million registered refugees from Syria. Of these, 1 million have sought asylum in the European Union. Ireland has, rightly, agreed to participate in the resettlement of refugees, but we should also acknowledge the generosity of Germany and Sweden which have, between them, taken fully 64% of all refugees. The political bravery of their leaders, particularly Chancellor Merkel, in standing for humanitarian values in the face of intolerance is something we should acknowledge and honour. However, more needs to be done. First, there should be a significant increase in support for basic facilities for refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and other countries in the region. The UNHCR states there is a €2 billion gap in the budget for 2018. Ireland and the European Union should take immediate steps to help to close the gap. Second, we should continue to speak up for the victims of war crimes committed during the Syrian conflict. That Russia has repeatedly vetoed the efforts of the United Nations to investigate likely gas attacks by the Syrian regime against its own people is a shocking reflection of how far it is willing to go in supporting a dictatorship and playing geopolitics.
This year will be dominated by the Brexit negotiations. In the journey from generalities to a hard agreement an enormous amount of work must be undertaken. For Ireland, the challenge is to build the missing constructive relationships and be willing to start proposing specific solutions to at least limit the inevitable damage caused by Brexit. Deputy Donnelly is in London with Deputies Niall Collins and Darragh O'Brien. It is interesting that the perspective on Brexit they are getting from British interlocutors is far different from the message and sense of what the agreement means here. I met the Scottish Minister responsible for Brexit, Mr. Mike Russell, in Killarney at the weekend, with Mr. Mark Drakeford from Wales, and they were very surprised by my explanation of our understanding of what the phase 1 agreement constituted vis-à-vis what they were hearing from the Westminster Government on the same issue. That indicates clearly the need to be vigilant in the months and years ahead.