Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
34. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way in which Ireland plans to play a constructive role in the EU and ensure its objectives are met now that a new European Commission is in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53621/19]
Will the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade outline how Ireland plans to play a constructive role in the EU and ensure its objectives are met now that a new Commission is in place? Will he also outline the agenda of the Irish Government for the next five years?
With the UK now due to leave the EU next month and the new institutions in place, the EU is entering a new phase that will have significant implications for Ireland.
In relation to Brexit, the Government has been clear throughout that Ireland's place is firmly at the heart of Europe. We are determined to play our part in shaping the post-Brexit EU. The Taoiseach, I, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee, and other Ministers will continue to engage with our counterparts across member states and in the institutions in the period ahead.
The European Council adopted a new EU strategic agenda last June to guide the work of the Union over the next five years. Its priorities, namely, prosperity, security, climate change, and upholding EU values, are ones which very much accord with our own values, as set out in last year's national statement on Europe. We want to see the EU leading on climate change, defending fundamental rights and freedoms, and building a fair and social Europe.
The new Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, is equally committed to implementing the strategic agenda and it very much informs the guidelines which have been set out for the incoming Commission's work. Last week, we saw the unveiling of the Commission's proposals on the European green deal which aims to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050. This is a goal which Ireland very much supports and we will work closely with our partners to help achieve it.
Ireland will engage actively and constructively in the ongoing discussions on the many critical challenges confronting the EU, including agreeing the next EU budget for the period 2021-27, and ensuring that the rule of law and fundamental values are upheld by all EU members.
We will continue to prioritise building new alliances with like-minded member states. The steps we have taken in recent years to reinforce our embassies in EU member states, as part of the Global Ireland initiative, will help facilitate this. We will also develop strong relations with the new leaders of the European institutions. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, visited Dublin last month for consultations with the Taoiseach and we hope Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, will also visit in early 2020.
The new European Commission is in place and has set out its priorities for 2019-24 which include a European green deal, a Europe fit for the digital age, promoting our European way of life, a stronger Europe in the world and a new push for European democracy. Fianna Fáil wishes the new Commission well and hopes, among other things, that the next five years will see advances in equality, strengthening of the rule of law and democracy, the promotion of sustainable economic growth, delivery of commitments given on climate change, ensuring Europe has a sufficient budget, an orderly Brexit and agreement reached on the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK.
The next five years will be critical for Europe and my party has consistently called for Ireland to ensure its voice is heard in debates on the future of Europe and on EU reform. We believe Ireland should be a leader in this regard and make meaningful contributions to such debates. The citizens of Europe are calling for reform of the European Union and that debate is overdue. Can the Minister assure me that Ireland will be to the forefront and proactive in bringing about reform measures which the citizens of Europe are calling for?
We have already begun that process. We have done a huge amount in consulting Irish citizens on the kind of future for Europe that they want and envisage. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, has done a brilliant job in leading a consultation process in different parts of the country, inviting submissions. I was involved in that process as well and I expect the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, was too. We got thousands of submissions and public debate on the kind of Europe that we want to be part of in the future. Many of the issues the Deputy referred to, and that we see the EU now trying to lead on, are consistent with that.
I refer to respecting human rights, respecting minorities, having a social as well as an economic Europe, making sure that Europe can impact on other parts of the world in terms of the value system that we advocate for and the kind of democracy that Europe is based on, supporting peace but at the same time responding to new threats and dangers in areas such as radicalisation, and trying to find ways of dealing with significant challenges that the EU is struggling with, for example, migration, in a way that is humane and consistent with international standards and law. These are issues that Ireland is comfortable discussing and debating and on which we want to try to lead by example.
It is worth noting that the President of the European Commission is a woman, the first woman to be appointed to this position, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen. Also, 12 of the 27 Commissioners are women. That must be a good thing. It must be good for the European Union and, indeed, for the future of Europe, and it is worth pointing that out.
On one of the objectives of Ireland in the context of the EU, I would suggest, as I am sure the Tánaiste will agree, that Ireland should be also at the forefront of defending European values and ideals. Europe is facing threats, both inside and outside the Union, and it is essential that these issues are faced head on. The assault on democracy, the rule of law and academic and judicial freedoms in EU states such as Poland and Hungary must be confronted, and my party certainly supports linking EU funding to ensuring that these principles are adhered to. As I say, the future of Europe is under threat from illiberal regimes, and that is something that all of us must be conscious of and deal with appropriately.
In some ways it is stating the obvious, but it needs to be said and factored into the way in which we approach our EU membership in the future, that the EU without the United Kingdom will be a very different EU for Ireland. We are losing a strong partner that has advocated on most briefs for the same things that we have been advocating for. We are losing a powerful partner in many of those arguments. Therefore, Ireland has been embarking for quite some time, because of Brexit, on building new alliances, turning friendships into political partnerships on important briefs in terms of the kind of approach we want to the Single Market, globalisation, climate change, the rule of law, etc. The loss of the UK will not simply be a financial or security one for the European Union. It is something much more fundamental than that, particularly from an Irish perspective, and we need to act to build alliances that can help to compensate for that. That has taken up a big part of my time over the past two years.