Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Alliance Building to Strengthen the European Union (Resumed): European Council on Foreign Relations
Apologies have been received from Senator Neale Richmond and Deputy David Cullinane. I remind members to ensure their mobile phones are switched off. This is important as they cause serious problems for the broadcasting, editorial and sound staff.
We will now have an engagement with Ms Almut Möller, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, on alliance building to strengthen the European Union. I am delighted to welcome Ms Möller who has travelled from Germany to speak to the committee. Members of the committee have been dealing with Brexit for months and years and they are anxious to engage with others in planning and plotting the future of Europe and what it will mean to us. We are very honoured to have Ms Möller before us and grateful to her for taking time to discuss this important topic.
The committee, in its discussions on alliance and coalition building in the European Union, has had some interesting presentations from different sections of society, both political and non-political. All previous presentations were made by senior commentators in Ireland. Sometimes it is useful to listen to and consider an outside voice.
The European Council on Foreign Relations has been carrying out some very interesting work on mapping coalitions between member states across the European Union. It has examined which countries have similar interests, which could potentially work together more closely and which may not work together. We have been discussing the various ways Ireland can build on its relationships with EU partners and continue to build strong multilayered coalitions at all levels. I look forward to hearing Ms Möller's insights on this matter.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her or identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. If they are directed to cease giving evidence on a particular subject and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of the evidence they give. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against an entity or a person either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I invite Ms Möller to make her opening statement. I am sure the committee members, as well as myself, will be interested in hearing her views and in asking her a number of questions afterwards. I thank her again for being here today.
Ms Almut Möller:
I thank the Chairman, the Senators, and the Deputies. It is a great honour to be here in the Houses and I thank the committee for inviting me. To underline what the Chairman just said, the European Council on Foreign Relations is a non-partisan think tank, and I am based in one of our offices in Berlin. We care deeply about views from across the Union, and with this project, we started to map out the views of the 28 member states to the best of our ability. The most interesting part of this work has been travelling to capitals where there has already been a lot of strategising going on over alliances within the various arenas and levels of the European Union. This is my second time in Dublin in a little more than two months, and this is particularly exciting because, as the committee will be aware, there is much thinking going on here, so it is also a great opportunity for us to share our insight and see to what extent that resonates with thinking here.
I will explain briefly what we did in our quest to better understand how member state capitals look at the issue of coalition building. The environment is very clear in that increasing dynamics of bilateralism are emerging in the EU 28 - soon very likely to be 27 - not only because of a more conflictual environment but also because of the changes ahead in light of the UK departing the Union. We sense in our data and survey a great deal of overall commitment to working together but we have also spotted quite a few blind spots and I will talk about them briefly as well.
The committee will see an interactive explorer visualisation which I will use occasionally. The backbone of this project has been going to EU capitals and speaking to those people in state chancelleries, foreign ministries, and other relevant ministries that shape EU strategy, and asking them about their preferences, interests, the countries they contact most, and what that means for the coming years. This is a survey of experts who work on policy in that sense. We also have people from academia and think tanks in the sample who help us balance it. This is not looking at the EU environment in Brussels. A lot of interesting work has been done on that in other fields, but this is looking at member state capitals and their engagement. We came up with a number of areas and chapters that we asked participants about, and I will show them briefly. We asked basic questions about preferences, such as who people contact most, with whom they share interests, who is the most responsive, and who is the most disappointing, which is something people would normally not tell us, even though it is in the room. Our data very clearly show the top three most disappointing across the board, which are, excluding their own views about themselves - Poland, Hungary, and the UK. We then asked about influence, and we tried to trigger a ranking because that is often interesting. We also have an ambition to create a matchmaking platform for countries in terms of their policy priorities in the coming years, to look at their potential partners, including ones who might be overlooked, and how that might play out on policy. We are looking at a relatively complex chessboard of 28 member states, for the time being.
