Thursday, 10 May 2012
EU Presidency: Statements, Questions and Answers (Resumed)
I am looking forward to Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. It will be an important moment for Ireland in light of where we are at globally and particularly at European level. It needs to be emphasised that the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, is doing a great job. She is putting a really positive face on where we are at. She is leading.
It is lovely to see young people in the Gallery. Next year, Ireland will have been a member state of the EU for 40 years. When we hold the Presidency next year, we will have a chance to lead Europe on key issues. The Taoiseach and our Ministers will have key opportunities to prioritise what is important for Ireland, for the whole of Europe, which has a population of 500 million, and, in particular, for the euro area. We are all relying on growth in the euro area. It is critical for us all.
The countries with which Ireland will share the Presidency of the EU are less experienced in this respect. We will follow the Cypriot Presidency. We will share the Presidency with Lithuania before handing over to Greece. It is widely known, given how long Ireland has been in the Union, that those countries have far less experience than Ireland of the Presidency of the EU. It is accepted that our Civil Service has the expertise and back-up to provide for a really good Presidency. This is being spoken about in Europe.
I would like the Minister of State to consider a number of requests. I am aware that bringing the jobs and growth strategy into operation will be one of our key priorities. We can see the effect this message had on last weekend's election in France. It remains to be seen how effective Mr. Hollande will be. It is a very important message.
I suggest to the Minister of State that Ireland should seriously consider taking a leading role in a major event on youth unemployment, for example, by inviting our European counterparts to a conference on the subject. The current level of youth unemployment is scary. Approximately 30% of our young people are unemployed. The equivalent rate in Spain is approaching 50%. It is a perilous situation. We all know what happened in the past when youth unemployment was not addressed.
We could build on the major high level forum on youth unemployment that was organised by the OECD in 2010. We should draw on the expertise of countries like Denmark, Norway, New Zealand and Canada, which are doing well in terms of youth unemployment. We need to examine what they are doing differently. Our work in this regard would meet the EU social inclusion, job creation and growth promotion objectives.
The digital single market is another one of the key objectives of the Presidency and of Commissioner Kroes. When I attended the COSAC meeting in Copenhagen two weeks ago, I was impressed by Commissioner Kroes's presentation. She pointed out that by 2015, the EU will lack 700,000 information technology professionals. This is the growth area and this is what young people need to hear. Careers in IT should be considered because demand for IT professionals has already outstripped supply. This proves there is no recession on the Internet.
Another priority for our Presidency will be the Common Agricultural Policy. The negotiations are likely to be completed here.
Ireland should take the opportunity to host some of the meetings outside the capital with a view to engaging other areas of the country in the workings of Europe and to showcase them, not least because it will be the 40th anniversary of the Union and because we need to show our citizens the real and democratic gain associated with being a member of the Union. It is worth considering.
We must consider the responsibility of the ECB during this Presidency. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is working very hard on this and considering our banking debt. A constructive orderly write-down of banking debt will release domestic economies in terms of mortgage debt.
It is important that we use our leadership to talk to Germany in a very mature away and encourage Ms Angela Merkel to get the Germans to spend a little more. We know they have kept their wages low very deliberately, which the rest of us did not do. It may be time for them to live a little and spend a little more. The German economy, the German population, makes up one third of the euro area. We want the stability treaty to be passed. We need it for certainty, credit and growth. We need genuine growth and Germany has a crucial role to play in this regard. Let us not be afraid on this account. Ireland has a great opportunity to showcase itself and to show it is mature and can offer leadership, not just for its own sake but for the entire euro area. I wish the Minister of State well.
I welcome the Minister of State. As I have done privately, I offer my support to her. As Senator Healy Eames stated, Ireland has a fantastic opportunity to use the Presidency - I use the phrase carefully - to improve its damaged reputation. There is a fractured Europe. It is not structurally fractured but the relationships are fractured. We are cranky, for good reason. We have a reputation for mollifying and trying to make peace. We should use the first six months of 2013 as an opportunity for the Republic to be peacemaker among all member states. We are great at what we call public diplomacy. I am proud to say I am a great fan of the Union, irrespective of its flaws. I accept there are many views on the future of Europe but we are all on the one side in terms of making it much more productive, cohesive and inclusive.
