Ba mhaith liom fáilte ar ais go dtí an Dáil a chur roimh an Choimisinéara Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. Tá taifead iontach aici mar bhall den Teach seo agus mar aire rialtais. D’fhag si rian suntasach lena linn ar réimse ranna rialtais. Mar Aire ar Chúrsaí Eorpacha, d’eagraigh sí uachtaranacht Éireannach ar Chomhairle na hEorpa a leag síos caighdeán do chách.
Ag tús a tréimhse mar Theachta Dála, d’éirigh leí céim stairiúil a bhaint amach mar an chead aire baineann ó aimsir Chonstance Marckiewicz ar aghaidh. Ag druidim le deireadh a tréimhse mar aire, d’éirigh leí ceann de na billi rialtais ba thabhachtaí ar chearta sibhialta le cianta a stiurú tríd an Oireachtas.
It was a very welcome development when the Commissioner received the portfolio of research, innovation and science. This is an area which is central to the economic future of Europe and it is one where Ireland’s impact is both large and growing. For example, a combination of programmes initiated by government in the last decade mean that her native city of Galway is home to both the world’s most important research centre on web software and an increasing number of world-leading technology companies. The programmes which she oversees in the Commission represent some of the Union’s most important – providing practical leadership and support on an issue of fundamental importance.
Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin meets Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn on Europe Day.
I also welcome our MEPs who will again take up the opportunity granted in the past to participate in the committee work of the Oireachtas, but this time here in the Dáil chamber.
While we have discussed European matters at length in the last two months it is a good idea to provide for further time and more participants. The Programme for Government’s proposal was for a week-long debate in the week of ‘Europe Day’ which would be closely structured on a formal review of the Commission’s annual work programme and our priorities for the future. As I said last week, it is a pity that the government has not tabled any substantive item for us to discuss and that as a result today will be another in an increasingly long line of sessions given over to statements. The broad topic of Europe in 2020 is important, but it has been debated on several recent occasions in the Dáil, Seanad and committees.
The highly partisan manner in which the government chose to announce proposals for today is also regrettable. They cannot expect this to be left without a response, however given the short time available to us to speak today I would like to briefly refer to just one point.
This relates to the active promotion of the idea that Ireland neglected the EU until March 9th. This is being pushed by a combination of ministers who want to claim to be authors of a resurrection and others who remain angry about our refusal to compromise on issues of critical national interest. This tactic has involved ignoring a large amount of contradictory evidence – including the conduct of a Council Presidency still viewed throughout Europe as a model.
As far back as eighty years ago Seán Lemass articulated the idea that the potential of European nation states could only be fulfilled through systematic, rule-based cooperation. A man second to none in his life-long dedication to Irish republicanism, it was a great regret of his that Ireland was not in a position to join the earliest stages of what is today’s Union. He and others of his generation fully anticipated the era of opportunity which our participation in European institutions opened-up.
They built a tradition to which I and my party still absolutely believe in – which is that active and constructive engagement in European integration is essential for our country.
No matter how Euro-positive you are it is not possible to avoid the fact that the European Union is today faced with a series of fundamental challenges which combine to represent the biggest crisis in its history. This is not about one country or a few smaller members – it involves key principles in the underpinning the Union. It is also not just about economic matters, as recent events in the Schengen Area show.
The architecture of European integration evolved rapidly in the decade after Jacques Delors rightly set out to reinvigorate the most important multi-national organisation ever established. There have been regular changes in the basic law of the Union and the competencies of different bodies have changed significantly. It is natural that not everything carried out in such a dynamic period will have been successful. I think one of the great failings which we are seeing today is that there is a lack of clarity within institutions about how they review their own work and how they can develop a culture of welcoming oversight and criticism rather than reacting defensively.
I don’t believe that there is any logic or benefit to a new programme of major European constitutional change. Such a programme would potentially undermine the collective spirit which represents Europe when it is at its best. Rather, we need a serious re-evaluation of how the institutions work. In particular we need to find ways of involving more independent oversight at both a strategic and an operational level. Certainly we need to reduce the incentive to self-justification which comes from having so many tightly closed senior leadership teams. It would be a very positive measure if there were fewer tendentious off-the-record briefings.
In the face of the economic crisis there has been a disturbing inability to adopt measures which are urgent or comprehensive enough to deal emerging issues. A lack of the type of broad leadership shown in the past has resulted in an agenda which is torn between half-measures and opportunism. There has been a willingness to retreat into pandering to perceptions of national self-interest rather than follow the example of leaders like Helmut Kohl, who always spoke of how financial generosity towards partners was repaid many times over in terms of economic prospects for his country.
The debate on the terms for financial support for Ireland is a very good example of this weakness of today’s leaders. It has been clear since the start of the year that everyone agrees that better terms must be agreed. Well before our election a reduction of at least 1% was signalled, yet there remains a constant demand, offered in tones often verging on moral indignation, that we must ‘offer up’ a major concession first. This has ignored the fact that we have already made huge concessions in nearly three years of policies made more painful by a commitment to the common interests of the Eurozone.
There has yet to be a credible explanation offered for demanding that a package to help Ireland’s economy to recover should include concession which would undermine the economy further. It has been well known since January that a cut in the interest rate would happen – with the figure being briefed at the weekend suggesting an eventual saving of €400 million a year. The refusal of successive governments to concede on the rate of corporation tax has worked. However, it appears that there is still pressure that we sign up for the Common Consolidated Tax Base. The only independent study of the Commission’s proposal for the CCTB has said that this would immediately reduce our national income by 3% with equal reductions in employment and investment. So we would gain €400 million a year on one hand and lose €4 billion a year on the other.
At the time when Europe needs to show that it is committed to comprehensive and credible action, allowing such distractions onto the agenda serves no positive purpose.
I hope that the leaders of the Union use the next few weeks to finally act to restore confidence in the Union’s collective will.
Given its centrality to economic and financial issues, the European Central Bank deserves greater attention. It is nearly two decades since it was agreed to establish a monetary union. Central to this was the establishment of the ECB. It is a young and powerful institution which does not appear to have the humility required to evolve or the diversity to encourage rigorous debate on policy alternatives. Its defensiveness in the face of criticism serves no positive public purpose.
Some members of the Executive Board of the ECB are the only people left in Europe who don’t accept that the financial crisis has also exposed serious errors in their work. Raising interest rates after a crisis has begun and doing so again before it is over has deeply damaged the credibility of both the mandate given to the Bank and its often rigid orthodoxies. An official policy which rejects any role whatsoever in major regulatory failures, combined with an unofficial policy of regular anonymous briefings, has undermined trust in the Bank. The scale and controversial nature of leaks which emanate regularly from the ECB are unprecedented for any central bank.
There is more than enough evidence to support the need for a review of the governance and operation of the Bank. It must be independent, but equally it must not be allowed to ignore clear failings in a key European institution.
Ireland is and always has been a fully engaged member. In the Commission, Parliament and Council it has always had an influence well beyond its size. We continue to have strong friends throughout the Union who are highly supportive.
The European Union has always faced opponents who object to the very ideas upon which it is founded. They never acknowledge the enormous social and economic progress it has enabled in the longest period of peace ever experienced by its members. Instead they find refuge in ridiculous caricatures about it being either neo-liberal or socialist depending on the ideology of the speaker.
What the Union needs at this moment is bold leadership in the best traditions of a great project which has given Europe so much. It needs a clear focus on innovative action founded on the core principle of solidarity. Only if it does this will it come through this crisis strongly.
Campaigns for gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights at a national level.