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 Header Item Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements (Continued)
 Header Item European Council: Statements

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] It would not be advantageous to our national interests to try to tell the United Kingdom how it should allocate power between Westminster and the devolved parliaments. We have a particular role, obviously, regarding Northern Ireland, but that does not apply to Scotland and Wales.

It is not true to say that the devolved Administrations have no influence on Brexit; they do. They have influence through the Joint Ministerial Committee.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams There is no real room for negotiation.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar They also have influence through the-----

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams The Taoiseach should not mislead the Dáil again.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin They could have if the repeal Act is changed.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----Sewel convention and also through the legislation. They are not part of negotiations; that is absolutely correct. However, it is absolutely incorrect to say they have no influence or role because they can have an influence and a role.

Deputy Burton asked about a hard Brexit. Our meeting was quite short and rather than focusing on the hard Brexit, we spoke more about how we could avoid it, which is what both Scotland and Ireland would want.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Des the Taoiseach have a plan to avoid it?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is not inevitable by any means. We plan to avoid it, obviously, by negotiating an exit treaty with the UK and a subsequent new relationship treaty with the UK that does not result in a hard Brexit.

European Council: Statements

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Tá áthas orm seasamh os comhair an Tí le labhairt faoi chruinniú an Chomhairle Eorpaigh na míosa seo, a bhí ar siúl sa Bhruiséal Déardaoin agus Dé hAoine seo caite. Ar an Déardaoin, rinne an Chomhairle Eorpach plé ar inimirce, an Eoraip dhigiteach, cúrsaí slándála agus cosanta agus an caidreamh seachtrach. Ag bricfeasta ar an Aoine, phléamar todhchaí an Aontais Eorpaigh. Bhuaileamar i bhformáid Alt 50 gan an Bhreatain ina dhiaidh sin le dul chun cinn sna cainteanna maidir leis an mBreatimeacht a phlé.

In advance of the meeting, along with the Dutch Prime Minister, I was invited to join the leaders of the Nordic and Baltic countries, who meet regularly ahead of European Council meetings. Ireland is not part of a formal group in the EU, but as a small northern European nation and a trading country with an open economy, we have similar positions to the Baltic, Nordic and Dutch Governments, particularly economic issues. I was very pleased to have been invited to attend their meeting and to have the opportunity to share our views, especially on the future of Europe debate and on Brexit. I was delighted to have received such strong support for our position from all the Prime Ministers gathered there.

The formal meeting began on Thursday with an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Tajani, MEP. There was also a short discussion about natural disasters. I took the opportunity to inform leaders about Storm Ophelia. I suggested that flexibility in the EU Solidarity Fund might be a way to bring Europe closer to its citizens. I also thanked President Macron of France and the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, for the help we received from Scottish, English and French electricity teams.

Migration was the issue for the first working session. On this, there has been a fall in the number of migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Crucially, there has been a significant and welcome decrease in the number of lives lost at sea. I drew attention to the distressing human rights reports from Médecins Sans Frontières on the reception facilities in Libya. I also raised the question of support for Africa more generally, and what needs to be done to remove the root causes of migration. I confirmed that Ireland would double its commitment to the EU Trust Fund for Africa over the next few years, taking it from €3 million to €6 million. France and Poland also pledged to increase their support for the trust fund.

As I signalled here last week, the issue of Digital Europe was one of the most important agenda items from our perspective. The language we agreed for the European Council conclusions had been substantially proposed by Ireland and a group of like-minded countries. These include a high level of ambition for completing the digital single market, including the free flow of data and agreeing a future-oriented regulatory framework.

There is a challenging timeline for agreeing proposals in this area, but we have to be ambitious if we are to deliver practical benefits for our citizens and businesses, and ensure Europe remains globally competitive. There was a good exchange on the issue of taxation of digital companies. I emphasised that in a globalised world, a solution on tax must be global in nature.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Is the Taoiseach's script available?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I do not know.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Normally it is circulated.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I apologise if Deputies do not have it yet.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I will check with the ushers.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I rewrote it somewhat this morning and so there may have been a delay.

This is reflected in the conclusions we adopted. Without a level playing field internationally if Europe were to act unilaterally, we might end up handing an advantage over other non-EU economies. As Ireland has maintained on numerous previous occasions, the OECD is the best forum for dealing with this. That is why I asked for a reference to the OECD work in the conclusions ahead of any mention of the European Commission.

The Commission has also been invited to present proposals early next year but these will be for discussion and, as a taxation issue, will be subject to unanimity. A number of countries were very firmly of the view that taxation is and should remain a national competency.

As I flagged in June and again last week, given the challenges we face there is an increasing focus within the EU on security and defence issues. Most of our partners want to press ahead with permanent structured co-operation, which is known as PESCO, and is provided for in the treaties. It aims to provide a mechanism whereby military crisis-management capabilities can be developed by member states in support of Common Security and Defence Policy operations.

Discussions on PESCO are ongoing, with some aspects of governance, capabilities and projects still to be settled. The ambition is to be ready to launch PESCO in December. Ireland has been taking a realistic and constructive approach to the discussions and we hope that we will be able to participate in it.

We have a long-standing policy of military neutrality and of not joining military alliances. We also have constitutional guarantees which are reflected in the protocols to the Lisbon treaty. We will not, of course, do anything that compromises these positions. However, we are not a neutral country when it comes to issues such as human trafficking, terrorism or cybercrime. We are very much in favour of co-operating with EU partners on a range of security issues. We will approach PESCO and the other issues on the agenda in that spirit. The European Council agreed to have a fuller discussion and a progress assessment of PESCO and other security and defence issues in December.

We had lengthy discussions on a number of external relations items mainly relating to Turkey, but also relating to Iran and North Korea on Thursday evening. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will speak about these in her remarks.

The evening session also included a presentation by the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in which she made a number of positive points regarding the Brexit negotiations, including citizens' rights; the absolute necessity to protect the Good Friday Agreement; her wish to avoid any physical border on the island of Ireland; her recognition of the unique nature of Ireland as an island; her commitment that no member state will lose out or have to pay more into the current budget as a result of the UK leaving; and her intention that the United Kingdom should remain a strong security partner for Europe. Further detail is required on all these points but the presentation was welcome nonetheless and positively received.

While trade matters were not on the agenda and were not discussed in detail, there was brief mention of the EU negotiations with Mercosur, as well as requests for Council mandates to open negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. These are likely to feature in future Council discussions.

President Tusk chaired a useful exchange on Friday morning on the future of Europe, based on his leader’s agenda. I thanked him personally for taking the time to speak with each of the 28 leaders individually in advance of the European Council. The general consensus at the breakfast meeting was that President Tusk’s proposed process is the right one. The debate should not be led by any one country, Prime Minister or president or group of countries, but should be done by the community method as 27. His plan envisages additional meetings at the level of Heads of State or Government. While this requires is a significant time commitment, it should provide the impetus necessary for decision making.

As an issue, the future of Europe is at least as important for Ireland as Brexit is, because we are staying at the heart of the EU and we want to ensure it continues to work for our citizens. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to take the lead role on this and to begin an engagement programme which will interact with citizens and civil society so that we can set out and discuss what we want the future of Europe to look like.

After the discussions on the future of Europe, the European Council met in its Article 50 format to discuss progress in the Brexit negotiations. Michel Barnier reported on the recent rounds of negotiations on the withdrawal issues. As expected, he advised that there has not yet been sufficient progress to move on to phase 2 of the negotiations on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

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