I will briefly show the committee the overview to make it more interesting. This interactive PDF is available free of charge online so members are welcome to browse it on long summer evenings or winter nights. It is a bit of a beast but it is brilliant in that one can also browse it according to preferences, so one can just set it to Ireland or other countries to look at their policies and so on. I will show the committee our overall findings, and I reiterate that this very much about perceptions. This is how people working on EU policy in national capitals perceive each other. We came up with a ranking, which is always something of interest. Here we can see the bigger members states, such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Poland among the top performers in terms of their coalition potential, clout, and weight, which is no surprise. However, smaller member states such as the Netherlands and Sweden also rank fourth and sixth, respectively. That is interesting because a question that came up a number of times was what a country's coalition potential is and how it can be exploited better. Size can be of advantage but is not necessarily a guarantee for success, and a few countries that are not even members of key integration projects such as the euro can rank high. Ireland finds itself ranked 20th in our research.
I refer to five broader lessons we took from this, and one I mentioned already which is the capacity of the big member states. France, Germany, and a few others have a lot of potential, but it is clear that some of the best connected member states are smaller and have been active in shaping new coalitions in this new environment. This includes the engagement around the Netherlands, Ireland, and the New Hanseatic League, which is an interesting group emerging from a single policy issue. We have followed this with great interest, not least because we had come up with our own idea of an artificial group of countries which we call the affluent seven, which has quite a bit of overlap with the countries of the New Hanseatic League. The argument we wanted to make was that we should look beyond established alliances that are no longer getting much traction, or are not important enough to punch their weight together. We talk a lot about France and Germany, and these days there is a lot of talk about the Visegrád, V4, countries. The old coalitions of the founding member states or the net contributors or even the Club Med around Spain, Italy and France, are no longer getting that much traction. Our encouragement was to look beyond that. A few years ago when we started this project, we came up with the idea of the affluent seven group and there is overlap with the New Hanseatic League, which is interesting. We travelled to a lot of the countries involved in this, including to Dublin, to see that there is perhaps a potential to move beyond the fiscal issue and go a little bit wider. This is interesting and promising research for us.
Another lesson is that member states cannot rely on their relationships with France and Germany alone. It is important to be out there, and I understand there has been quite some activity between the governments in Dublin and Berlin over the past years, but we have found in our data that there is a great deal of disappointment at times when it comes to the attention countries are getting back from Germany and France. Everybody is looking at them and at times there is a lack a capacity or a lack of willingness to re-engage. Our suggestion is that there are other ways for member states to draw the attention of these key players, and that involves creating alternative coalitions that are of relevance to them. We see it clearly, as I pointed out, in the New Hanseatic League, which is of interest in Berlin and is perhaps also raising eyebrows at times, hence it is attention that can be useful. There is also the question of the Visegrád countries. There is a strong interest in Slovakia and the Czech Republic in Berlin these days, partly driven by their membership of the V4.
A broader lesson we took from the survey is about overcoming geographical challenges through strategy. This is particularly interesting when one travels to the periphery of Europe, though I do not like that term very much. When we look at the data on Portugal and Finland, we have found that there are some strategies that can help overcome the disadvantages, and this is a relevant finding for Ireland. Let us take Portugal, for example. Portugal strongly perceives itself as an Atlantic power. It is located next to a big neighbour and based on our data, Spain is an important entry point for Portugal into the core of the EU. Spain has probably not been delivering as well as would have been expected over recent years, so that is somewhat of a problem for Portuguese engagement. We found that this can be overcome through issue areas that I will also refer to shortly. Finland has engaged strongly with the Baltic environment. It helps a great deal that the Baltic states have seen quite an interesting trajectory since joining the EU and are playing a very interesting role that is different from both the V4 and south-eastern Europe.
We thought this was worth exploring further. I can only be staccato really and hope the committee will forgive me for that. The consultation between the UK and Ireland is one where some of the geography and interests make it more difficult so the question of how to bring it towards the centre of the EU is of great interest.
