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Address by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (Continued)

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Senator Ian Marshall: Information on Ian Marshall Zoom on Ian Marshall] Leadership is not about the next election but the next generation. History has shown that strong leadership requires taking charge when one is placed in command. Former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it was not about the plan but about the planning because all plans change. The case of Brexit clearly demonstrates that changing circumstances and emerging information regarding its impact may mean the United Kingdom's plan will have to change. There is nothing Opposition politicians and headline hungry journalists like more than a government U-turn. However, as policy proposals are refined, negotiations and consultations progress and clarity is given to the potential impact of Brexit, it becomes much clearer that a review would be responsible, respectful and in the best interests of all concerned.

As stated, the position taken by the citizens of the UK on 23 June 2016 was based on information and knowledge available at that time. Hindsight is wonderful and with the benefit of hindsight and the information we now possess regarding the complexity of leaving the European Union and the less obvious or complete absence of clearly defined opportunities or dividends from Brexit, it would be sensible, if not imperative, to allow the Parliament and people of the UK to make a decision on support for or rejection of Brexit.

Strong leadership must be built on listening to the public as well as industry and expert opinion, rather than ploughing on blindly because changing tack would appear as a weakness in the eyes of one's critics. I am more convinced than ever that the European Union still presents the best opportunities for the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland. I am completely convinced that the benefits of EU membership greatly outweigh any opportunity arising from the UK leaving the EU. It is clear today that Dublin and Brussels are working together to ensure that any implementation of a Brexit deal must work for London, Dublin and Brussels.

I have just finished reading a book which discusses globalisation. It states: "The tightening web of international connections erodes the independence of most countries." Collaboration is good and it is a natural phenomenon. This is a time for unity and not for division. There is more that unites us than divides us, as the murdered British MP, Jo Cox, argued. This is a time for strong leadership and clear vision.

Cathaoirleach an tSeanaid: The final speaker, on behalf of the Seanad Civil Engagement group, is Senator Alice-Mary Higgins.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: 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.


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