Most high-level meetings happen in Brussels. The Minister of State mentioned in her speech that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, will have a certain conference here. What informal high-level meetings will be held in Ireland? I support Senator Healy Eames's view that meetings should be held beyond the Pale. Tomorrow, the Government is to announce the launch of the Gathering, an important phenomenon. Irish arts and cultural festivals are the best in the world. It is important to use culture, tourism, our good nature and sense of conviviality to try to impress on our European colleagues the importance of enhancing the unity and cohesiveness of the Union.
The Minister may have a little more to say on the crucial trade Ministers' meeting, focusing particularly on EU-US trade. Ireland could be at the centre of the discourse. I hope the current US President will still be in power next year. It may be interesting for us to enhance our reputation even more. Our reputation is in need of enhancement. We should not feel we have achieved this and the Minister should not either. It is a matter of using our leverage to encourage our neighbours and the other member states.
I was involved with the 2004 Presidency and with the day of enlargement. Ireland serves as a focal point for all member states. I would love to hear the Minister of State say more about using our cultural and tourism links to leverage our public diplomacy muscle in order to enhance our reputation.
I welcome the Minister to the House.
The chance to hold the Presidency of the EU offers Ireland a wonderful opportunity at this most trying of economic times. I was very interested to hear much of what the Minister of State said recently, especially the comment that holding the Presidency offers a chance to demonstrate that Ireland is a constructive and committed member of the Union and that, more important, membership has been and remains a very positive experience for Ireland. In the background noise of the current economic crisis, some commentators have depicted membership of the European Union as part of the problem, but this fails to recognise the benefits that have accrued and continue to accrue from being a member of the Union.
It is been pointed out that Iceland, which is outside the eurozone, has pursued a different path than Ireland and consequently emerged in a better position. Some commentators have attributed this result to Iceland being in a position to use its monetary position as a policy tool, which Ireland, as a member of the common currency area, cannot do. This fails to recognise the scale of the problem facing Iceland, including the destruction of wealth and savings and the massive reduction in the standard of living for ordinary Icelanders. A policy instrument pursued by Iceland, which we do not hear much about, is the imposition of capital controls. This has prevented a great flight of capital from Iceland. It is easy to say that we would be in a better position if we were not a member of the European Union. However, this argument, which we have heard time and again, ignores the complexity of the economic circumstances.
We do not have control over monetary policy. One can only imagine what would happen to Ireland if we used capital controls as a policy in an economy where foreign direct investment accounts for over half of wealth creation and a similar percentage of employment. The imposition of capital controls would ensure we closed ourselves off to future investment and undermined any existing investment, on which we are so highly dependent.
One of the main attractions for financial direct investors is the relatively low rate of corporation tax, in addition to the educated and flexible workforce and access to European markets. We have been more than successful in attracting foreign direct investment relative to other countries and we continue to punch above our weight. In the past few months, we have heard the announcement of over 2,000 jobs as a direct result of this policy. Membership of the European Union is vital for our recovery and access to funding, and for the networking afforded to us among our European partners.
It has been stated that in accepting membership of the European Union we have handed over some sovereignty, but I do not accept that argument. The concept of sovereignty is ever-changing and ever-evolving. This is good because we have moved a long way from the narrow nationalism we witnessed in this country, the Balkans and other parts of Europe historically. The European Union has played a huge role in ensuring member states can resolve their differences by way of dialogue. Everyone will agree that this must be good. Sovereignty means much more than the ability to say "No". Membership places us at the very heart of decision-making in Europe. Ireland represents but 1% of the European Union's population, yet its voice can be heard. By holding the Presidency we can set the agenda across a range of policy areas and I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's views on this. The international media will focus its attention on Ireland during the Presidency and it gives us a wonderful opportunity to speak directly to the world without having our views mediated through a biased international commentariat.