I want to talk about priorities and partners because on this occasion we tried to find out what the priorities of governments across the EU are for the coming years. This is the answer we get for the entire EU. Members can browse the document. This is the overall picture I am outlining. When we went out in the field in summer of last year, the top four topics or priorities were a common immigration and asylum policy, a single fiscal policy and eurozone governance, a fully completed Single Market and a common border police and coast guard. We do not know what that means in the end regarding a consensus on a direction of travel in these policies in the context of this visualisation. This is just a broad list of priorities. Members can look at countries. I will quickly jump to Ireland to see where it finds itself. Members can see that the fully completed Single Market, the single fiscal policy and eurozone governance are strongly in line with overall EU interests in what will be the talk of the town in the coming years. It is even more than average regarding the fully completed Single Market. Members will see a plus two here. This matter is really important for Ireland and Irish respondents. Members will also see two areas that get a great emphasis in the sample from our Irish respondents, namely, a common digital policy, which is probably no surprise to members, and the common energy policy. So there are two areas where there is consensus with the EU at large and there is a slightly stronger emphasis than the EU average on three of them.
What we then tried to do was structure the findings of our survey and ask who shares those priorities with Ireland and thinks Ireland is an important partner in these areas. These are the results we obtained. If members look at the fully completed Single Market, which is the number one priority here, they will see in bold that the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Finland also agree that this is an important priority. What one would wish for in this visualisation is for a blue dot to appear next to them, which I will show by jumping to Sweden. Sweden's top priorities are set out. If members look at the fully completed Single Market, they will see that Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland appear. Ireland appears a bit less because it is less statistically relevant in our serving but it is still there. Then there are blue dots - a little blue dot and a larger blue dots. That means that Ireland thinks that the fully completed Single Market is a priority and thinks that Sweden is a partner in this. Here members can see that the Government representatives with whom we talked and the academics we included see that there is already a relationship here that is probably worth exploring because it is not that developed. We call a match making platform. It is a lot about perceptions. We hope it is a bit of a quarry for ideas. If members look at preferences and shared interests to show them what they can do with this instrument, they will see that we are asking which EU member states generally share many of Ireland's long-standing interests on EU policies. That goes beyond day-to-day business and is about a longer-term commitment to the EU, eurozone membership, etc. Interestingly, Malta, Cyprus, the UK, Luxembourg and Portugal show up as countries that share a great deal of interests with Ireland when it comes to EU affairs at large. This shows the results we get from the Irish respondents.
Members can move between the two. Here we have a broad range of countries. Interestingly, the Nordic countries, France, Germany and the Netherlands show up. These are really lopsided relationships. This is something we find quite a bit. It is not exclusively relevant to Ireland. By and large, in all our data, there are only eight mature bilateral relationships. Members can probably think of some of them such as the Franco-German relationship, the Germans and the Dutch, the Slovaks and the Czechs, the Finns and the Swedes, etc., but there is then a lot of lopsidedness that we think is worth exploring because it means there is an interest in one side and not so much on the other. What is the reason for that? There are many ties that do not show up that are close to non-existent. We believe that in this environment of European integration, from a strategic perspective, there is far more potential to engage not only in like-minded initiatives in bilateral relationships but also in more conflictual relationships. We believe that, ultimately, this serves the health and vitality of the Union at large. We do not want to promote a Union that only consists of bilateralism and is a kind of Congress of Vienna-style intergovernmental union. We think it is very important to place that into the wider EU context. This is also a strategic question to ask. What does the emergence of new bilateralisms across the board mean for the overall cohesion of the EU? This is just a thought to leave with members. I stand ready to respond to questions and to go deeper into some of our findings. Our hope as a think tank is that there will be a renewed debate based on data we gather. We continue to gather the data and have done so for the second time. We are refining our methodology as we go along and will do this again next year. We hope to be even more interesting and accurate that time around. I thank members for their attention.
