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Higgins, Senator Alice-Mary

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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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6

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Senator Alice-Mary Higgins

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Senator Alice-Mary Higgins

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Snippet Contents:

I welcome President Juncker to the House. As he said, we have many passionate Europeans in Ireland. As one of those passionate Europeans, I believe I speak for many when I say we are concerned about the point at which we find ourselves in Europe and the period from which we have just emerged. During that period it seemed to many Europeans that market sentiment took precedence over public confidence. In some cases, alarm bells were ringing in the context of public confidence, as illustrated by the findings of Eurobarometer surveys. Failures of solidarity and in the language of solidarity between countries have contributed to stoking national and regional divisions. We have seen that long-term investment has, at times, been sublimated to short-term targets through rules such as those referenced earlier and austerity has strained our collective social fabric and damaged social cohesion.
I recognise and welcome the belated but important reassertion of the social pillar and its significance. However, if we have a new commitment to the social pillar, it must be made robust and actualised. A Europe of inclusion must include those with disabilities. My colleague, Senator Dolan, has expressed the concern that many European Commissioners do not seem to understand exactly how serious the work of inclusion is in the area of disability and many other areas, particularly given that the EU has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The social pillar must be reflected and weighted strongly within the EU semester process. In the past we saw that the Europe 2020 vision of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, which was a positive collective vision for Europe, was sublimated to short-term and immediate fiscal targets to the detriment of our national and collective development. The targets to which we sign up together, including the sustainable development goals and climate change targets, must be part of that national and international conversation in the context of the EU semester process.
In areas such as the environment and data protection we see Europe at its best, with countries pressing each other to raise standards, recognise collective goals and exercise a vision which might not be possible individually. I hope Mr. Juncker will press our Government on its failure to achieve Ireland's climate change targets, as recent reports have indicated. There is also a role for civil society and citizens working together across nations in pressing and driving those targets. However, civil society and citizens' groups have also expressed concerns about areas such as trade, to which we must listen. Given the widespread concerns about trade, which are not based on protectionism but on a different vision, and in light of European Court of Justice rulings, including the court case taking place in Luxembourg next week, is it not the case that we must change our minds from time to time? We may need to re-examine international trade and trade mandates to address the role of investor courts, which create a chilling effect in the context of the democratic driving forward of higher standards.
Others have spoken about Brexit and its importance. I wish to highlight concerns relating to human rights equivalence, particularly given the move away from the Human Rights Act in the UK. Human rights equivalence also applies in the area of reproductive rights. Many in Northern Ireland and those who stand in solidarity with them in the UK are reminding us of the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to ensuring human rights equivalence for all men and women, North and South of the Border.
I welcome Mr. Barnier back to the House and acknowledge the work he has done to try to avoid a hard border. However, one day after World Refugee Day, we must also look to the wider question of borders in Europe and at how we are reacting on that issue. It is a matter of deep concern that Hungary has passed legislation that will see those who help refugees being penalised. There is a deep failure at a European level in the immigration control agreements that are being signed with countries such as Libya, Sudan and Turkey where there are serious human rights concerns in respect of how people are being treated. This undermines us and Europe's credibility on human rights. It also undermines our work to build peace in the world. I agree with Mr. Juncker's assertion that, at its best, Europe is building bridges and working for peace but the militarisation of our borders is not building bridges. That the text of the PESCO agreement does not contain any references to peace or peacekeeping is a real concern. Peace-building is the foundation of the European Union and it must be our future.
Mr. Juncker and others have spoken in favour of an EU army about which I am very concerned. Mr. Juncker said that a European army would send a signal to Russia and other entities but the future should not be one of big powers or allies forming alliances in the context of those big powers. The future must be one of multilateralism in its truest sense, in Europe and at the United Nations, where we recognise that diversity is strength. The diverse perspectives and skills each nation brings to the table, including the neutrality and extraordinary peacekeeping legacy of Ireland which is such an asset in Europe, are a source of strength. I urge Mr. Juncker to consider the unique capacity of all nations and how we may contribute together to a better future and play a better role in tackling global challenges.