Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Post-European Council: Statements
I thank the Deputy for his questions.
Despite the fact that there was a lack of a conclusion to the COP25 negotiations, the new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, was positive and made significant steps in the right direction with the launch of the green deal last week. The endorsement by the European Council of the objective of climate neutrality by 2050 was also positive. There were lengthy discussions among member states. Poland still has concerns, not specifically around the overall EU objective but its ability to reach that by 2050. It did not prevent the Council as a whole from approving this overall objective, however. Ireland signed up fully to it.
A new College of Commissioners has just been appointed. We need to give them time to set out their goals and objectives. A significant amount of funding, up to €100 billion from the Commission, has been put behind this, along with a European Investment Bank supported €1 trillion sustainable Europe investment plan.
The Commission is expected to publish its sustainable Europe investment plan in early January 2020. That is obviously giving the Commission time to put that plan in place. Of course, when we get that, individual countries' finance departments will need to examine those proposals accordingly.
Last week we repeatedly raised our need to access the €100 billion just transition fund, in particular relating to peat in the midlands. It is not fair, as Deputy Mattie McGrath mentioned, to say that hundreds of people are being let go from their jobs and that there is no opportunity here. The tone of last week's discussion, particularly on the part of the new Commission President, was very positive. While there will be change and challenges, this is an opportunity to transition to new technologies and look at new kinds of jobs. We know that the vast majority of our younger generation will be working in jobs that have not even been created yet.
The fund from the European Investment Bank, EIB, and the just transition fund will allow us to look at these new types of mechanisms. Deputy Howlin asked how we would to that. At the Council last week, the Taoiseach met the Prime Ministers of Denmark and Sweden. They signed their own agreement to consider how we can work with each other to share information and insights as to how we can develop these technologies, not just working with the private sector but also with the public sector. Investment will be needed in both areas. The issue of peat was raised in the context of the just transition mechanism. This is not just an issue for us. Our colleagues in Finland also have concerns. We will continue to raise the matter, and once we have further detail on how we can access that, we will let Deputies know.
There was quite a short discussion of the MFF at the European Council, but it was discussed in great detail at the General Affairs Council I attended earlier in the week. This is the first time the General Affairs Council met with new figures put in place - the new negotiating box with the figures by the Finnish Presidency. On the whole, Ireland was probably somewhat more satisfied with the proposals than most member states. However, there are still some significant areas of concern for us, the main one being that the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, proposals still see a reduction. While there was a proposal to increase the Pillar 2 payments by €10 billion, there was still a cut to Pillar 1. We will naturally pay more as a country because we will be net contributors for the full term. We have consistently said we could pay above and beyond that, but not if the more traditional priorities as we see them, including CAP, Cohesion, Horizon and other such areas, are being cut.
I personally engaged with my Finnish counterpart on the €1 billion fund. It was proposed that the European Commission would provide €60 million per year, with matched funding by the Irish and UK Governments. Over the lifetime of the seven-year budget, that would amount to just under €700 million. Through discussions, we were able to achieve an increase to a contribution of €100 million from the European Commission, which with matched funding from the Irish and UK Governments would bring it to almost €1 billion over the lifetime of the fund. I would be confident that that funding will remain in place as proposed.
In the context of Brexit, given the significant impact the PEACE programme has had already, the next phase of PEACE will be equally important. A significant amount of work remains to be done on reconciliation and bringing communities together.
We also support other things, including allocating 25% of the overall budget to climate change, the rule of law mechanism and own resources. We are looking at plastic, which obviously is a self-depreciating fund, but something we are willing to look at.
The conference is something that has stemmed out of the future of Europe debate in which Deputy Haughey and many other Deputies present took part. Our own priorities as a Government fed into the new strategic agenda which the Commission and the new College of Commissioners are now tasked with implementing. I would like to see that implemented through people-to-people contact. We should focus mainly on implementing the strategic agenda as it has been laid out while also looking at other areas. The Croatian Presidency starting in January has been asked to work towards defining a position with all the member states, looking at the content, scope, composition and functioning of such a conference. Obviously, we would hope to play our part and make a contribution to how that will be defined.
Most importantly, this will happen not just from a Council point of view but working with the European Parliament and the Commission. Most importantly, we need to ensure that everything we do feeds back to the citizens because this should all be about engaging with people and ensuring that the work we are doing is based on the work they want us to do.