I thank Ms Möller for her presentation. The one thing about the statistics and facts she shared with us is that some of what she said would be surprising to us and something we might not have expected. In other words, it would not have been predicted by us.
I welcome our guest and thank her for her informative submission. It is very important to discuss coalition-building in Europe, particularly at present. There are two sides to that argument. It is hugely important that EU member states form coalitions. The downside of that is that those coalitions could be wrong footed at some stage in the future and an association or group could find itself at a disadvantage numerically by virtue of smaller groups associating together. It is important that smaller countries also have an association with larger and more powerful economies for two reasons. One is to ensure that there is overall recognition of the need for coexistence while the second is to ensure that the smaller countries know they are not insignificant and should not be overlooked. In this country, for example, from time to time we have heard that we only represent 1% or 1.5% of the population. The implication being that we mean nothing. That is incorrect. Ireland is an integral part of the EU. Irish citizens have equal rights along with every other citizen throughout the EU regardless of what part in which he or she resides.
There is another issue, namely, the advent, or reinvention, of nationalism. To my mind, this is a rejection of the concept on which the EU is based. It is a dangerous route to take that could have tragic consequences. There could be a disregard for smaller countries that would grow with the passage of time and would eventually end up in a division within Europe that would not be to the advantage of either the European people or the global economy and community.
We must refer to another issue in the context of Brexit. Our nearest neighbour is leaving the EU regardless of whether it crashes out, walks out or performs a controlled landing. Obviously, we would prefer a controlled landing and I think the British would. However, not everybody in the UK agrees with that. As a result, we may face some difficulties.
The crucial element now emerging is the extent to which the 27 European Union member states stuck together with a single common purpose regarding the Irish situation and the impact of Brexit on the European Union. How it came about, what happened, what should have happened and what did not happen are immaterial at this stage. It is happening and we must deal with that. We hope that the UK will rejoin the European Union at some stage in the future. I cannot see any alternative and believe it is inevitable. I hope it happens. However, we may have to rely on the European Union to an even greater extent in the future by virtue of our geographical position and isolation, and we are on the periphery of modern Europe, the extent to which we trade with our next door neighbours, the extent to which we will have to replace that trade with alternatives and the extent to which the European Union might look on Ireland in the future as a minor player.
We have often heard that we must bring Europe closer to the people. I believe it is the opposite - we must bring the people closer to Europe. All member states and potential member states must recognise that they are Europeans to start with and must commit themselves to the acquis communautairein the way originally envisaged. They must continue that after becoming members of the European Union. There is little sense in practising the acquis communautairebeforehand and deciding afterwards to be selective in doing so by accepting A, B and C, but not the rest. That does not work. I cannot see how a union the size of the European Union can exist economically without a single currency. I have said this many times previously. Plenty of people disagree. The problem is that when there are numerous currencies within the European Union that will always allow speculation to take place to the extent that it will disadvantage smaller countries at particular times in the crowding and rush of the markets that takes place from time to time. We all know that.
We acknowledge the role played by our partners throughout the European Union in the Brexit talks. It is crucial and must continue. Any crack in the uniformity of the member states' attitude will be not only the end of the debate but also the beginning of the end of the European Union, which is a much more serious issue and will unfold very quickly thereafter. We acknowledge and compliment our European colleagues on the work they have done and the work that remains to be done. We hope to play an important role in the formulation of European policy in the future, as we believe we have done in the past.
I thank Ms Möller for appearing before the committee today and providing us with a good overview of the work of her organisation. It is quite interesting and is the type of thing I could find myself playing with in the evenings as I try to figure out the relationships that exist across the European Union. I am looking at the screen before me and specifically at Poland and the tiny blue dot regarding its commitment to deeper integration. There is always a latent aspect to any data and information and my fear is that those who are seeking coalitions on that issue, for example, would decide to scrap Poland, saying there is no point in going there, and move on.