We should not just look to Europe for what we can get out of it. We have made a major contribution to Europe as a player on the world diplomatic and political stage. Most progressive thinking on equality and reform has its origins in Europe and has found its way into our legislation, often in opposition to conservative forces in Ireland, through European legislation and we should be thankful for that. Setting the political priorities for the agenda is vital. On the last seven occasions we have held the Presidency, all Governments of all shades have done the country proud.
I am glad we are members of the European project. In difficult economic times, there is a populist temptation to retrench our positions and fall back on the simple but dangerous introverted Nationalist ideology. This must be resisted because therein lies the road back to the dark days we were too used to in this country. It is good the Presidency is coming round to us at this time. With it comes the opportunity to reassert our commitment to be part of the European project, which has transformed our country and the Continent for the better. The Labour Party originally opposed entry into the European Economic Community 40 years ago but it subsequently fully embraced the project. We are internationalist in outlook and look forward to the Presidency where we can reassert our commitment to the EU. It is an exciting prospect for the country, the Government and the Minister of State, who we are sure will do Ireland proud.
The opportunity offered by our holding the Presidency should not be overlooked. This country was dependent solely on British markets for almost all of our trade until 40 years ago. Since 1973, the European market of 500 million people has been open to us and has also allowed us access to other markets globally. Anyone who suggests being in the EU is a backward step is living in the 1920s, if not 100 years ago. Every town in Donegal has benefited from EU membership, from farming to tourism to infrastructure to equality legislation that would never have been introduced by any Irish Government. We have been good Europeans and benefited from our membership, but Europe has benefited from our membership. It is a two-way street.
Senator Gilroy made a good point about Iceland. When Iceland collapsed, there were restrictions but those who put it forward as an example forget that Iceland's border is the Atlantic Ocean, while our border is between Lifford and Strabane and I do not want Donegal to have to depend on Her Majesty's Government in Strabane or Derry or Belfast if the economy collapses here. We have had 800 years of dependency on Her Majesty's Government so if we end up in an Iceland-type situation, the people of Lifford will have to go to Strabane to get their benefits and housing and I do not want the day to come that the people of the Republic of Ireland are saying "Please, can we have some more?" to the British Treasury.
Ireland has been standing on its own two feet for 40 years and is a proud member of the EU. I hope the Minister of State will ask some of the important Ministers who visit Ireland to come to Donegal, Galway or Mayo to see what is going on there and to let the people know Europe is concerned about rural counties. If there were an opportunity for a plenary meeting or a subcommittee meeting of European leaders or officials in Donegal for a day or a weekend, as well as being a tourism opportunity for the county, it would let the local people know Europe is concerned and would show Ireland will play its part in the European project.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. We are living in times of great change, North and South and across Europe. We have seen recently how the tide has changed in Europe against the forces of austerity. That is to be welcomed and it is to be hoped this time next year the austerity treaty will be a distant memory of an attempt to constitutionalise a failed economic model.
We are sure that when Ireland's Presidency of the European Union begins next year, this State will continue to be a member of the eurozone and the European Union, the same as any other state, with the same influence we have now. That is the factual context in which we live and to pretend otherwise is a distraction.
It is likely the Irish Presidency will coincide with the final negotiations of the multi-annual financial programme. This is a lucky coincidence of which the State must take full advantage. Our farmers, fishermen, youth groups and community organisations will be keeping an eye on these developments. These are uncertain times for the State and a well funded and responsive Common Agricultural Policy in coming years will be of great importance.
I also hope the Irish Presidency will be able to sign off on a PEACE IV programme. The Six Counties and the Border regions are still recovering from the effects of the conflict caused by the division of our country and a continuation of the PEACE III programme focused on grassroots work is very important to society and the economy.
