Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)

EU Issues

2:05 pm

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach his views on the EU reform proposals that President Macron is attempting to implement. [50348/19]

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach his views on the EU reform proposals that the President of France is seeking to implement. [51615/19]

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach his views on the EU reform proposals that the President of France is seeking to implement. [53374/19]

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, together.

I engage with individual EU leaders, including President Macron, both bilaterally and in the context of my attendance at European Council meetings.

I visited Paris on 2 April 2019, when I had an exchange of views with President Macron on a range of global, EU and national issues of shared interest.

As part of our policy of strengthening our relationships with other member states, including in the context of Brexit, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, launched Ireland's Strategy for France 2019 to 2025, inclusive, in August.

The strategy aims to ensure that France and Ireland work closely together, both bilaterally and as partners in the EU, to build a shared and better future for all our citizens.

The European Council most recently discussed plans for reform at its meeting on 12 December, including a proposal for a conference on the future of Europe, as set in a presentation by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli.

On foot of our discussion, we asked Croatia, as the incoming Council Presidency, to work towards defining a Council position on the content, scope, composition and functioning of such a conference, and to engage on this basis with the European Parliament and Commission.

I expect that President Macron's views on EU reform, as reflected in a Franco-German paper, will be raised and considered in that context and in further discussion at future European Council meetings.

It is worth recalling that the European Council adopted a strategic agenda setting out our priorities for the coming period in June of this year. I am, therefore, pleased that last week's European Council also made clear that priority should continue to be given to implementing that agenda and to delivering concrete results for the benefit of our citizens.

It is important to recognise that the strategic agenda reflected the outcome of this extensive consultation with our citizens, including in Ireland. As a result, the European Council's statement that the conference should build on the successful holding of citizens' dialogues over the past two years and foresee broad consultations with citizens in the course of the process is welcome. I expect the conference to contribute to the development of EU policies in the medium and long terms in order that we can better tackle current and future challenges together. It may also consider any institutional reform that can contribute to that goal. Ireland will continue to participate fully as the debate evolves.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We will soon have statements on the European Council meeting and most of the issues that could be raised in respect of this set of questions can be left until then. Nevertheless, I wish to raise two separate points.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that he will continue to block the legislation in the Dáil that relates to economic relations with the illegal settlements on the West Bank on the basis that this "is a sole competency of the European Union". The Tánaiste said the same thing this morning. The Taoiseach has indicated that EU policy is preventing action from being taken, but when I asked him whether he or the Tánaiste has lobbied for a change in that policy, he failed to answer. There is no public evidence that the either Taoiseach or the Tánaiste has made any representations or proposals on this matter. Does this not indicate that the legislation is being blocked on policy terms rather than on legal terms? In light of the failure of the Tánaiste's effort to achieve a breakthrough - he has said that he has a close relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu - will the Taoiseach tell us whether Ireland is proposing or supporting any new initiative in the face of the threatened West Bank annexations and the permanent statelessness of millions of people?

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Orbán has started to ramp up his efforts to limit freedom of activity in Hungary. His previous actions are well known. He has taken the appointment of theatre directors into political hands, he has reduced the rights of Opposition politicians in the Hungarian Parliament and he is imposing political oversight of curriculums in universities. These actions are a clear violation of basic democratic principles. The issue is whether anything is to be done. Is the Taoiseach happy that everything that can be done is being done in order to address the fact that an EU member state is drastically undermining core democratic freedoms?

2:15 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am confused because I did not realise that we were going to take a fourth group of questions.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I did not expect us to take these questions either.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We normally take three groups. Do we have time for this?

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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We do.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That is fine. The statements on last week's EU Council meeting will begin shortly. I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the focus on an area that is now being driven by one of the new vice presidents of the European Commission, Mr. Frans Timmermans. His responsibilities include climate change, which all of us in this House recognise as the biggest economic and social issue that we need to address. It is very difficult to address it on a global basis when the US is withdrawing from its commitments under the Paris accord. I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the most recent discussions. How does he envisage that the targets can be achieved without the full participation of the US in particular?

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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President Macron has been championing a united states of Europe. I ask the Taoiseach to comment on the Government's position on Mr. Macron's proposals, particularly in the context of Irish neutrality. Ireland is a neutral country. President Macron has indicated in recent times that he is very critical of the capacity of NATO. He sees very serious defects in NATO. As part of his vision for Europe, he has indicated that he would like widespread changes to be made to pension entitlements, for example. I am most concerned about the question of military alliances. He has spoken in a number of speeches about certain countries being part of a group that will go forward to the united states of Europe. As a neutral country, Ireland has very different interests. I know that Fine Gael has some alliances with individuals like President Macron outside of the EPP. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether Fine Gael remains committed to Irish neutrality in the context of European discussions? Will there be room in Europe for countries which are militarily neutral alongside countries which may belong to other defence arrangements?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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To the best of my knowledge, we have not lobbied for a change in EU trade policy with regard to Israel. It is certainly something we can consider. It is unlikely that we will be able to find consensus at European level to take action of that nature, given that some member states exhibit strong support towards Israel. We have taken a very strong position on Jerusalem. I was very active at European Council level in asking that as part of our conclusions, we do not accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or at least not until a two-state solution has been delivered. We have also taken very strong positions against settlement activity and the annexation of occupied lands. We have done that at EU level and at the UN and we will continue to do that. It is well recognised by the Palestinian Authority and by Arab countries that Ireland is at the forefront of the countries that support the Palestinian cause.

Deputy Martin asked about the rule of law in Hungary. The European Commission is empowered to take action with regard to the rule of law and takes such action. We are very supportive of the European Commission's actions in this regard.

We deeply regret the decision of the US Administration to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. I remind the House that the US has not yet withdrawn from the agreement. The policy of the US might yet change, depending on the outcome of the elections there next November. Notwithstanding all of this, it should be borne in mind that US emissions are coming down and that many US states and cities are taking climate action anyway.

I have never heard President Macron using the term "united states of Europe" and I have not heard him arguing for such a development. He is certainly a supporter of greater integration. We agree with some elements of this approach, but not others, depending on the circumstances. Ireland will continue to be a neutral country and will continue to be a non-member of NATO. We do not intend to participate in a European army if such an entity is established. We will be part of security. Our decision to sign up to permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, was endorsed overwhelmingly by this House. Ireland is a long-standing member of the Partnership for Peace. I think we can contribute to continental security and world security through what we do at the UN and what we do at the EU under the banner of PESCO and otherwise.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.