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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore] This is the reason I would tell the young woman the President met, who had qualified as both an architect and a psychologist and who, like so many more young people is fearful and doubtful about her future that from 1 January next year, the priority of this country, which has experienced the consequences of what happened as a result of the economic crash, which also has so many young people who are not reaching their potential and who are worried about their future, will be to ensure that youth unemployment is at the top of the European agenda. The President may be assured that Ireland's Presidency of the European Union next year will not be an exercise in technocratic management. Its purpose will be to provide leadership within the European Union on the issues that matter to our people and in particular the issue of youth unemployment addressed so eloquently by the President here this morning.

There is a range of measures under the Europe 2020 strategy that Ireland will seek to advance. We will work to strengthen the Single Market and to remove the barriers which hinder its huge potential for growth and jobs. We will promote the digital agenda and attach particular importance to the development of Horizon 2020, the European Union's next framework programme for research and innovation. Only by becoming a leader in research and innovation can we hope to compete in a highly competitive global environment and to create smart and sustainable employment. An area in which Ireland sees potential for a greater contribution to growth and to jobs and which we think will feature significantly during our Presidency, is the European Union's external trade agenda, including the key European Union-United States trade relationship. Next April, Ireland will host a meeting of trade ministers in Dublin to consider this relationship and how to strengthen and deepen it.

Ireland's Presidency will unfold against the continuing backdrop of the worst financial and economic crisis the Union has faced since its foundation. Ireland will work assiduously to advance the proposals now being elaborated to deepen economic and monetary union, convinced it is only by closer co-operation and mutual solidarity that we can overcome the problems we face. Ireland will seek to ensure that the range of measures for improved economic governance that already have been adopted are implemented fully. In so doing, it is worth reminding ourselves what is at stake. This is not being done to please ratings agencies or market managers but to restore macroeconomic stability to our economies, to rebuild our competitiveness and to create the conditions for sustainable growth, high employment and shared prosperity. To achieve our goals, the European Union needs a budget that is adequate to the task. Ireland is supportive of the proposal that has been put forward by the Commission. We note there is a wide variety of views, including of course those of the European Parliament. Ireland remains confident that agreement can be reached on the multi-annual financial framework during the Cyprus Presidency and we look forward to that agreement being reached at the November European Council. Ireland is ready to take forward the range of necessary legislative proposals to cover the 2014 to 2020 budgetary period. This has implications for all areas of European Union activity, including the vital areas of the Common Agricultural Policy and cohesion policy. Again, we recognise and respect the role the European Parliament has in this process and we will work together with the Parliament to ensure outcomes that are of real benefit to the people of Europe.

The President has spoken eloquently, both today and on many occasions, of the European Union as a community of solidarity and of the need in the current crisis for courage and imagination. Here in Ireland he will find many people who share his vision and who will work with him for a better Europe. I look forward to his return to Ireland in November, when we will discuss in more detail the priorities for our Presidency and how we can work with him and with the European Parliament to realise them.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I call the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Cuirim fáilte faoi leith roimh Uachtarán Pharlaimint na hEorpa chuig ár bParlaimint. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis, as ucht an méid atá bainte amach aige i rith a shaoil agus go háirithe, i gcomhthéacs obair Pharlaimint na hEorpa. I wish to join with colleagues in welcoming the President to Dáil Éireann. It is a very fitting time for his visit, both because of the growing importance of the Parliament itself, which he leads, and the unprecedented crisis now faced by member states across Europe, by the institutions of the European Union and above all, by the citizens of the European Union. In the President's political career, he has built a well-earned reputation as a person of passionate beliefs who also seeks and encourages candid debate. The UCD student debate in which he participated last night with Members of this House, including my colleague, Deputy Dooley, was a very good example of this. I note the President later promoted him in jest to leadership of the party, such was the power of his performance.

Deputy Peter Mathews: Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews Well done Timmy.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Good man Timmy.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It also was a good example of the passion, candour and frankness of the President's approach. The seriousness of the issues facing Europe at present is such that I am glad we have not allowed today's session merely to be an exchange of formalities. In recent years, perhaps there has been too much formality, too much of going through the motions and nowhere near enough leadership or urgency. The President's address to this Parliament today was devoid of such an approach and rather, he spoke candidly, honestly and openly about many of the issues that face us collectively across Europe. Europe must face up to hard truths about what has gone wrong and what is required to return to growth and job creation. The price of failing to do this already is being felt by millions through the Union and could affect many millions more, as the President noted.

Were the President to look back through the history of Ireland’s engagement with the European Union, he would find we always have been suspicious of the European Parliament. In treaty negotiations, we always have favoured retaining as much power as possible in the Council. This has been because of a fear that the Parliament is less open to being influenced by smaller nations and groups. Even with the introduction of majority voting, Ireland's ability to be heard and to have an impact in the Council is undeniably higher than it is in the Parliament. It is important to note that many steps have been and are taken in the Parliament to address this concern, especially with the groups helping the smaller delegations to be heard. Our MEPs retain a strong direct link with the people and as a result the Parliament retains a higher status here than in some other member states. Arguments about the appropriate balance between the powers of the Parliament and the Council have been at the centre of nearly three decades of debate. Recent treaties have further increased the powers of the Parliament and the balance appears to be working. However, the undeniable fact is that most of the time spent on arguments about the balance between institutions of the Union has been wasted. It has been a major and ongoing distraction from addressing core flaws in the powers and policies of the Union which lie at the heart of today’s crisis. These are flaws which still threaten the very foundations of the euro and possibly the Union itself.

I speak as the leader of a party which has always been unequivocal in its support of the great idea that only by working together can European states prosper. As far back the 1930s, one of my predecessors, Sean Lemass, referred to this being essential in tackling Europe’s then crisis. He subsequently lodged Ireland's application for membership, a decision which was vindicated in the growth and rising living standards which membership of the Union enabled. In the President's address, he articulated very well that progress and sense of opening up that occurred in Ireland as a result of its joining the Union itself. Earlier this year, my party took the principled stand of putting aside partisan considerations by campaigning for ratification of the fiscal treaty. However, what we are not is uncritical. My party does not accept the idea that the job of pro-Europeans is to stay quiet and cheer from the sidelines no matter what is happening and what is happening today is that Europe’s leaders are making this crisis much worse by their refusal to take action which is sufficiently ambitious, courageous or comprehensive. From the very outset of this crisis, there has been a search to do the minimum possible to muddle through the crisis. Only at moments where collapse has looked possible have essential decisions been taken. A vicious cycle in which problems are only addressed when a collapse seems imminent, the solutions are oversold, complacency sets in and deals are allowed to unravel, has not yet been broken. One of the most serious impacts of this failure of leadership has been a dramatic decline in public satisfaction with the Union and belief in its core purpose.

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