Returning to what Deputy Durkan said, the new European Union that will exist in a post-Brexit world will require that coalitions are built based on a topic or specific interest. We will find ourselves, perhaps, seeking German support for financial issues, French support for agricultural issues and so forth. When building the coalition one takes the major partner and tries to assemble the smaller countries around it to have a critical mass for the particular project. This is where Ms Möller's data are excellent because one can figure out which state one wishes to marry for a particular issue. Those marriages might be short-lived as one moves on to the next issue and changes coalition partner. What the European Council on Foreign Relations is doing is very good from that point of view.
I always get a little concerned when we talk about engaging with capitals around the European Union. I agree with Deputy Durkan that we have to bring the citizens to Europe, not Europe to the citizens. There is a disconnect in that regard and I have long had the view that we should engage as far down as local authority or regional authority level and even try to build coalitions between regional authorities in different parts of the world. I have just returned from Saxony in Germany where I spent some time. I am chairman of the German interparliamentary friendship group and I love to travel there because the people there are so committed. In Saxony over the last week I could have been in Ireland. We all have the same interests and I found a huge correlation between the things that interest me and those that interested people in Saxony, for example, how they dealt with the housing crisis after the reunification of Germany and other such matters. We have a great deal to learn from each other.
Ms Möller's software can allow me to pick a menu of countries I want to engage with in the first instance. It will also point out the countries we need to engage with to build their interest in topics in which they are not quite interested or have not shown a great interest. Looking at one of the other graphs, it appears that part of the problem is that there is a learning curve as one goes further east in Europe. It has not yet fully adopted the European ideal, what is available and how to build coalitions. Over time one will see the blue dots getting bigger across Europe. This is very interesting stuff. It allows the ordinary public representative who is not involved at European level to browse and see what is going on and who is making alliances with whom. It is very good material and I compliment the organisation on it. I would like to see more of it.
I thank Ms Möller for making her research available to us. It is very useful. This committee decided to examine the issue of alliances because of Brexit. We felt that with the UK leaving the European Union we are losing an ally across a wide range of areas, taxation being just one of them. This research is particularly interesting from that point of view. Last month, Ireland published its national statement regarding the future of Europe, and big decisions will be taken at the June meeting of the European Council on the strategic agenda and the future of Europe. As regards our national statement, our priorities are very much linked to Ms Möller's research with regard to the completion of the Single Market, the completion of the digital single market and so forth. Will Ms Möller clarify the background to her research? Is she giving us the views of the governments of the member states? How do those views coincide with the views of citizens? Is there separate research regarding the views of citizens? I suspect there is a disconnect, for all sorts of reasons. That is an important question and it would be interesting to know the answer. It appears that Ms Möller's research and our national statement coincide so obviously both have fed into each other. However, is some research taking place on the views of the citizens of Europe as well?
I have a few questions too. If Ms Möller were making recommendations to Ireland in addition to what she has told us, what would they be? What should our priorities be? Everybody seems to want to be friends with Germany. What does Germany think of us?
Is this helpful to Germany and can it deliver what is expected of it? Is too much emphasis and expectation being placed on Germany? Will it be able to meet the expectations of other member states? I was interested in what Ms Möller said about countries disappointing each other. Will she explain what she means? How is Ireland perceived as a partner in the future? Does Ms Möller think Ireland is doing well? How does she think we are faring?
I like to think that our committee has been broadly supportive of the Government's engagement regarding Brexit. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will be in here in later. She has always been highly regarded by members of this committee, as has the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney. I do not want this committee to be political in any way regarding what is happening in Europe. I do not think that it is. We are not trying to knock the Government or use this issue as a political football. I think the exact opposite is the case. Everybody here is wearing the Irish jersey and we maintaining a united front. That is only right and proper. It is important that we pull together when there is a job of work to be done. My colleagues and I would be grateful if we could hear Ms Möller's views and her responses to our questions.
