Statement by Party Leader Micheál Martin on the Visit of Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament to Dáil Eireann
Mr President, I would like to join with colleagues in welcoming you to Dáil Éireann. It is a very fitting time for your visit both because of the growing importance of the Parliament which you lead and the unprecedented crisis faced by the member states, institutions and citizens of the European Union.
In your political career you have built a reputation as a person of passionate beliefs that also seeks and encourages candid debate. The UCD student event which we both participated in last night was a very good example of this.
The seriousness of the issues facing Europe at the moment is such that we cannot let today’s session be merely an exchange of formalities. Over the last few years there has been too much formality, too much going through the motion and nowhere near enough leadership or urgency. Europe needs to face up to hard truths about what has gone wrong and what is required to return to growth and job creation. The price of failing to do this is already being felt by millions through the Union and could affect many millions more.
Mr President, if you look back through the history of Ireland’s engagement with the European Union you will find that we have always been suspicious of the European Parliament. In treaty negotiations we have always favoured retaining as much power as possible in the Council. This has been because of a fear that the Parliament is less open to being influenced by smaller nations and groups. Even with the introduction of majority voting, our ability to be heard and to have an impact in the Council is undeniably higher than it is in the Parliament.
It is important to note that many steps are taken in the Parliament to address this concern, especially with the groups helping the smaller delegations to be heard. Our MEPs retain a strong direct link with the people and as a result the Parliament retains a higher status here than in some other member states.
Arguments about the appropriate balance between the powers of the Parliament and the Council have been at the centre of nearly three decades of debate. Recent treaties have further increased the powers of the Parliament and the balance appears to be working.
However, the undeniable fact is that most of the time spent on arguments about the balance institutions of the Union has been wasted time. It has been a major and ongoing distraction from addressing core flaws in the powers and policies of the Union which lie at the heart of today’s crisis.
These are flaws which still threaten the very foundations of the Euro and possibly the Union itself.
I speak as the leader of a party which has always been unequivocal in its support of the great idea that only by working together can European states prosper. As far back the 1930s one of my predecessors, Sean Lemass, talked of this being essential in talking Europe’s then crisis. He subsequently lodged our application for membership, a decision which was vindicated in the growth and rising living standards which membership of the Union enabled.
Earlier this year, my party took the principled stand of putting aside partisan considerations by campaigning for ratification of the Fiscal Treaty.
What we are not is uncritical. We do not accept the idea that the job of pro-Europeans is to stay quiet and cheer from the sidelines no matter what is happening.
And what is happening today is that Europe’s leaders are making this crisis much worse by their refusal to take action which is ambitious enough, courageous enough or comprehensive enough.
From the very start of this crisis there has been a search to do the minimum possible to muddle through the crisis. Only at moments where collapse has looked possible have essential decisions been taken. A vicious cycle of where problems are only addressed when a collapse seems imminent, the solutions are oversold, complacency sets in and deals are allowed to unravel has not been broken.
One of the most serious impacts of this failure of leadership has been a dramatic decline in public satisfaction with the Union and belief in its core purpose. For the first time in the Union’s history a majority of its citizens believe it is headed in the wrong direction and are concerned about its future.
At the same time Europe’s traditional enemies from both the right and the left have been emboldened. While ignoring their own histories of opposing everything that delivered jobs, rising living standards and peace to Europe they are pushing their anti-EU agenda with a new force. As we saw during our referendum, they have many attacks but their proposals fall apart under basic scrutiny. But no one should underestimate the damage they can do as they put their cynical and populist search for votes ahead of offering credible alternatives.
There is no way that this situation can improve unless the leaders of Europe acknowledge that their behaviour last year, their failure to show all members respect, their exclusionary negotiations and their timid agenda combined to cause enormous damage.
The effort last week of three governments to impose their will concerning June’s banking deal was partly caused by the failure of other countries to be more active, but it was nonetheless unacceptable and directly contrary to spirit of solidarity without which the Union cannot work.
The attitude to what is now termed the ‘legacy debts’ of the crisis betrays a continued refusal to accept what has happened. In Ireland’s case, a significant amount of the bank-related debt we took on was directly driven by the fears of the ECB and others of contagion in the financial system. We showed our solidarity at that time and to brush this off as a purely national matter is a disgrace.
It is also now widely acknowledged that the lack of measures in place today is the reason why Ireland needed a support programme in 2010. The different funds which have been put in place as well as the ECB’s new OMT facility have completely changed the dynamic of the crisis.
Had the proposal of Guy Verhofstad the leader of our group in the Parliament for Eurobonds been accepted two years ago, we would now be looking back on the Euro crisis rather than fearing where it will go to next.
There are a number of specific policies which are desperately needed.
The banking union is now the most important. Without it confidence in the European financial system will never be fully restored and therefore growth will be undermined. National regulation within a multi-national currency has failed and must be replaced. Equally, a common approach to bank resolution and deposit insurance is unavoidable.
The effort by some countries to impose common rules but reject any possible transfers reflects a continued adherence to a model so flawed that even its principle architect Jacques Delors has criticised it.
The ECB must be allowed to push ahead with a bond purchase programme which is unlikely to be needed if it is allowed to be established. There is no way of avoiding the need to give confidence to investors that there is a lender of last resort. Mr President, should various of your compatriots succeed in their campaign to stop Mario Draghi it will be a dark day for the people of Europe.
The Union’s budget will shortly be debated and the usual arguments about diverting money from existing programmes will be had. Quite simply, Europe has set itself objectives which cannot be met without a significant increase in its budget. It has no real capacity to help turn-around regions with mass unemployment. It cannot alleviate the austerity which is inevitable in some countries but avoidable on a pan-Union basis.
In fact the current debate appears to be all about undermining one the one area where the Union has a comprehensive and progressive support policy. The days of Food Mountains and wine lakes are gone. What European funding is now enabling is permanent food security, rising food quality and the protection of a rural environment which would otherwise be under great pressure. Ireland’s rural communities are innovative and forward looking, but they and similar communities throughout Europe receive from these programmes is essential and must be protected.
This is a moment when citizens need the Parliament to act as a counterbalance to the ongoing failures of the leaders who meet in the Council.
Citizens need the Parliament to take up these issues with the energy so lacking from the heads of state and government.
Citizens need the Parliament to be a voice for a Budget which protects programmes which are working and funds direct support for countries and regions which are bearing the biggest brunt of the crisis.
Citizens need the Parliament to be true to the Union’s founding ideals of solidarity and generosity between states – and to push others to be true to them as well.
Mr President, the crisis which caused a generation of visionary leaders to found what is today the European Union was a dark one hopefully never to be seen again.