The Minister of State mentioned the peace process. I call on her to ensure this occasion is as close as possible to our first all-Ireland Presidency. There should be maximum co-operation with our counterparts in the Assembly. The benefits of an all-Ireland, joined-up approach are obvious to all of us who work with farmers, fishermen and community groups, especially along the Border. All-Ireland policy co-operation and coherence makes sense and must form the bedrock of our Presidency.
Following the remarks of Senator Healy Eames, and with an eye to the co-ordinated approach at European level to reduce unemployment, I ask the Minister of State whether concrete action on President Barroso's plans to tackle youth unemployment will be championed by our Presidency. The tackling of youth unemployment at EU level mirrors the starkness of the issue here, as a State with one of the highest levels of youths who are not in education, employment or training. Will we try to advance concrete plans to address this under the Presidency? How will we engage during the Presidency with President Barroso's action team on youth unemployment?
I thank the Minister of State for taking time out of her busy schedule to be with us today. Figures show 70% of people involved in research and development from outside the European Union go to the United States to work. Can we take a positive approach during our Presidency to dealing with that issue by making Europe a more attractive location for research, especially in the health field? There is a need for more co-ordination across member states on health care.
When I was an MEP back in 2009, I raised the issue of the decrease in the number of people working in the construction industry, from 270,000 to 106,000. In 2009 there was a proposal for a 5% VAT rate across Europe for small jobs in the construction industry with a value of less than €15,000. There was to be a co-ordinated approach across Europe to get people back into work and to eliminate the grey economy in this sector. The European Globalisation Fund, which is an innovative training fund, was introduced a few years ago. We need to do something in these two areas during our Presidency in 2013.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I congratulate her on all the great work she has done in her portfolio. This is a busy time for her and I appreciate her taking the time to come to the House. Next year will be significant as we take over the EU Presidency and it is great to know it will be under her capable guidance. What will be our agenda and priorities and what do we hope to achieve? I hope Ireland will have a strong input into EU job creation policy, particularly in regard to youth employment. I ask that a special task force be set up to ensure this issue remains to the fore of our EU agenda.
I, obviously, welcome the Minister of State. My question relates to the physical arrangements for the summits and other meetings. She indicated in her contribution that perhaps because of our economic difficulty the majority of meetings will be held in our capital. I appreciate that the holding of the Presidency must be economically efficient but it must also be effective. To be so, one of the Government's aspirations must be to use the Presidency to re-engage the citizens of Europe and, in particular, the citizens of Ireland with the institutions and the politics of the Union. I appreciate we cannot have meetings, seminars and European dialogue at every crossroads but we must try to maximise engagement between Irish citizens and officialdom. That must be one of the aspirations of the Presidency.
The former United States President, George H. W. Bush, referred to building a kinder, gentler America. We should use this Presidency to rebuild a kinder, gentler Europe with which the citizens feel more comfortable and at ease. We must take the Presidency to the people in so far as we can. I appreciate the need for economic effectiveness and efficiency but it is important that people, from Castletownbere to Donegal and Galway Bay to Rosslare, are all touched in some way by the Presidency and the meetings and politics of the Union.
It is most enjoyable to watch joyous flirtation in the Chamber. Most of us are usually dull and argumentative but I congratulate the Minister of State and Senator Bradford. I welcome her to the House. Senator Bradford referred to showcasing Ireland. My recollection of the previous occasion on which Ireland held the Presidency was fleets of buses and high powered cars travelling from one location to another. I would like that not to happen next year and I hope the representatives of other member states will get to meet ordinary people. I acknowledge the Minister of State is working hard on that. That is important, not alone because of where we find ourselves economically but also to transform the perception the EU is distant from us when it is part of what we are.
The performance of our agricultural industry is phenomenal and we are experiencing growth. What will be done during the Presidency to enhance growth?
