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Snippet Contents:

The proposal from the leaders' agenda to envisage an ERASMUS programme for young artists would be a fitting legacy to and expansion of his work, as well as a tangible benefit for all EU citizens. The outcomes of the Council also refer to a proposal to encourage the emergence by 2024 of some 20 European universities. Will the Government outline what this will mean and if an Irish university will be encouraged to pursue this goal?
The last Council was dominated by Brexit. I was sceptical as to whether progress could be made. It went to the wire but, thankfully, agreement was reached. We would be under an illusion if we were to think that significant challenges do not remain. It is a challenge for all of us when we are asked how the apparent opposite objectives of the UK Government's commitment to have no border on the island of Ireland while leaving the customs union at the same time can be achieved. We need to get down to concrete detail ourselves, as well as those in the discussions taking place between Michel Barnier and UK Government, to ensure we have a deeper step-by-step understanding as how this will be envisaged and achieved.
The December Council meeting agreed to begin work on the type of transition agreement that will be put in place for approximately two years. It also will open discussions on the type of framework for the future relationship of the EU and the UK. In advance of the March Council meeting, the detail of both the transition and the future relationship will have to be worked out. Some details are beginning to emerge. I believe that only the UK staying in the Single Market and customs union can deliver the type of border and future trade arrangements that Ireland needs. Having listened to some Members earlier, I do not want a customs union barrier between Rosslare and Holyhead or Fishguard or Dublin and Liverpool. While the issues discussed in some detail about the Border are important, the bulk of our trade is east-west and it is critical for all of us.
The recent move by the UK Labour Party to acknowledge the need to stay in the customs union, as well as some form of linkage to the Single Market, is welcome. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. However, the news that Norway would seek radical changes to the European Economic Area, EEA, agreement in the event of special UK access to parts of the Single Market is a further reflection of the constraints on the UK's manoeuvrability in this regard.
Moves are under way to identify funding for the next EU budget. Where will the EU go when the UK exits? The debate started by the French President has been added to in Germany by the Social Democratic Party of Germany, in the context of coalition discussions. The future of Europe is a core concern for the Labour Party and for all social democrats, as well as democrats, on the Continent. Across Europe, parties of the left fought long and hard to advance this political project and the benefits it would bring to all Europeans. Laws, like the working time directive, parental leave and women's rights, have been an enormous advance for EU citizens. As I said in December, we need the debate on how we can bring Europe closer to all our citizens, and that it is not merely some economic or trading entity but has an impact on the quality of lives of everybody else.
We need to have a view on how Europe will be structured in the future. Due to our understandable focus on Brexit, the future of Europe debate has been somewhat put to one side. I note the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, has been pivotal in this discussion but I share the concerns expressed in the House about the drift away from liberal democracy and adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, which were the drivers of the European project in the aftermath of the Second World War. We need to understand what kind of European Union we want in the future. Ireland should be a leader in that. Although we have interests, we have also got values. Those values should be clearly articulated in all discussions about the next steps to be taken about Europe's future.