Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Priorities of Latvian Presidency of European Council: Latvian Ambassador to Ireland
I join in the welcome to the ambassador and wish Latvia well with the Presidency of the European Union. I apologise for my late arrival but I have read his presentation which is interesting. I was particularly struck by his comments with regard to strengthening the Eastern Partnership. He also included the engagement with central Asian countries, some of us hope to be there later this month. There is much tension in that area. The relationship that Latvia builds with those countries will, to a large extent, assist the direction that the EU and those countries will go in the future. I welcome the Latvian Presidency committing to doing that.
Ukraine has been mentioned. I welcome the dialogue which is taking place. I would raise a question in that regard, it is very much a German-Franco driven initiative. It struck me that perhaps there should have been some EU-wide involvement and Latvia, given that it holds the presidency, might be involved. Perhaps the representatives will comment. I am friendly with some of the Latvian parliamentarians and I know that they would be hostile to Russia because of their experience; in the same way as we were oppressed by the British for many centuries, Latvia has also suffered oppression under the Russians in its history. Some of them have chastised me for some of my encouragement with the Russian authorities. As Deputy Neville said, that is the way forward. Russia and Europe have many inter-connected objectives and interests that need to be founded on a better relationship than we had. Perhaps the representatives would comment on the Europe-wide aspect of that.
The ultimate question would be with regard to Greece. There is much talk about the economic crisis in Greece which obviously is hurting the people badly. We have experienced it here as have other European countries to a greater or lesser degree. It has to be said that the European project has been damaged by this crisis. There has been a dearth of quality political leadership across Europe all during this crisis. The manner in which they tried to deal with it has not taken into account the effects on citizens and, perhaps, dealing with it in a way which has ameliorated some of the difficulties which people have encountered in their daily lives as a consequence of this. All governments carry some responsibility. Given the geographic location of Greece, and given what is happening in the Middle East - it is nearly an entry point for any escalation of the crisis there - but also given the political make-up in Greece, real leadership will be required to deal with that issue. Nobody is talking any more about a two tier euro which would reflect the disparity between the economies. That was largely debated at the outset of the crisis but seems to have gone off the radar altogether. How Greece is handled is not just a Greek issue, there will be knock-on effects in Spain, probably in the not too distant future, and perhaps in Italy as well. It needs to be handled in a way that takes into account the medium and longer-term vision if there is a vision for Europe any more. I say that as somebody who is fully committed to the European project but who will think long and hard the next time we are voting for a treaty as to whether I will vote "Yes" or "No".
That would never have been my position in the past, but the manner in which this crisis has been dealt with by the European Union is nothing short of scandalous, although others may disagree with that point of view.
I refer to the ambassador's comments on counter-terrorism and the high profile incidents in Paris and other issues come to mind. Approximately 30 people have left Ireland to travel to the Middle East as combatants. They have joined the terrorist group that is in charge of parts of Iraq and Syria and are being trained to engage in terrorist activities. I listened to a radio programme yesterday on which it was reported that foreign combatants were being placed at the forefront in killing people, including by beheading. It is obvious that this is being done to break any taboo they might have in order that when they move to other countries, they may well pose a significant threat to the civilian populations. In the opinion of the ambassador, how should citizens who return to European countries and who have participated in violence be dealt with? How should we deal with the issue of immigration? It is not inconceivable that many who are not citizens of European countries may find themselves drifting into Europe in the next two decades. They may well come with a particular intent which will not be benevolent towards the freedom we enjoy in this part of the world. How will the programme anticipate and deal with this issue?