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Address by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

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Address by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

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Address by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

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Snippet Contents:

A Cheann Comhairle, a Chathaoirligh, Monsieur le Président, I join others in welcoming President Juncker and his colleagues, Mr. Michel Barnier and Commissioner Hogan, to the House for an important interaction at a crucial juncture in our history. I have a mere four minutes to set out a few ideas on behalf of my party, the Labour Party.
When the Irish economy collapsed in 2008, our National Economic and Social Council produced an important report, entitled "Ireland's Five-Part Crisis: An Integrated National Response". The five parts were banking, our tax base, the economy generally, the social impact and implications, and Ireland's reputation. The core recommendation of that analysis was for an integrated response. That is exactly what the European Union needs now. We are facing several major crises simultaneously across Europe, specifically Brexit, migration, populism, climate change, and new technologies displacing traditional, secure employment. Woven through all of these crises is public anxiety. We need to understand that people across Europe are afraid. They are afraid of being left behind by the global economy, of poverty in their old age and of their children having fewer opportunities than themselves. They are afraid that globalisation is out of control and the natural environment is being ruined forever. Populists are good at tapping into people's fears, but they do not offer solutions other than hate and the identification of others to blame. We in the EU's mainstream must show that we understand, comprehend and get the fears of our peoples. More important, we must show that we have a solution in our hands to address these problems.
As President Juncker has undoubtedly heard clearly time and again in the past two years, Ireland's immediate priority is Brexit. The United Kingdom's decision two years ago, compounded by its inability, unwillingness or both to set out an acceptable pathway to future relations between the UK and EU, presents us in Ireland with real and unique difficulties. I thank President Juncker for his words today. There are many who are suggesting that, without a deal that is clearly mapped out in legal terms before the June Council, we will be abandoned by some, if not all, of our European colleagues. That solidarity, expressed so clearly by President Juncker, is fundamentally important for us and the future of our Union.
However, we must also look through a wider lens than merely Brexit. Our industrial activity has disrupted the natural climate in the developing world as well as in our own countries. A social Europe would greatly increase our investment in these countries and help them to transform their economies. A Marshall plan for Europe's neighbourhood to create jobs and real opportunities at home and across the Middle East and Africa would make the dangerous and risky migration to Europe less attractive. A social Europe would also invest more in formerly industrialised regions of Europe, which are hotbeds of support for populism - every election has shown that, as did Brexit - after decades of economic decline. A social Europe would be more attractive to some in the British Labour Party, with whom I had detailed discussions last week and who see Brexit as an opportunity for state-led investment to counteract poverty and inequality. A social Europe would provide a strong safety net to empower people to experiment with new forms of work and new fields of economic activity to compensate for the rise of robotisation. A social Europe would recognise that we cannot measure or understand public anxieties through crude socioeconomic statistics like GDP or even our own unique GNI*.
We need to better understand people's states of mind and comprehend and address their fears. We have the means to address them if we have the will. Are we willing to put sufficient investment into making an immediate difference in people's lives? That would require a new approach. Our challenge, one which can be met, is to agree how to fund the needed investment in a sustainable way. However, what are needed now, above all, are real and practical demonstrations of European solidarity.