Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Post-European Council: Statements


2:15 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I attended the meeting of the European Council and the eurozone summit in Brussels on Thursday, 12 December, and Friday, 13 December. At the European Council meeting on Thursday, we discussed climate change, the EU's long-term budget and external relations, particularly the EU-Africa partnership and Turkey's recent actions in the eastern Mediterranean. We agreed to continue economic sanctions against Russia. We expressed solidarity with Albania following the recent earthquake there. We considered the idea of a conference on the future of Europe. On Friday, we held a eurozone summit to take stock of progress on economic and monetary union. We then met in Article 50 format to discuss Brexit and the preparations for the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship after the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

In addition to the formal Council meetings, I launched a climate action forum with Prime Minister Frederiksen of Denmark and Prime Minister Löfven of Sweden. This initiative developed from my meetings with them in Copenhagen and Stockholm in October. It will enable us to pool experience, offer leadership and encourage others to act. The climate action forum strengthens the exchange of information, ideas, experience and best practice between us. At the gathering, I congratulated Finland's Sanna Marin on her recent election, at the age of 32, as the youngest Prime Minister in Europe. I also congratulated her on Finland's successful EU Presidency, which will draw to a close at the end of the year.

The European Council had a long discussion on climate action. We heard from President von der Leyen. I welcomed the proposal for a European green deal that was published by the Commission last week. We endorsed the objective of a climate-neutral EU by 2050. As one member state was not in a position to commit to that goal for itself, we agreed that the European Council would come back to the matter in June 2020. Our agreement represents a major step forward. Climate neutrality by 2050 is now EU policy. The new EU budget and the work of the European Investment Bank and other bodies will be directed towards achieving that goal. Our action will help to create an opportunity for green growth, new jobs, new businesses and a cleaner and more biodiverse environment. The transition to a climate-neutral Europe will require significant public and private investment. The European Investment Bank will invest an estimated €1 trillion in climate action and sustainability between 2021 and 2030. We also agreed that there would be a just transition mechanism to assist the regions and industries most affected.

Prime Minister Marin of Finland presented the Presidency's negotiating box for the multi-annual financial framework, which is the EU budget for the period 2021 to 2027.

In the discussion that followed, I set out Ireland's position, saying that we want to see long-established, well-functioning and successful policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, Cohesion, Horizon and Erasmus+, continue to be properly funded. We also want significant investment in meeting new challenges, such as migration, security and climate action. I welcomed the proposed special allocation of funding for a PEACE Plus programme of €100 million for Northern Ireland and the Border counties. The European Council agreed to continue working on the basis of the negotiating box, and President Michel will now take the negotiations forward.

On Thursday we discussed a possible conference on the future of Europe with the President of the Parliament, David Sassoli. Arising from this, we asked Croatia, as the incoming holder of the Presidency, to explore the content, scope, composition and function of any conference. At the euro summit on Friday we heard an assessment from new ECB President, Christine Lagarde. We asked the Eurogroup to continue its work on reforming the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, and on strengthening the banking union. Ireland sees a European deposit insurance scheme, EDIS, as an important part of that work. We also agreed that a budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness will be finalised as part of the negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, and invited the Eurogroup to provide its views on this swiftly.

The European Council also met on Friday in Article 50 format to discuss Brexit. Our discussions were informed by the decisive results of the UK general election the previous day, and by a presentation by Michel Barnier, the European Union's chief negotiator. The expectation is now that the UK will leave the EU on 31 January on the basis of the withdrawal agreement and that there will be a transition period. For this to happen, the withdrawal agreement will need to be ratified in Westminster and in the European Parliament. As the House is aware, the agreement guarantees that there will be no hard border on this island. It also protects the common travel area and the existing rights of British and Irish citizens to travel, live, work and access public services and welfare in both jurisdictions.

At the European Council, we also considered the proposed next steps. The EU's high-level position is already set out in the joint political declaration and in the political direction provided by the European Council at successive meetings. Last week we invited the European Commission to present a draft mandate for the future relationship negotiations for the Council to consider once the UK has exited. These negotiations will create the basis for EU-UK relations for years to come. It is vital that we get this right and create the best possible framework for working and co-operating with our close neighbour and friend. Together with our EU partners, we will work for the closest, deepest and broadest possible relationship with the UK.

At last week's European Council, we confirmed that our future partnership with the UK will go beyond trade. It needs to cover a broad range of issues, including citizens' rights. There was a strong view that we want free trade with the UK with no tariffs, no quotas, as little bureaucracy and as few checks as possible. However, it has to be on the basis of a level playing field and common minimum standards. Health and safety and environment standards, employment rights, production methods, product standards and state aid will all need to be considered.

Throughout these Brexit negotiations the unity of the EU has been notable, and the solidarity of our EU partners with Ireland particularly so. We must maintain the same solidarity and unity in the next phase.

I wish to reflect on the future of Europe. Past generations knew instinctively that a united Europe could bring an end to war and set us on the path to peace, democracy, the rule of law and prosperity after the Second World War. For young people today, the horrors of world war and the evils of fascism and communism are not in their memory. For them, Europe needs a new project, a new raison d'être. Dealing with challenges that can only be overcome through collective, multilateral action must be that raison d'être, with climate action first among them. Others include security, migration and the regulation of large corporations, many of which are now larger than states. This was a crucially important European Council meeting. It marked a very significant moment in the EU's emergent global leadership on climate. It also prepared the ground for the challenges we will face in 2020, in particular in three areas: the negotiation of the EU's future relationship with the UK; the EU's seven-year budget; and the EU's external relationships, including with Russia, Turkey and the continent of Africa. In her wrap-up remarks, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will focus more on external relations, including the EU-Africa Partnership and Turkey, as well as the current situation at the World Trade Organization.


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