Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs

Presidency of the Council of the European Union: Discussion with Minister of State

2:10 pm

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State and her officials. I am heartened and not surprised by her statement that we will have a Presidency of substance rather than bells, whistles, pomp and ridiculous ceremony.

My first question relates to whether we should give greater priority to Bosnian accession to the European Union. Should this be part of our priorities list for the Presidency? The Minister of State and colleagues on the committee will be aware that when Lord Paddy Ashdown appeared before the committee, he was concerned that sufficient attention was not being given to Bosnia, both to encourage its democratic evolution and development and to deal with extremism within that state. It would be a mechanism to do this. He considered it preferable to have Bosnia within the tent. What is the Minister of State's reaction to that thesis and the fact that Bosnia is very low down the list of priorities?

I was disappointed to hear talk in recent days about reducing the amount in the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy. I wish to make a couple of points on this issue. It is a pity that people see the Common Agricultural Policy as a support for farmers. It is far from this.

With an increasing population in Europe and expanding demographic - all projections show the European population is growing rapidly - providing sufficient food to feed the population must be a priority. Strategies must be put in place to ensure there is sufficient food. The food must reach minimal health standards. The food needs to be produced so that it can be sold at a price which the bulk of consumers can afford, as is currently the case. We cannot create a situation where food will become so expensive that it would not be accessible to many consumers. That has frightening implications beyond contemplation. If one takes into account the question of food supply, the provision of healthy food and the issue of the cost of food to the consumer, there is an unanswerable case for the maintenance of the Common Agricultural Policy at its current level. That is quite apart from the merit of maintaining the traditional family farm homestead and all that goes with it, and the maintenance of jobs.

The agrifood sector offers enormous potential for job creation in all European countries. They are not incompatible objectives. That is disserving. Too many people view the Common Agricultural Policy as a support for farmers in some sense. It is a support for food security and quality food, which the average consumer can obtain. The CAP should be viewed in those terms rather than an actual support for farmers. It allows farmers to supply the necessary markets.

It merits repeating that 30% of young people in this country are unemployed and that the figure in Spain is as high at 50%. Unemployment is the greatest scandal of our age. While I accept that the market conditions, the banking union and macro-economic issues are critical to dealing with unemployment, I am well aware that creating the economic context in which jobs can be created is the ultimate objective. That must be done in parallel with a Europe-wide initiative, a stimulus that will involve a level of European and state intervention, country by country. How does the Minister of State view the Irish Presidency putting that process in place?


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