Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Post-European Council: Statements
It is welcome that the European Council has endorsed the aim of making the European Union carbon neutral by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement. I note the Taoiseach's comments about the new climate action forum involving Ireland, Denmark and Sweden. Its work could be very valuable but the targets for Ireland for 2030, laid down in Ms Ursula von der Leyen's green new deal, will be certainly challenging for the next two Irish Governments.
When will we see definitive proposals for the so-called socially-balanced and fair transition referred to in the European Council’s communiqué? What proposals, if any, did the Taoiseach make on the fair transition and climate mitigation measures that we heard about? He mentioned a just transition mechanism for regions and industries, but what on earth does that mean for people who are struggling, those in fuel poverty, etc.? Earlier today, I discussed with the Minister of State's colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, our increasing ties and co-operation with Scotland. With the UK now definitely leaving the European Union and, potentially, Scotland leaving the UK and wanting to maintain its membership of the EU, it is time to question the whole structure of membership and enlargement.
On the basis of recent meetings of the Council, it seems that, although we had the annual enlargement package and country reports on 29 May 2019, enlargement has been put on the back burner. I asked the Tánaiste about the futures of Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Armenia, Georgia and even Turkey. It seems that the Minister of State's colleagues once again parked enlargement, even though it is absolutely critical for Balkan security and economic development. We have seen Turkey's recent unfriendly moves in respect of the republics of Cyprus and Greece, our sister states in the European Union.
It is planned to hold a conference on the future of Europe. That is timely in light of Brexit. Conclusions 19 and 20 of 12 December mention Turkey and Albania but do not go into anything further about possible membership for Albania, for example, even in the short term. We know, however, that Germany’s opposition to Turkish accession since negotiations started in 2005 - those negotiations have been ongoing for almost a decade and a half - has been a major reason for the rise to and maintenance in power of President Erdogan and his AKP party. The current regime in Turkey has some disturbing policies.. The country has turned away from the great reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Turkish Republic earlier in the last century. What kind of definitive actions can be taken about this situation now?
The policy and plans for enlargement are critical to how we see Europe evolving. If certain countries with a long tradition in European affairs - these might include various former Russian states, Ukraine and Kazakhstan - are precluded from membership in the medium term, what then will be the position? Serbia and Montenegro, for example, have been candidates for membership since 2012 and 2010, respectively. The report on Kosovo stated that the situation there is challenging. We know about the situation in Serbia and Kosovo. It seems, however, that we should be taking action in respect of North Macedonia and Albania, which have been candidates for membership since 2005 and 2014, respectively. If Europe is for all Europeans, then clearly the current situation is not tenable, particularly with the UK leaving.
During our pre-Council discussion, I mentioned the multi-annual financial framework. As I stated, our budget contributions are increasing fairly rapidly, from €3 billion next year to €3.5 billion in 2023. Before the Council meeting, the Taoiseach said that he expected our contributions to increase dramatically. We do not want a situation where these contributions will be an overwhelming part of the budget, similar to our interest payments in the past. Did the Taoiseach have any input in respect of the so-called "negotiating box" relating to the multi-annual financial framework, prepared by the Finnish Presidency and presented by the new Finnish Prime Minister? Has the Taoiseach got real commitments? He mentioned a peace dividend. Have we got real commitments for support from the European Union in the context of the UK leaving in a few weeks' time?