Ms Almut Möller:
I thank the Chair and the members of the committee for their comments and questions. I will start with the Chair's question regarding disappointment. It is an unusual question that we are asking and it might be wondered why we are doing that. We are doing it because we wanted to understand what matters to governments. To clarify, this question is specifically looking at government positions and think-tanks and academics observing government. This, however, is only one part of a larger puzzle. There are many other arenas that matter as well and what citizens think certainly matters very much. We have some reference to that in our policies and partners section. I ask the committee to forgive me if I am jumping around the topics a little.
Reference was made to engagement. Is there a preference for engagement in the context of all 28 EU states, in groups of member states, in the treaties, outside of the treaties or just alone? There is a view representative of government officials. We also have a sample, however, of the public polling we carried out. It is very expensive to do that in 28 member states, so the smaller countries do not match representative standards. We wanted to include this in order to illustrate the point. I agree fully with the Chair that it is of tremendous importance.
We have another flanking instrument called the EU cohesion monitor. It has just come out and also looks at the 28 EU member states and their trajectory over the past ten years. That has been the most formative time in European integration. We have witnessed crises and responses which affected not only our economies but also the attitudes of citizens. We can very clearly map out what the citizens think in that context and we are doing so. We do not have time now to look at that in detail but that research is also available online and free of charge. Ireland is a very interesting example of how attitudes can really change for the worse regarding approval of the EU and then recover. It has been amazing for us to see the recovery in the past months.
I want to turn now to the Chair's question on disappointment and why we think that matters. Our submission details the countries in the EU that get the most votes for disappointing the most, namely, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Poland, Greece, France, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. Those countries do not regard themselves in that light. Why does the rest of the EU make these statements? It is because there is deep disappointment about neglecting the EU and the values of the Union. That tells us about what the governments of the member states care about and that is a very interesting finding.
Ireland is a country that is very much liked. We can see a little bit of disappointment showing up in the data. For a more nuanced picture overall, however, I would like to exclude the French, the Germans and the Spaniards and just concentrate on the other member states. We know that the big countries automatically attract more attention and that this results in it slightly more blurry in respect of the smaller member states. We can see from the data what the Irish respondents are telling us and in whom they are disappointed. The member states most mentioned are the UK, Poland and Hungary. We also see mention of France and Germany, however. My interpretation is that is because of attention not being reciprocated as much.
The Chair also had a query concerning Ireland's role and how it is perceived. My sense is that Ireland is seen as closely intertwined with Brexit. From my perspective in Berlin, I sensed in recent years that there is a clear idea about the interests of Dublin in this process, as well as the associated vulnerabilities. There was much engagement on that issue. I will read with interest the document to which the Chair directed my attention. My question concerns the identity that Ireland wants to shape for itself in the post-Brexit environment. How does Ireland want to offer itself as partner? Our data tell us that an answer is not really emerging yet. There is not enough clarity about that.
The Chair also asked about our recommendations for Ireland. One area where the Union really needs to punch better in future policies is in the digital realm. Our Irish respondents tell us that is an absolute priority for Ireland. That again does not necessarily mean that there is alignment across the Union and that every other country also stating that this is important. There are differences regarding policies but there is a great deal of potential to raise this issue in the future. That is particularly the case in the context of the New Hanseatic League. The French have been talking about this more. There is great potential to engage in these new future-orientated policies and, in doing so, to shape a picture of a country which has the strong backing of its citizens.
As an aside, that aspect also makes Ireland very interesting for all of those committed to European co-operation, if not necessarily further integration. Ireland is a very stable and reliable partner in that context. This is something Germany definitely cares about. My recommendation is to use that advantage and ensure that other member states really see Ireland's potential. The country has had past difficulties within the European Union, but our cohesion monitor data show that Ireland is also seen as a success story demonstrating how Europe can help to deliver on potential. It is necessary for Ireland to paint a clear picture of itself, talk about that vision more and in that way become more prominent on the map. There is much to work with already and Brexit presents a clear window of opportunity because much attention is focused on Dublin right now.