Senator Colm Burke referred to the European Globalisation Fund. My most recent experience of dealing with those administering the fund relates to the closure of TalkTalk in Waterford. I was in touch with a few of the workers earlier this week. The bureaucracy blocking them from accessing funds for educational opportunities is nauseating and I hope the Minister of State can rid us of that. It is deplorable that money available under the fund for former Dell workers was returned.
Senator Colm Burke made a good point about research and development. We have an ambitious target but, unfortunately, the target under Europe 2020 is the same as for the previous ten-year strategy, the Lisbon strategy. It was not achieved because member states dragged their heels and were lazy. It is clear that if member states fulfil their obligations to achieve a target of 3% of GDP for investment in research and development, there would be greater opportunities for global companies and many private sources of investment in the Union. Potentially we could contribute 2% of the Union's GDP simply by meeting existing commitments. I do not want to be fatalistic about this inasmuch as just because it did not happen in the past does not mean it cannot happen now. The difference now as opposed to ten years ago is there is an impetus for growth and there is huge pressure from citizens on governments to deliver growth. That applies in every member state. The European Commission is taking steps to ensure member states fulfil their obligations through a variety of monitoring mechanisms which will be assessed by the European Council in June. We are on our way to meeting the targets and that will help to address the shortfall we are experiencing in research and development at European level.
The Senator's proposal for a 5% VAT rate on construction jobs is interesting. I had not heard about this proposal previously. It is not contemplated under the new EU budget framework. The two options under the multi-annual financial framework 2014-2020 relate to VAT and the financial transactions tax, FTT. It is clear the focus has shifted to the FTT, although some governments have changed or are developing their position on that. I do not know a whole lot about it but I am interested in any concrete proposals the Senator may have which we could bring to the table. The Government is serious about bringing forward concrete proposals to stimulate growth and job creation in the Union. The treaty is not about growing money on trees, as I have said repeatedly over recent days and weeks. The fantasy options we are presented with by certain political parties and individuals will not wash. We have to be innovative and creative but we also have to be realistic. We can do a huge amount. This is an example of a concrete proposal about which I am interested in hearing more.
I thank Senator Higgins for her intervention. I outlined in my introductory remarks the general priorities of the Presidency, which I can summarise. We want to restore macroeconomic stability to the eurozone and the European Union as whole by implementing the new governance rules and procedures and that will still be on the table during our Presidency. It is a hugely important element of the fiscal treaty. All participating member states will have ratified the treaty by the end of the year and it will be up to us to take it forward.
That will be very important also. The promotion of growth and employment creation is the key to everything and our main objective for the Presidency. My interdepartmental working group focuses on the policy side. We are looking at ways by which we can leverage our potential during the first half of 2013 and put the growth agenda at the heart of every Department. This will be relevant, even in areas we may not have considered previously, including health where there is considerable potential for engaging in research and development, as one Senator noted. We are trying to be creative and it is a work in progress. It is eight months until the beginning of our programme.
As Senator Terry Leyden noted, we have great experience of running a Presidency. Other countries are almost hyperactive in debating and agreeing their programmes one year in advance, but that is not the way the world works. The European agenda is a moving one. We will take our priorities and advance them during the Presidency. However, we must also be mindful of the issues that will arise and which we will have to address. We must strike a balance. It is too soon to set in stone our key themes and priorities sector by sector. However, the House can rest assured that growth and job creation will be at their heart.
The big ticket item for us, one which will most likely be on the agenda in 2013, is the multi-annual financial framework, the budget for the European Union from 2014 to 2020. Sometimes I become frustrated when I hear people discussing the lack of a stimulus at European level in the context of the fiscal treaty debate. The budget will be in excess of €1 trillion. Some €1,025 billion will be pumped into the farming sector, Cohesion funding, road building, the provision of broadband and Internet facilities, and so on. Every sector benefits more or less from the budget. It is vital for this country because 85% of our receipts are under the CAP. CAP funding is an element of the budget. The overall project will be a huge task and the discussions may still be on the agenda for conclusion during the first part of our Presidency. If that is the case, or even if they have been concluded before our Presidency by the Cypriots, we will have to follow through on all of the sectoral legislative agendas which we will be obliged to negotiate and bring through the European Parliament. I have already been warned that I will be camping in the European Parliament for most of the Presidency because it will be my job to steer through all of these dossiers. It will be a testament to the capability and competence of the Government if we are in a position to bring them to fruition and ensure we deliver the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Agricultural Policy and a Cohesion Fund policy with which we can live and is acceptable to all member states. This will be a considerable challenge which is the third key element of our agenda and directly linked with the jobs and growth agenda. It is not divisible in any way.
