Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Post-European Council Meeting: Statements
A new wave of Covid-19 cases is evident on the Continent of Europe, particularly in central Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic states. The B117 UK variant, which is extremely contagious, is now the dominant strain. This is a matter of concern and, as the Taoiseach stated, it was considered in detail at the European Council meeting last week. As I have stated previously, the Commission’s handling of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out has been less than sure-footed. The sharp, public exchanges between the Commission and the UK are not something we are used to, especially those from the Commission. I welcome the fact that the rhetoric between the two blocs has been dialled down, so to speak, and that background diplomacy has been set in train. I am glad that a blanket ban on the export of vaccines from the EU has not been pursued, particularly in view of the interconnectivity of global supply chains, and I am of the view that the policy on this issue agreed at the Council meeting represents the best way forward.
I note what was said in the Council’s statement on the EU’s relations with Turkey. There is no doubt that it is in the EU’s interests to have stability in the eastern Mediterranean and a co-operative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. The EU needs to co-operate with Turkey on migration, particularly when one considers that Turkey is temporarily home to approximately 4 million Syrian refugees. We have a problem, however. There are difficulties in respect of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Turkey. President Erdoğan has targeted political parties and the media. He intends to proscribe the mainly Kurdish Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP, also known as the People's Democratic Party. Recently, he sacked the governor of the Turkish central bank and has withdrawn Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, which protects women from domestic violence. While I welcome EU engagement with Turkey, as a country it is a long way off EU membership when these issues of democracy, rule of law, and human rights remain to be resolved.
The European Council briefly considered EU-Russian relations. I note that this matter will be considered further at a future Council meetings. This, of course, follows an unsuccessful visit by EU policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles to Russia last month. Ireland, the EU and the UN need to do more about the case of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. There are reports that he is being subjected to torture in prison, which is totally unacceptable.
I also welcome the attendance of US President Joe Biden at the video conference relating to the Council meeting. This new chapter in EU-US relations gives us great hope. We live in a world of free trade and subscribe to the promotion of liberal, democratic values and basic human rights. The attendance of the US President at the meeting is a further sign that the many global problems of the day, including climate change, can be best tackled through international organisations and multilateral diplomacy.
I note what the Taoiseach said on digital taxation and the fact that it will be considered following further reports from the OECD. This is of concern to Ireland. If the EU is to go it alone, we would have to do everything possible to protect our corporate taxation regime, which is the model upon which our economic development is based on. I will finish on that point.