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Address by H.E. Mr. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament (Continued)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 777 No. 2

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The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Ar son an Rialtais agus ar son mhuintir na hÉireann, ba mhaith liom fíor fáilte a chur roimh an Úactaráin Schulz as ucht na cuairte seo ar ár bParliamint anseo i Dáil Éireann. It is an honour and a pleasure to receive President Schulz in Dáil Éireann, our national Parliament.

As all in this House will be well aware, Ireland will take up the role of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the seventh time and we will also celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ireland's joining what was then the European Economic Community from next January. During our Presidency, we will do our utmost to advance the work of the Council. This visit and today's address to this House by President Schulz represent essential preparatory steps in forging the relationships which will be essential to Ireland delivering a successful Presidency. In the same vein, I travelled yesterday with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and a number of Government colleagues to Brussels to meet with President Barroso and the College of Commissioners, and we discussed our preparations for the Presidency at some length, as well as the current issues facing Europe. In the afternoon, I met with President Van Rompuy and held discussions ahead of what will be a very busy period for the European Council, with three meetings happening in the next 11 weeks.

Since the last Irish Presidency in 2004, there has been huge change within our Union. During our Presidency that year, ten new member states joined the Union. Their accession represented, in many ways, the reunification of a Europe divided since World War II and enriched our Union enormously. Since then, two more countries have joined, and we are about to become a circle of 28, with the Union soon to embrace Croatia. The Lisbon treaty, to which the president has referred, has been signed and ratified and it came into force three years ago. This has strengthened several aspects of European integration and has greatly extended the co-legislator role of the European Parliament, making it an indispensable partner for Council, and, therefore, for all Presidencies. One of our most important preparatory tasks for the Presidency, and one which we have prioritised, is to establish good working relations with the European Parliament. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, will elaborate on this aspect of Ireland's work in her contribution later.

Following a decade of European growth and prosperity, from which Ireland particularly benefited, the economic crisis hit in 2008 and 2009. Mistakes were made in this economy and in the wider European and global systems. Tackling its enduring effects is of major importance at national level and European level as well. The Government has no greater priority than driving the economic recovery needed to provide the growth and jobs that our people and all people across Europe urgently need. The crisis has revealed the depth of interdependence between member states and the weaknesses in our shared economic governance. A series of decisions have been put on the agenda to improve economic governance on a European level. We have taken and implemented some and more will follow. We need to work hard and work together to get the EU and all its member states back on track.

As I have said on many occasions, Ireland will do everything it can to secure its economic recovery but we cannot do it on our own. We are an integral part of the euro area; we are an export driven economy; and we need a strong and stable currency and neighbours with growing economies and money to spend. For us to recover, Europe needs to move beyond crisis. We are, I believe, headed in the right direction.

In June, the European Council took another substantial step towards getting to grips with Europe's problems. It adopted a "Compact for Growth and Jobs" with an ambitious programme of work to be driven forward at national and European level. It includes measures with the potential to make a real difference in the immediate future, boosting the European Investment Bank's capacity to lend and it also contains steps that will support growth and job creation in the medium to long term, including deepening the Single Market, especially in the digital area. Making real headway on this will be a priority for us during our Presidency next year.

We adopted a euro summit statement which committed us to severing the toxic link between banking and sovereign debt. We had long argued to colleagues that this was an indispensable step. We now need to see it implemented urgently. A first priority is putting the arrangements in place to allow the European Stability Mechanism to have the capacity to recapitalise banks directly, taking the strain and the pressure off sovereigns as a consequence. For this to happen, we need to see a single supervisory mechanism for banks put in place. The Commission made a legislative proposal in this regard some weeks ago and it is very important that we meet the target we have set ourselves of seeing it established by the end of this year, although, clearly, this is a ambitious timetable. Of course, the June agreement also contained a commitment to Ireland to work with us to make our banking-related debt more sustainable. We are in intensive discussions with our European partners and with the troika to ensure that this commitment is delivered upon and that we can secure the best possible deal. Finally, in June we set a process in train that will lead to a deeper and more stable Economic and Monetary Union. The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, is currently consulting colleagues on the steps that need to be taken and he will report back to us when we meet later this month before finalising his work by the end of the year.

The recent announcement by the European Central Bank that, in the right conditions, it will step in to buy the bonds of member states that are in difficulty in the markets has had a positive impact, lowering yields and providing some breathing space. We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass. European leaders have made commitments; they have said what they are going to do. There is a legitimate expectation among our people and in the markets that we will now deliver. I will continue to press the case for urgency whenever I meet colleagues, whether one-to-one or in more formal meetings. Ireland wants a prosperous and secure Union and a strong and stable currency. That is in Ireland's interests. It is in Europe's interests. The Government and I will work hard to contribute as much as we can towards achieving those ends when we assume the Presidency in January.

One of the Union's strengths should be its ability to take a longer-term view, without the day-to-day developments of the economic crisis distracting us from the importance of the Union's long-term planning. Member states are now negotiating the multi-annual financial framework, the MFF, for the EU's budget between 2014 and 2020, setting the parameters of the Union's spending to the end of this decade. President Van Rompuy intends that we should reach an agreement at a special meeting of the European Council on 22 and 23 November. Negotiations are complex, as befits the importance of the issue, but I am confident that we can reach agreement in November. We will strive for a budget with the right mix of priorities and a fair allocation of resources.

The European Parliament has an absolutely key role. First, the assent of the parliament is needed to the overall deal and people should never forget that. The parliament has also fed in its views to the discussions within the Council and between the institutions and has been keenly involved as the process has developed. Second, there is a large package of sectoral legislation underpinning the MFF. This will need to be agreed with the parliament under co-decision. Much of the management of this legislation, as far as the Council is concerned, will fall to the Irish Presidency in the first half of 2013, so we look forward to working closely and in a spirit of co-operation with the parliament on this. I understand 70 items of legislation are required to be dealt with.

Agreement on the European budget is a crucial factor in delivering the targets set in the Europe 2020 strategy in the areas of employment, research and development, energy and climate change, education and social inclusion. The strategy contains the goals that the EU and member states should reach by the end of this decade.

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