Dáil debates

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

4:15 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

First, there is an existing health programme within the multi-annual financial framework. There are two dimensions to this, namely, the multi-annual financial framework, which is the seven-year budget for the European Union, and, alongside that, the Next Generation EU recovery fund. Going into the summit, the Commission's proposal was for a €750 billion package. The Commission and the President of the Council, along with a number of member states, including ours - I was a very strong advocate of this - wanted the proportion to be more grants than loans. Going in, it was approximately €500 billion in grants and the remainder in loans. The frugal four, as they are called, of four member states, disagreed vehemently in regard to the size of the package - €1.8 trillion when one combines the two - and in regard to the balance and ratio between grants and loans. The entire dynamic of the Council was trying to resist efforts to cut the grant dimension which had been proposed by the Commission.

The fund was not in any existing budget. The fund was something that had not been agreed but was to include significant additional amounts, including for health. The Deputies are correct in terms of what happened to the health funding. I would have argued trenchantly in terms of the need to preserve the grants. We fought for their retention and we wanted the maximum amount in grants. I made the argument that there is no point in piling debt upon debt on member states that are in difficulty as a result of Covid-19. That was my absolutely unequivocal position. I said that Ireland, historically, had benefited from cohesion funding and solidarity in Europe when one compares where we were in the 1970s with where we are today. Equally, Ireland is an exporting country, and if Europe recovers significantly, we will do well. That is the overarching theme I approached this with, while also seeking to protect our core budgets and the Common Agricultural Policy. The latter, on current, is retained, which is an extraordinary achievement in itself. The issue regarding constant versus current is a fair point, but there is no way that people can understate the significance of what was achieved, given the UK's exit and the resources that went with the UK, in terms of the retention of Common Agricultural Policy plus the Brexit special reserve fund of €5 billion, for which Ireland and others are in the front line in terms of being negatively impacted by Brexit.

The real battle was to try to maintain the level of the overall package so that Europe could respond at scale. What we are getting is that all those projected amounts were put into the Next Generation EU fund, which had never been agreed and was still there to be debated. We had to get an agreement, which I think was important, with those countries that are net contributors but which were clearly - this is public knowledge, not just my view - vehemently against giving the grants at all. They started out with a zero grant position and we have ended up at around €390 billion in grants funding and €360 billion for loans. We have retained the level that was there.


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