The point concerning the longevity of coalitions is very interesting. I agree that there will be more issue-orientated coalitions. That will be the case because of a more politicised environment in the member states and the EU institutions. At the same time, however, it is important to have longer term strategies for partnership. They can allow a sense of co-operation to be developed that transcends occasional differences. I refer to the current relationship between France and Germany. Normally, those two countries do not agree on many of the issues. They have a framework established, however, in which they can talk about those differences.
We have a special section in our data on France and Germany where we asked only the French and the Germans about themselves. They are well aware of their differences and they are also not very optimistic about overcoming them in the key areas that need to be tackled. The Chair mentioned the Eurozone as one such issue. These types of data are an important indicator for us. It is not enough to know about each other's differences. There also has to be knowledge of the space we need to create to allow action to be undertaken. The French and the Germans have not proved to be very good at that. There are reasons why that is the case, as well as reasons that affect the rest of the Union.
I will turn now to the concerns of Ireland as a minor player. There is great potential for member states that do have the size and heft of France, Germany and others. Ireland already has a legacy and credibility within the EU framework. I had some interesting conversations in Croatia recently. It only joined the EU in 2013 and is coming from a completely different perspective. The level of difficulty is much higher. I refer to shaping an idea about oneself and having the willingness to be proactive in that and not just a passive receiver. That is a completely different situation.
There is an advantage to being recognised as a country that wants not only to take but to shape although that, at times, might look different.
The disregard of smaller countries was connected to point about the reinvention of nationalism. It has less relevance in our data and more in our cohesion monitor data. Following German foreign policy very closely, I agree that the current environment probably brings more focus on the old-fashioned methods of power, which is very dangerous. It will force players within the Union to play and punch, especially when we do not know where one of our most important partners, the United States, is going, but it clearly does not want a strong EU. It understands a more old-fashioned type of power, which clearly is not how we Europeans would like to look at it. It represents a risk and places a duty on the larger member states, especially when shaping coalitions outside of the EU framework. Tying things back into the EU framework at large is becoming increasingly important and I am concerned that this is not adequately recognised. There is an important role for the countries which warn against this. Alliances are important in this regard. This is very clearly seen wherever I travel in Nordic countries, for instance.
I spoke earlier about the construction of the affluent seven group, but it could be an affluent eight or affluent nine or whatever. We could see Ireland as being a part of it but we did not include it for the time being. These are important opportunities beyond the shaping of the day-to-day politics of voting on respective policies; it is on the broader notion of what it means to act together as Europeans.
I will comment briefly on the Senator's point about Saxony, because it points towards a dilemma. In recent days in the vote for the European Parliament, Saxony, along with Brandenberg and to an extent Thuringia, showed large votes for the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. It is coming in first in Brandenberg and Saxony and it came in third in Thuringia. This is something to watch. There is shared interest but then there is the question of how the public allows for closer co-operation. The question related to the regional level, however, which is very important but we are not mapping that in this survey. We deal with it better in other surveys we are undertaking.
We tend to migrate towards the bigger powers and look to them to build the coalition and we want to be a member rather than a leader. Has Ms Möller's study shown any capacity for small countries to exercise soft power and bring together a coalition, and hence bring the large blocks to join rather than going cap in hand to larger blocks, as it were?
Ms Almut Möller:
It is important to do both. The Dutch example is an interesting study. Our analysis showed that the Netherlands understood Brexit would require a reshuffling of alliances. It already has a very strong relationship with Germany, which is one of the strong bilateralisms which shows up in our data of the eight; it invested in its relationship with France, which is not an easy one; and it came up with a stronger engagement through the Hanseatic League format. This was precisely what the Senator described, that is, not focusing on the big ones but having a second pillar to avoid having placed all its eggs in one basket. That is a very smart strategy. That would be my answer to the Senator's question of what smaller states can do. Collectively there is a great deal of power in the affluent seven, as we put it, or the Hanseatic League, as we might put it in the future. When we travelled to countries which affiliate themselves with the Hanseatic League, we found an interest in trying to explore other areas that might carry weight.
