Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Post-European Council Meeting: Statements
I only have five minutes. I always complain about the time given to live up to the commitments we made to have proper scrutiny of European Council meetings. The Taoiseach left the Chamber before the first contribution was made. I know he is very busy but we need to take our responsibility to deal with the European Council seriously.
I will briefly deal with three issues. As I said last week, the most important issue by far to be addressed by the European Council was Covid-19. I refer in particular to the failures in the responsibilities we entrusted to the European Commission at the early stages of this pandemic and, more recently, the roll-out of the vaccine.
I asked last week for accountability for the accepted failure that was laid out by the Commission. None of that was evident in anything that I have read. In the conclusions, the EU leaders committed to accelerate production, delivery and deployment of vaccines. I would have hoped that they had always committed to accelerate these three aspects. It is in respect of those aspects that they have failed to date. What was decided in this regard and what will flow from the meeting in the context of production, delivery and deployment of vaccines? We need to have that spelled out in detail, which is why I had asked for a copy of the speech because I had hoped to have the specifics of all of that and an acknowledgement of the lessons learned.
For those of us who are deeply committed to the European project, there is a requirement to know that when we devolve responsibilities to a central authority, that authority is as accountable as our Government is to this Parliament. We need to hear very clearly what the position is in that regard.
There are two other issues which flowed from last week's Council meeting and which I wish to touch upon. The first of these relates to the discussion on the euro and the creation, from the existing euro, of a truly global currency. Some would rightly say that it perhaps already is a global currency. It is the currency of 19 of the 27 member states but it is also used by 60 countries and territories that either use the euro as their normal currency or whose currency is pegged to the euro. After the US dollar, the euro is the second most important international currency. The commitment is to build a stronger role for the euro, benchmark international commodities, including energy and raw materials, in euro as opposed to dollars into the future and make it more attractive as a currency of choice for investors. These are worthy aims and I hope, in the context of future debates, that we will have the opportunity to debate the specifics with regard to how what is envisioned is to be achieved.
The second and related issue is that relating to international digital taxation, which was briefly touched upon by the Taoiseach. When he talked about digitalisation, he briefly referred to international taxation and stated that he supports the OECD framework. Interestingly, in its conclusions, the Council agreed that if no agreement is reached within the OECD, the EU will then act alone. The Commission is currently preparing a digital levy proposal. That is being formulated and the Commission has stated that it is exploring a number of policy options, including: a corporate income tax top-up to be applied to all companies conducting certain digital activities in the European Union; a tax on revenues created by certain digital activities anywhere in the European Union; or a tax on transactions conducted business-to-business within the European Union. These are very profound changes and given the scale of digital company activity in our State, we need to have a clear analysis of the impact of each of the proposals. I clearly stated a long time ago that I am in favour of digital taxes. These companies need to have a clear basis for paying tax but it must be fair to all companies and not simply a transactional tax that will accrue even greater taxation benefit to the very large countries where many of the transactions involved take place. These are matters to which we need to return and on which we need to have much deeper and clearer presentations by the Government in the context what exactly is being said on our behalf.