Senator Paul Bradford asked a question about the physical arrangements. The Government has taken a decision to host 11 informal ministerial meetings in Dublin during the Presidency, fewer than we have had in the past. There will be approximately 167 meetings in total. It is a logistical nightmare to try to plan everything. During our Presidency in 2004 approximately 65 venues were used throughout the country and the cost was astronomical. I cannot begin to outline the cost implications of bringing interpreters, officials, translation booths, equipment and everything required to various locations throughout the country. This is in addition to the security risks of bringing in Ministers. There is a very significant security requirement to be met. Few venues in the country fit the bill. Dublin Castle is the best venue. It ticks all of the boxes from the point of view of An Garda Síochána in terms of security. It has interpretation booths and everything else laid on. It is straightforward and cost-effective. Cost effectiveness must be our priority. I agree with the point made by Senator Denis Landy. The way to sell the European Union to our citizens is not to bring convoys of black Mercedes limousines to Ashford Castle or Dromoland Castle or any other salubrious venue. We should be clear about this.
When I attend a ministerial meeting, I want to arrive, do my business and get out of there as quickly as possible, as we all have busy agendas. Ministers do not come to sample the local cuisine, fishing and so on. That is not the way the world works. The bang for our buck in terms of the investment required to bring Ministers to other parts of the country and what we get out of it is negligible. We should be wise, therefore, in how we go about showcasing Ireland during the Presidency. My firm view and conviction is that holding informal ministerial meetings is not the way to do this. However, there are 450 other meetings, some of which will take place outside the capital. For example, there will be meetings on innovation, research and science and regional fora on some of the sectoral issues. These will take place outside Dublin.
There is another more exciting approach and I thank Senator Fiach Mac Conghail for his advice and guidance on this plan. The cultural programme is how we will showcase the Presidency outside Dublin. This is more real and tangible. We are keen to get communities involved in the Presidency from grassroots level up in a hands-on way. We are working with various stakeholders, including the Arts Council and Culture Ireland. The Minister responsible, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, and I are co-chairing a working group on the topic. We are bringing together stakeholders and examining every opportunity. The issue of festivals and other events was raised by one Senator. We are in the process of planning in this regard. Every event known to mankind which will take place on the island in the first six months of the year will have a European flavour and be used as an opportunity to showcase European culture.
We need to get back to basics. There has been reference to a disconnect with the European Union, a "them and us" outlook and a sense of the Union being somehow removed and not a part of our daily lives. What brings it all down to earth and back to basics is our shared culture. As Europeans, we have shared values. We need to understand more about each other. We should learn to appreciate that what binds us together is what we believe in, what we stand for and that we appreciate each other's cultures. We should get back to learning more about our culture, language, dance, music, etc. That is how we can connect Irish citizens with the European Union. We have exciting proposals in this regard, including twining projects, festivals and various other events. There is an exciting proposal from Cork city on my desk. It involves the private sector, Cork Chamber of Commerce and Cork City Council. I have spoken to other local authorities and called on them to come forward with proposals. That is a better way. Having black Mercedes limousines, outriders and flashing lights is not the image we wish to project and it would be in no one's interests. A more real way of doing this would be to bring in citizens from other member states through twining projects and invite them to attend festivals. We can also piggyback on the Gathering festival which will be a very significant event in 2013. I am in discussions with the relevant Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in this regard. Senators should not take the view that because we are holding 11 informal ministerial meetings in Dublin Castle, events will not be happening elsewhere in the country. It will be the most real and live Presidency we have ever seen on a regional basis throughout the country. It will be far more relevant for ordinary citizens and I hope they will see it this way.
