Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 5 May 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Engagement with Mr. Barry Andrews, MEP
Mr. Barry Andrews:
The Conference on the Future of Europe is due to report in the spring of next year, which is not very far away. It is a very ambitious timeline. It is worth listening to citizens and making sure it is a proper exercise in participatory democracy. If there are strong views emerging on those issues, particularly among young people, we should make every effort to absorb that in the way we develop public policy. The figures the Chairman quoted are very interesting. That 84% is probably the highest in Europe and we are consistently the highest in that regard. We are all remainers, to use the UK terminology. However, the further integration and deepening of European powers is a very different question. While it is not surprising that only 29% support an EU tax policy, there are other elements of that poll that are very interesting and it would be worthwhile taking them apart. The Chairman referred to a figure of 52%. A potential treaty change was also acceptable to 52% of people and there was also a positive attitude towards security and defence policy, which seems extraordinary to me. We have to be sensitive. It would be useful if Ms Noelle O'Connell came before the committee to unpack all of that.
On the digital side, Ireland is perceived in a certain way in the European Parliament. There is a sense that we are a bit light-touch with the large digital platforms we host here, which invest so heavily in Ireland and employ so many people. A lot of attention is drawn to the Data Protection Commissioner. There is a sense that her office could do more and that is compounded by the tax position. We are seen as a problem child as far as the digital space is concerned. It is an area on which we need to focus and watch out for our reputation. It is a very difficult area that lies ahead of us. Deputy Harkin made a point about the UK and how its absence will be felt in some of these spaces. We have a little bit of a crisis of influence. I have written previously that most of the loose regional groups in the European Parliament are just that - they are geographically contiguous with each other as they share a region or borders. Ireland sits out in the Atlantic Ocean slightly by itself and that makes it a little more difficult to defend our interests and reputation. Hopefully we can continue to work on those issues. The 13 Irish MEPs will continue to do what little we can and we will keep in touch with the committee.