Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Post-European Council: Statements
I thank the Deputy for his question. I join other Members in wishing everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas. I hope everyone gets a good break.
I am sorry to disappoint Members, but I will not be outlining in great detail the contingency planning that will be announced tomorrow by the Taoiseach. As many Members have mentioned, the Commission has published its communication on implementing the Commission's contingency action plan, which includes 14 measures in areas where a no-deal scenario would come into play. It focuses on various issues which, obviously, are of great significance for Ireland, such as the land bridge, aviation, tourism, the agrifood sector, EU programmes, climate policy and so on. As the Taoiseach stated on Leaders' Questions, much of our work in terms of legislation and contingency planning will follow on from this plan, and I hope that the Cabinet will be updated in that regard later this evening. Of course, leaders of Opposition parties will then be given that information, and it will be officially published tomorrow. It will also be discussed at the stakeholder forum where, along with political representatives, representatives of sectors such as agriculture, education and labour will be able to engage on the issue.
It is very important that we get this right. It is not a matter of us trying to hide anything from anybody. It has taken a long time for Departments, and Ministers focusing on issues within their remit or working collectively, to identify the possible challenges and to ensure our policy is aligned with the position and plans of the European Commission. We will endeavour to get that information to Deputies as quickly as possible.
The key issue for Ireland in the discussions at last week's euro summit was protecting our position on non-performing loans. We believe the text which emerged from the meeting does that. We also had concerns on voting and debt sustainability which we believe are protected in terms of the euro area budget. The discussions at the summit focused on paragraph 4 of the summit statement relating to the French and German proposals in that regard. The draft summit statement set a spring 2019 deadline for an agreement on the general features of the budget, but the Finnish Prime Minister asked for the deadline to be changed to June 2019, and that was supported by many member states, including Ireland.
As Deputy Haughey mentioned, there was also discussion of the risk-sharing components of economic and monetary union, EMU, including the European deposit insurance scheme and its stabilisation function in the European area. The final text makes no such reference but the President of the Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Mario Draghi, noted the need for greater risk sharing in the future. In terms of the overall discussion of the insurance fund, we are very much open to that concept.
On the euro area budget, we mandated our finance Ministers to work on the design, method of implementation and timing of the budget line for the euro area which would sit within the wider EU budget and be specifically aimed at enhancing the convergence and competitiveness of the euro area. In addition to the deadline which has been set, finance Ministers have been given several additional priorities. In particular, they will prepare the necessary amendments to the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, treaty by June 2019, after which any revision of the treaty would have to be ratified by all 19 ESM member states, which would require the involvement of the national parliaments and, obviously, would come before this House.
On migration, the discussion is ongoing at the General Affairs Council, which I attend, and the issue is discussed regularly by European leaders at European Council level. Although there is much disagreement on how the issue should be dealt with, we agree that we can only do so effectively by working together. The June meeting of the European Council, which particularly focused on the issue, took a three-pronged approach involving strengthening our co-operation with countries of origin and transit, securing our external borders and dealing with the management of migrants within the EU. It is fair to say that progress has been slow in these areas, as Deputy Haughey outlined. Two additional concepts have been advanced since June, namely, control centres and disembarkation platforms. However, they did not get very much support because they require countries external to the European Union to accept migrants, and not many have been forthcoming in that regard.
Our focus is on working with countries of origin, and we have consistently stated that, particularly in regard to our relationship with African countries. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, attended the EU-Africa summit earlier this week at which good progress was made in terms of trying to strengthen and develop our relationship. Particular progress was made in the area of agriculture, with agreement to work together on developing a plan. The more we focus on the countries of origin of migrants, the fewer people will travel to Europe. We have also pledged €15 million to the EU-Africa trust fund which will have a significant impact in that regard.