Naturally, we will be using our embassy network throughout the European Union and beyond to showcase Ireland. Recently, I was in Singapore and Brunei attending a foreign Ministers meeting of Asian and European countries. I held several bilateral meetings with various countries, including Malaysia and the Philippines. These are growing economies and we are trying to attract investment to Ireland. I plied the usual line to the effect that we have a favourable tax rate, speak English and are in the eurozone, and it was all interesting to them. However, as soon as I pointed out that we would take over the Presidency of the European Union next year, they became even more interested. Our embassies, not only in the European Union but elsewhere throughout the globe, will be showcasing the fact that we are in a position of leadership at European level during the six month period. Others are interested in this; they like it and see it as positive. It is something we can leverage to our advantage during the course of the Presidency.
How can we use agriculture? The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is playing a blinder in the work he has been doing in promoting agri-foods throughout Europe and the globe. The CAP negotiations will be the key issue for us during the Presidency. It is tricky one because when we are in the chair, we try to reach consensus while putting forward our position, but no one can do this better than the Irish and already we are doing the groundwork. The General Affairs Council engages in horizontal negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework. We agree the broad parameters and headline figures and send them for agreement at the European summit by the Heads of Government, but the sectoral negotiations on the detail are carried out by the relevant sectoral Ministers. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be leading for us and I am confident he will do so well. We will also use the semi-State agencies. I have chaired a number of meetings with semi-State agencies about availing of opportunities to promote Ireland. Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia and all other stakeholders will be working hard in the build up to and during our Presidency to showcase Irish food, tourism and so on. That work is well under way.
I take the point about the globalisation fund. It is frustrating. One of the key objectives in the new budget outline published by the Commission is simplification. It is a word we are hearing repeatedly and now have to deliver on it because bureaucracy is killing the European Union on so many levels, including the small and medium enterprises side, and from the point of view of drawing down funding, whether it be for the arts, from the globalisation fund and so on. We must get to grips with this issue, on which every member state agrees. We must reduce bureaucracy. The issue will be at the core of our negotiating policy on the budget and also during our Presidency.
It would be appropriate to fly the flag of every European Union member state on Merrion Street for the duration of the Presidency, as displayed in the hall of Leinster House during the week. It is an important image for the leaders of other countries who come here because they like to see their country's flag flying. They will be flown in Dublin Castle, but it is important that they are flown in Parliament also.
There should be some link with schools in terms of writing essays on what the European Union means to students. Perhaps there should also be a competition.
I thought the Senator was a newcomer in terms of contributing, but according to my records, he has spoken already. I do not want to reopen the debate. I will not take any more questions because other Members will indicate their desire to speak again. Many of them have had that chance.
I have a question to which the Minister of State may have given the answer, but I missed it. The financial transactions tax levy would raise €500 million a year, a substantial amount of money, although there are pluses and minuses in that regard. Has a definitive position been taken on that issue yet? Will it be discussed during the Presidency, or will it be resolved in advance of it?
I agree with the Minister of State's comment that we should showcase good practice models. Her suggestion that we come up with proposals from the respective local authorities is a wise one. Also, can we pitch to have a high level event held here on youth unemployment, a major issue that should be of concern to all of us?
I remind the Minister of State that in a previous Irish Presidency some of the best showcases of Ireland took place in the heart of the national park at Muckross House, which is available. I mention this to the Minister of State because I have no doubt she will bear it in mind. She has said they are anxious that the leaders will see the country. I make this proposal to her because there is not a better place than our premier national park.