If one looks at the numbers that it takes to shape and not merely block things, then a Hanseatic-plus group, bringing in some of the bigger states as the Senator suggested, has much potential. It requires positioning, whereby states clearly outline what they want. My sense is that no EU member state has been very good at this, as it requires them to put their cards on the table and makes them vulnerable. It probably needs a culture of states overcoming reluctance to position themselves, taking initiatives, declaring preferences and seeking compromise. If one looks at the Hanseatic League or the affluent seven group, there are many thing that do not fit together. This is not a natural group, at first sight, and it needs work. That is another lesson, that coalition building does not only take place in a harmonious environment but that groups need mitigating and bridging of differences. We have not done that research as it requires a lot of resources. Another study that I would love to do is how member states deal with this environment of greater bilateralism and what it means for representation in capitals, how many people at home work in relevant Ministries on those issues. There is a lot more to learn on that.
All my questions are small. As we discuss the need to support one another, to identify with other groups and gain strength by association and so on, this in itself is a criticism of what we are. The European Union suggests that every person in every member state is a committed member and equal in every way to one another. It says there is no difference whatever. If my car is in one part of the Union it should be the same price in every other part of the Union. Especially for those of us on the periphery, that has gained a greater importance than before. For example, many years ago, this country's currency was aligned with the pound sterling. When the European Monetary System came in, we immediately opted to align ourselves with the Deutsche mark. That was a commitment by this country to recognise that we had to become more a part of the system, rather than remaining part of the periphery. We often discuss the regulation of medicines on the Committee on Health, of which I am a member. The Single Market and the customs union do not apply in that area. Different prices are applicable in different member states. Why? There is no reason that should be the case. We manufacture in Ireland, where there is a huge pharmaceutical industry that is proportionately much greater than our numerical strength. It is in our interest to be able to supply the 500 million people in the European Union. The motor industry is of great interest to Germany. It is in Germany's interest that it be able to supply the 500 million. Like many others here, I have always tried to support European industries in the purchase of machinery, motor vehicles and electrical goods. It is of ever increasing importance. These are all areas on which the European Union as a whole must improve to be and remain relevant and to become more relevant to the people.
I will conclude by reiterating the point about bringing the people to Europe, whereby each person who gets on the European train has a commitment to European ideals and being a European. It should not be as if we in some way are from outside the Union and are seeking admission to an inner sanctum.
Ms Almut Möller:
I agree. That will get a lot of traction in central and eastern Europe especially. The idea of second-class citizenship is very damaging.
I will finish by showing member a contact map, which shows the intensity of contacts in the EU. In order to show up in our visualisation, a certain threshold must be passed, so this does not mean that there are not ties between other capitals which are not shown here.
All I want to show the committee is that one sees clearly that regional engagement matters very much. What one also sees, by the way, is that there is only one link between the east and the west and that is through Warsaw and Berlin. As I stated, compared to our previous data, this is a weakened link. This should be of primary concern.
The committee will see the secondary ties there. We just want to illustrate that. This also puts Ireland on the map.
Then we see the Brexit effect. The committee will excuse me for being brusque with this as obviously, there is much more to tell about that, but this clearly shows how much work there is to do.
I offer to re-engage with the committee. We are happy that we had the chance to come here. It was an honour. I thank the Chairman and the committee for that opportunity.
On behalf of the members, I warmly welcome Ms Almut Möller again and thank her for having come here today and for the special effort that she made to get here. We appreciate that. Her presentation has been informative. We have certainly learnt much from it. I thank Ms Möller again for it. I wish her continued good look with her excellent work.
I will suspend the meeting for a few minutes to allow our guest to leave the room. When we return, we will be in public session for our engagement with the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee.