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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 8

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy] It is clear that a section of the European elites wants to drive ahead with a capitalist integration process in respect of militarisation, the development of permanent structural co-operation, an EU military fund, common culture in the military, and capacity for independent European military action. It is integration on an economic level, including on the question of taxation. I note in this regard Mr. Juncker's remarks yesterday about bringing qualified majority voting into questions of taxation, which would include, on the one hand, a financial transactions tax and, on the other, the issue of corporation tax, and increased political integration, with the idea of an economic and finance minister for the European Union once again being raised.

The Irish establishment likes to portray itself as very pro-Europe and does not have a problem with the vast majority of this but it does have a problem with one crucial issue, namely, corporation tax. The Irish political establishment - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour - have sold our status as an effective tax haven as a key part of Ireland's so-called offering to the world. The reality is that, post-Brexit, this is coming increasingly into the focus of other European powers and will lead to a relationship of tension. The remarks at the start of the Taoiseach's speech about the meeting with leaders of Nordic and Baltic countries were interesting. I just question the Minister of State whether it is the Taoiseach's intention to continue to attend those meetings in the future. It is clear the Government is looking around for allies in a post-Tory Britain scenario. It is also clear the Government's response to the European Council is to continue what it has been doing, which is to hide behind the OECD process and say the Government is in favour of dealing with the problem of the massive rip-off and robbery of public services around the world by big corporations, in particular big digital and Internet corporations, but it is in favour of the OECD doing so, in the hope that it never happens and to avoid taking action in terms of the European Union now.

I noted with interest the reports of the Taoiseach's meeting with Emmanuel Macron yesterday. It is interesting from the point of view of relations between countries, etc., but also interesting politically. An element of the political strategy of Fine Gael could be summed up as the Macron or the Trudeau strategy, which is to get a new young leader to try to look socially progressive, with no substance whatsoever behind that, to repackage the same right wing, neoliberal ideas as new, modern, fresh, outward-looking, globalised, etc., and to bang on about being the new European centre, despite representing the continuation of the same old European right. I wonder whether the Taoiseach got an update from Mr. Macron on how that is working out for him, because it is not working out very well. His opinion poll ratings are the lowest for any French president at this stage of the presidential term. He is facing mass opposition to his so-called labour reforms, which will massively flexibilise the labour market in France, mass protests and mass strikes. I do not think it will go very well for the Taoiseach or for Fine Gael either.

The differences are real. For all the talk of how well the meetings went, etc., it is clear that there are real differences in respect of what are referred to as multinational Internet companies and tax policy. Mr. Macron represents, along with Mr. Juncker, precisely that integrationist approach, which includes the question of taxation. We are not in favour of any policies being imposed on this country. We are in favour of a democratic discussion and debate and people in this country making a decision on what policies exist. That was our approach to all the austerity that was imposed. We do favour an increase in corporation tax. It is deeply ironic that the Irish Government and the establishment wrap themselves in the green flag when the interests of the big corporations are threatened.

Finally, I note that President Macron is today rightly being described as the president of the rich in France because he has cut the wealth tax by 70% at the same time as cutting a €5 grant to students for their accommodation. Perhaps the media could take this from the Macron experience and apply it to our Taoiseach, who is also a Taoiseach of the rich.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan I had a read of President Tusk's statement of 24 October. He stressed the point that the leaders agreed on the previous Friday that the priority was unity among the 27 member states. His words were that his intention is to build on what connects, not on what divides. On the question of migration, the key message seems to be protection of external borders. I agree that there is a need for more support for those countries directly and immediately affected in this regard, such as Italy, Spain, Greece and Bulgaria, but what form is this support taking? That is the question we must ask. President Tusk referred, as the Taoiseach did today, to permanent structured co-operation in defence, PESCO. Alarm bells grow because that is not really the language we would expect when we talk about dealing with migrants, who are very vulnerable people coming from awful situations of poverty, hunger, conflict and displacement and, of course, we have an increase in the number of climate refugees now. President Tusk and the Taoiseach say they are supporting the big organisations - the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Programme - and I know they do good work, but it is the smaller non-governmental organisations, NGOs, that are at the front line of working with these people in very vulnerable situations that are not getting the recognition and support they need. We have discussed the so-called reception centres in Libya before, which we know are detention centres, and it is those smaller NGOs there that are giving us real information on what is happening. The Taoiseach said, and we hear this all the time, that we must tackle the root causes of migration, but that is more than just putting up a physical barrier so that migrants cannot move, whether internally in Africa or wherever or externally. It is a matter of examining the causes, and there is a need to monitor that and see what progress is being made. That is what the sustainable development goals are about, that if we eradicate poverty and hunger and the abuse of human rights, people will not have a reason to move.

President Tusk discussed Brexit and, again, there was a call for unity among the 27 member states and he said it was up to London how this will end. His words were "good deal, no deal or no Brexit". He said the common interest would be protected by the EU 27 being together but I fear, as do others, that the smaller countries, especially Ireland, will not be as well protected as the bigger countries. I know that our officials, our Departments and other organisations have been working extremely hard in the lead-up to Brexit to try to plan for something they did not know would happen at all and then, when it did happen, did not know what form it would take. Of course, we still have a lot of vagueness about that.

I return to Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, which reminds us that the EU was founded on values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities. However, we see more and more issues in this regard and we have examples where the EU has been lacking and its voice is not being heard, or it is a voice that is only being heard and not being followed up with action. These are the issues that must be taken up, whether at the leaders' section or by individual Ministers.

I wish to focus on one particular issue. It is a forgotten area and one that I hope can be discussed. I refer to the Golan Heights, which I know Deputy Brendan Smith raised. He is Chairman of the foreign affairs committee. We met a delegation, a human rights group in the Golan Heights, that pointed out the lack of EU statements on the Golan and the unavailability of EU funding. The funding is available for NGOs working in the occupied Palestinian territories but is not going across to the Golan. There are five remaining Syrian villages there. There is a general lack of knowledge internationally about what is happening to the people who are still left in those five villages in the Golan. We know Irish troops are deployed there but that is probably about as much as we know about the area. There is an EU-Israel Association Agreement council meeting which is about developing a broad bilateral partnership, dialogue, co-operation, mutual accountability and a shared commitment - I have read this in the blurb - to human rights and democracy, which includes the rights of persons belonging to minorities. The EU and its member states could speak about commitment here. We talk about the viability of the two-state solution but this area is not coming into it at all. We know the concerns about the expansion of the settlements. We know they are undermining the possibility of a two-state solution and that there are concerns over settler extremism and settler incitement. I am very aware of this because I have been there recently. The EU's funding is going into the occupied territories and Gaza. The EU-Israel Association Agreement is all about the occupied territories. There are references to Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the Arab minorities but there is nothing about the Golan, which has been taken over.

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