Senator Terry Leyden made a number of points in his original intervention, but his proposal that the flags be flown in public places nationwide is excellent and one I will pursue. I agree with him as it affects these Houses also. It was a great source of pride this week to see the flags flying here and we must remind ourselves of the key role we played in the enlargement of the European Union with the accession of ten member states in 2004. It was an emotional time that signified for me the reunification of Europe and so on. Ireland can be extremely proud of the role it played at the time.
On the question of holding a major event to mark 40 years, I agree entirely. We are considering holding a public conference to explore Ireland's relationship with the European Union and how we want to shape its future. We need to do some soul searching about that because I am getting tired of the tit-for-tat debates. We do not debate European issues in a meaningful way. We only debate them when we hold a referendum-----
-----and it is hostile, partisan, aggressive and unfortunate. If we can engage the people during our Presidency, we will be doing them, the country and the European Union a great service. I take the Senator's point and will consider what else we might be able to do, but we are working on a proposal.
Regarding schools, I launched the Blue Star pilot programme this year and it is hugely successful. I am pleased to say one of the big Europe Day events held yesterday in St. Laurence's School in Greystones featured on the RTE children's news programme yesterday evening. It was a fantastic event for anybody who wanted to be uplifted. I am sometimes accused of being too pro-European Union in certain quarters. I am unashamedly pro-European Union which has been fantastic for this country, the Continent and the world in the role it has played in shaping global policy and in terms of innovations, the social progress made and so on. It was wonderful yesterday to see children from different parts of Europe coming together with Irish children who were dressed up and carrying the flags of the different countries. It was a fantastic occasion and I was proud to be part of it. The Blue Star programme is a pilot programme and we want to crank it up next year, although I will need funding from somewhere. The skies may open up and deliver it, but we-----
Possibly. I am examining some possibilities in that regard, but we must expand the programme next year. There was an enormous demand this year. Everybody wanted to participate, but we had limited resources. The programme is vital in terms of our strategy for communicating during the Presidency.
To reply to Senator Fidelma Healy Eames's question on the financial transactions tax, we have a position, but it is fair to say it is nuanced. We agree unquestionably with having a financial transactions tax, if it was to be introduced on the global stage. If the G20 was to say "Yes," it would be fantastic. We are examining with a cautious eye proposals at European level. I do not want to get into too much technical detail, but the original Commission proposal would have led to double taxation. It was a flawed proposal. The Commission is coming back with what could be called a watered down proposal, to which we will give serious consideration. I can be categorical on one aspect. We will not accept a financial transactions tax that will apply only to eurozone countries because our financial services sector is interconnected with the City of London and the United Kingdom and we would destroy our financial services sector in Dublin and elsewhere if we were to accept a financial transactions tax that would not apply in the United Kingdom. That is non-negotiable; it is a red line issue for us. At EU level, we are more open to discussion of it, but we will view any proposal made with a sceptical eye.
On the holding of a high level event on youth unemployment, an event is planned for February 2013. This will come under the auspices of the Ministers for Education and Skills and Social Protection as it is within the remit of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council. I am not certain if the event will fulfil precisely the role the Senator is advocating, but I will discuss the matter. Certainly, an event is envisaged.
We can discuss the matter.
I have proposed to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, Deputy Dominic Hannigan, that I provide the joint committee with a full and comprehensive briefing on the Presidency in June. I had hoped to do so much sooner, but it has not been practical to do so, as everyone is busy and tied up with the referendum. The committee, for instance, has been holding hearings in advance of the referendum. The briefing I have proposed will be my first after the referendum. The Seanad could also have an input in this regard. It should not only be a case of me appearing before the House to tell Senators what is happening. I want to receive feedback and constructive suggestions, of which we have had a number today. Perhaps we might have even greater engagement on the Presidency and the opportunities it offers. We need more concrete suggestions and positive inputs from Members of both Houses and the Seanad is ideally placed to fulfil this role. In tandem with the meeting with the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, the Seanad may wish to arrange a discussion to take place after the referendum, perhaps in June. I would be pleased to participate in such a discussion.