Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

European Council Meeting: Statements


6:10 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. The agenda for this week's meeting of the European Council is being discussed by EU affairs Ministers at the General Affairs Council meeting today at which the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, is representing Ireland. The Taoiseach has outlined his expectations for the Eastern Partnership summit as well as the European Council's discussion on Covid-19, security and defence, external aspects of migration and external relations items on Belarus and Ukraine. He has also outlined his expectations for the Euro Summit.

I will turn to the issues of energy prices, crisis management and resilience and external relations items on the EU African Union summit and Ethiopia. The issue of energy prices is of significant concern for citizens throughout the EU. This week's discussion follows the EU leaders' discussion in October and that of EU energy Ministers earlier this month. In recent weeks, work has been undertaken to study the functioning of the gas and electricity markets as well as the EU emissions trading systems market with the help of the European Securities and Markets Authority. The Commission also undertook to assess whether certain trading behaviours require regulatory action. Many member states, including Ireland, have used the Commission's toolbox of measures to help address the impact of current price increases on consumers and small businesses.

Here in Ireland, our focus has been on investment in energy efficiency and in renewables supported by competitive markets and enhancing electricity interconnection for the long term. With the support of the Commission’s toolbox, Ireland allocates significant funding to targeted welfare support measures for energy costs and has added to them in budget 2022, such as the increase in the fuel allowance, the expansion of the eligibility for the fuel allowance and the announcement today on the €100 payment. While certainly not a panacea, the measures provided for under the toolbox should help assist Irish and, more broadly speaking, European citizens in dealing with the sharp increases in prices they have faced. Official representatives from the road hauliers group met with the Department of Transport last Friday to look at how the fuel rebate scheme could be modified to assist the haulage industry at this time.

In the medium to longer term, we need to take steps to avoid such pressures arising again in the future. This means building greater resilience into our energy systems and decarbonisation. Moving towards sustainable sources of energy will make a significant contribution towards that goal. It also means ensuring markets remain competitive with enhanced energy interconnection, as we are doing with the Celtic interconnector that will link Ireland and France.

This week’s meeting of the European Council will assess the situation and review ongoing work on this issue. On foot of this discussion in June, the European Council will take stock of work to enhance our collective preparedness, responsibility, capacity and resilience to future crises. I expect the leaders will endorse the conclusions agreed at the General Affairs Council on 23 November and invite the council to take this work forward and to keep this important topic under review. Ireland supports these conclusions and sees co-ordinated EU-level crisis response as crucial to protecting and safeguarding the Single Market.

Building resilience against future crises means working now to strengthen the Single Market, especially in removing unnecessary barriers to trade in services where there is so much untapped potential. We see this as vital for continued recovery and growth.

The next challenge we face may be very different but we have learned we are best equipped when we act collectively. This is particularly evident in the case of vaccines. The integrated political crisis response arrangements developed in 2013 have proven to be a flexible and useful instrument for addressing immediate challenges in times of crisis and have been particularly useful the during Covid-19 period. It is welcome in this context that the HERA, the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, has been established with a budget of €6 billion for the coming years.

I note the issue of the vaccine rate in the developing world has been raised by many speakers in the debate, and it is something that urgently needs to be addressed. It is true there is a difference of approach in how best to accelerate the roll-out of vaccines to the developing world. As many have said in the debate and which we all can agree on, no one is safe until everyone is safe. We have a moral responsibility to ensure an effective roll-out to the developing world. We not only have a moral responsibility but it also makes sound economic sense.

While trade is a competence for the EU, I advocated a number of months ago for the need for us to have that debate on the waiver. In having that debate, we need to be truthful and honest on the impact a waiver would have on future research and innovation and whether there is sufficient capacity across the developed world if a waiver was to be implemented. We also need to acknowledge the role the EU has played to date, because to listen to some contributors today, you would swear it has done nothing. It is the largest exporter of vaccines across the world, and some who have been advocating for a waiver over recent months have pulled up trade barriers and currently are not exporting any vaccines to the developing world. We have already seen 166 million doses going from the EU to low and middle-income countries with a commitment to increase that to 500 million doses by mid-2022. Much more needs to be done and Ireland has a responsibility to convey that message to the EU, which I firmly believe.

Under the external relations agenda item, the European Council next week will discuss the preparations for the European Union-African Union summit on 17 and 18 February 2022. The summit will be an important milestone in the EU’s relationship with Africa after two challenging years. The considerable preparatory work for the summit is a clear recognition our futures and future well-being are deeply intertwined. Ireland will wish to deliver a clear message of solidarity with Africa and, at the summit in February, an honest and ambitious assessment will be made by the EU and the African Union of what we can do better. It will be in the EU and the African Union’s shared interest to put in place a more ambitious and effective partnership. We will need to acknowledge the particular impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Africa, not just on public health but also in socio-economic terms and the very important role African Union countries have played in managing the pandemic. Ireland looks forward to adopting joint, ambitious and concrete initiatives at the summit. Ireland will be strongly supportive of initiatives that support recovery from Covid-19, boost jobs and sustainable economic growth and trade, progress our shared priorities on climate action and enable the EU and the African Union to work together more effectively on the global stage.

At this week’s European Council, EU leaders will also consider the implications of the crisis in Ethiopia. The situation on the ground is of great concern and requires both continued political engagement to secure a ceasefire and an urgent response to the acute humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. Of course, as Members will be aware, Ireland was deeply disappointed by the Government of Ethiopia’s decision, communicated on 22 November, to restrict the size of our embassy in Addis Ababa as a result of the positions that Ireland has taken on Ethiopia at the United Nations Security Council. These positions have been firmly based on the EU’s Common Position with regard to humanitarian access, the need for a ceasefire and dialogue, accountability for violations of human rights, and a peaceful resolution of that crisis.

I thank Members again for their active participation in the debate, and the Taoiseach will report to the House in the new year following the European Council meeting.


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