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
I congratulate the Minister of State on her update and the themes the country has adopted to pursue in the course of the Irish Presidency. They are laudable themes which, I hope, will bring the desired results. For example, promoting sustainable economic growth and restoring trust, confidence and stability are hugely important in the present climate and supporting growth and reform of the EU budget is excellent. However, I am not sure what the European Year of Citizens will mean to people. We have talked about that issue on a regular basis for as long as I have been a member of the committee, which is a long time. I wonder what it means to people.
I wish to add a few issues that need to be adopted and used effectively in the course of the Presidency. The first is the reaffirmation of the European concept, incorporated within which is the concept of cohesion, solidarity and enlargement in order to bring on board all the strands that have kept the European Union afloat for all these years that seem to have diminished and subsided into the distance. I would also add human rights issues, apropos of the point made by other speakers. It is not a question of whether we are on one side or the other in the Middle East conflict, we have to be on the side of fairness and adherence to the concept of human rights, wherever there is an abuse of human rights. It is not a question of coming down on one side or the other but to try to do our best to be a positive influence for the benefit of all the people who live in that area.
I support the point in regard to the diminution of the importance of the food industry or the budget, either of which is not in the interests of Europe. It is utterly unbelievable that anybody would diminish the food industry or the budget at a time when there is starvation all over the world and people are asking questions. A short-term gain might solve somebody's immediate problem but would create many other problems.
The question of national parliaments is an important issue, particularly in regard to the European semester. We need the semester because we need to note progress or lack of progress as the case may be. The difference between the current regime and what happened in the Lisbon agenda was that nothing was done to review the progress of the agenda for a period until somebody discovered it did not work. The problem is that not all parliamentarians in national parliaments are equally disposed towards the European concept, they do not have the same vision of Europe. They have the vision of division and isolation and of not being part of it, but acting as if they were bystanders. That is not the case with this country I hasten to add, but it is with some countries. That is obviously for domestic political purposes and it is obviously beneficial to some people but we cannot go down the road indefinitely of nurturing Euroscepticism and hope we can have a successful Europe. It does not work that way. I strongly urge that the Irish Presidency adopt the rigorous pursuit of the reaffirmation of the European concept at this time.