Tuesday, 6 February 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 to 18, inclusive, together.
I was honoured to be the first EU Head of Government to be invited to take part in the European Parliament debate series on the future of Europe. My speech to the European Parliament took place in Strasbourg on 17 January. In my intervention, I spoke about the achievements of the European Union, the benefits for Ireland of EU membership, and my thoughts about how best the Union should evolve for the future. I also spoke in some detail about the Brexit negotiations.
I stressed the importance of our values - respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law – and the principles of solidarity, partnership and co-operation and how we need to keep these to the fore as we respond to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. I said that Europe needs a forward-looking agenda with ambition and direction. Acknowledging the achievements of the European Union, we can lead the way with imagination, creativity, and courage and create opportunities for all our citizens.
Rather than looking for great institutional changes, we should focus on implementing what we have already agreed. This should include completing the Single Market, the digital Single Market, the capital markets union and banking union with a view to delivering concrete benefits for our citizens in areas that directly affect their lives.
I stressed that the needs and expectations of our citizens must inform thinking about Europe's future and that a wide debate is therefore crucial. I outlined Ireland's Citizens’ Dialogue on the Future of Europe, which I launched in Trinity College last November and which will run until 9 May, Europe Day. Our aim with this is to facilitate an open and wide-ranging debate with our citizens which will help to inform our approach on a range of key issues.
On Brexit, I highlighted the unique challenges this poses for Ireland and thanked the European Parliament for its strong support and solidarity in the negotiations to date. I also stressed the need to ensure the commitments and principles agreed in December are translated into the withdrawal agreement. I also noted our ambition for a close and comprehensive future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
In their interventions, Members of the European Parliament reiterated their support for Ireland in respect of Brexit. President Juncker's statement that we are all Irish was particularly welcome, as is the Commission’s commitment to propose continued PEACE funding beyond 2020.
In addition to the debate, I had a bilateral meeting in Strasbourg with the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani. I thanked him for his strong support with regard to Brexit. We also exchanged views on the future of Europe and I expressed appreciation for his initiative in bringing forward the series of debates in the European Parliament. I also had a bilateral meeting with the European Parliament’s chief Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt. We discussed developments since our last meeting in Dublin in September, and I expressed my sincere appreciation for his understanding and his commitment to ensuring that Ireland's unique concerns are addressed. I also attended a lunch hosted by the first Vice-President of the Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, which was also attended by party group leaders and other MEPs.
I met briefly and exchanged a few words with President Juncker and Michel Barnier, although I did not have a formal bilateral meeting with either. I had a short bilateral meeting with Commission Vice-President Katainen in relation to Mercosur. I emphasised our commitment to free trade generally but highlighted our strong concerns around the very sensitive beef sector and our views on what should and should not be included in any agreement.