With winter closing in and people about to be caught in desperate circumstances at border after border which is being closed to them what was needed was an agreement to do whatever it takes to help them. This did not happen and, therefore, the summit has to be seen as a failure.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of people are risking everything to seek shelter in Europe shows that it is still seen as a place of hope and safety for many. The basic values of Europe are under attack in many places, but are still an inspiration for others. The very last thing which we can allow at this moment and time is for the values of the extremists to triumph. We cannot let them make us fail in our obligation to do all that we can.
The Council President Donald Tusk has done good work in identifying the different elements which need to be addressed in order to have a comprehensive response to the crisis. Unfortunately other leaders have been willing to identify the problems but not willing to commit to the solutions.
There is a refugee crisis because millions are fleeing vicious conflicts. They do not want to be refugees; they want to live in their own homes.
The worst impact has come from the war in Syria. This is a war started by Assad through his determination to hold power at all costs. The early resistance to him was overwhelmingly from moderate communities and they have borne the brunt of his savage repression.
They offered talks, they built coalitions of moderate forces and they tried to find an end to the misery faced by the Syrian people. In response they experienced some of the most brutal actions ever taken by a state against its own citizens. The use of chemical weapons and the systematic clearing of cities caused millions to flee to neighbouring countries.
The Assad regime has been a client state of first the Soviet Union and now Russia for nearly half a century. The efforts of some both here and elsewhere to claim that the United States and Europe are responsible for this war is ridiculous and it shows, yet again, their double-standards.
The emergence of the IS group has made the situation even worse. They represent nobody but the most fanatical religious hardliners who are effectively seeking to ethnically cleanse the entire region. The systematic expulsion and murder of Christian communities and other religious minorities, and the brutality shown towards non-Sunni Muslims is something which most of us had thought belonged to a different era.
It says something very significant that both Assad and his Russian military backup that the majority of their effort is going into attacking the moderate opposition and not IS.
We strongly agree with the basic position of the European Union that there can be no long-term peace with Assad in place. There is too much blood on his hands and he has rejected too many opportunities to end this conflict for him to be a credible leader of a people who have never fully supported him.
No one has yet come up with a credible route forward, especially given Russia’s ongoing veto threat against any United Nations resolution which might threaten Assad’s position. The first priority must continue to be the search for a way through this and an agreed international position for a transition in Syria and a united from against the barbarism of IS.
However the most immediate concern must be the millions in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Every person in these camps who is capable of leaving is rightly considering doing so. They offer shelter but little else. Even basic employment and education services are not available. Medical facilities cover little more than the very minimum.
I welcome the fact that the Council called on member states to give more, as it also recognises the problem. The appalling Budget deal means that the Union itself simply does not have the resources to step-change its response, so it is up to us, the member states. Now we need an urgent commitment by states to give whatever it takes to bring facilities in these camps up to basic standards – and to do so before the full force of winter sets in.
Our government has spent the last week talking about how we have the opportunity to be generous, so let’s show it. Ireland should take the lead by immediately announcing a major increase in support for the Syrian refugee camps.
For those who have decided to seek refuge in Europe the immediate danger is now acute. As we could all see yesterday, the weather is causing an acute crisis on the EU’s south-eastern borders.
There is no alternative to the core solidarity of sharing responsibility between members. Ireland must continue to reject the base populism of the extremists and accept its shared role in helping these people.
If there is no material improvement in the situation in the next fortnight Ireland should seek the calling of an emergency summit. There is no more time to waste.
The summit’s conclusions are quite vague in relation to the deal which was being discussed with Turkey in order for it to seek to prevent people from leaving camps in that country and seeking to travel to Europe. As I have said, making conditions in these camps bearable is an essential step.
However, the idea that membership of the EU, or at least access to core policies, should be bartered away in an emergency is absolutely not acceptable.
If leaders go too far there will be an inevitable public backlash.
Just as importantly is the issue of whether Europe is agreeing to turn a blind eye to all actions by the Turkish government in return for help.
As I have said before, the situation in Turkey is of great concern. A drift away from essential democratic norms is evident in a number of important areas.
These include pressures on the independent media and a growing indifference to minority rights. The government appears to have been eager to escalate the conflict with the PKK and to have pushed-aside the earlier and very encouraging progress for peaceful reconciliation.
Our sympathies should go out to all those affected by the bombing in Ankara. This was directed against a democratic peaceful movement dedicated to finding a place for the Kurdish people in Turkey.
Whatever is ultimately proposed in terms of an agreement with Turkey it must be based on both humanitarian and democratic principles.
A very clear failure of this summit was in the backing away from an essential component of the much needed banking union.
The lack of a shared regulation and resourcing of banks in the Eurozone has been identified as one of the causes of the financial crisis which ultimately caused so much economic damage. The creation of a banking union has been agreed as an absolute requirement of learning the lessons of the past and returning the Eurozone to secure, long-term growth.
Unfortunately the Taoiseach and his colleagues have tried to muddle-through with a policy which leaves in place key weaknesses.
In order to maintain confidence in the banking sector and its ability to lend to businesses and the community a credible deposit guarantee mechanism is required.
In the context of the Eurozone, the experiences of Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus have shown that the required confidence will only be there if the guarantees go beyond the national economy. This is one of the only ways of breaking the implied link between financial and sovereign debt.
The draft conclusions for last week’s summit apparently included a strong statement about a common deposit guarantee system. In the face of inflexible resistance from Germany this was removed and replaced with a banal statement about something being done at some point in the future.
This is foolish in the extreme and undermines the very idea of a banking union.
Due to German resistance we have a regulatory framework which does not extend to many systematically important banking sectors, a recapitalisation fund which covers a tiny fraction of potential need and now a deposit insurance system which is basically the current, failed model in new clothes.
This is basically near to the end of the entire process of reform of the economic and monetary union and the outcome is not encouraging. There is no provision for fiscal transfers between states at times of need, there is no credible banking union and there is only a limited lender of last resort.
Not one of the identified weaknesses which led to the crisis has been addressed.
Instead what we have is more talk about fiscal control as if this was the answer to everything.
Unfortunately our government’s policy has been solely driven by short-term domestic politics. It has never set out a policy on the necessary reforms, it has refused to ask for relief for debts incurred by Ireland due to the now accepted failures of European policies and it has, instead, encouraged the idea that Ireland was to blame for everything.
There will probably only be one or two of these statements before the election and it would be worthwhile for the Taoiseach to take the time and look at the overblown rhetoric of his past contributions. He should look at how often he talked about how everything was fine – how issues which are today still in crisis had been sorted.
He will also see a government which today absolutely ignores what it was saying during its first years.
Let’s not forget the Billions in retrospective recapitalisation the Taoiseach told us he would be applying for – but quietly abandoned without explanation.
Let’s not forget the Taoiseach’s claim that Europe had been reformed and all was fine.
Equally, let’s never forget that instead of going to Europe with a clear agenda time after time the Taoiseach’s only approach was to wait to see what was agreed and then claim it as a great victory.
That’s how he returned from one summit claiming to have moved mountains to win a major interest rate reduction for Ireland – when in truth he had asked for one quarter of what Greece secured and which was automatically extended to Ireland without discussion.
Time and again other countries negotiated while the Taoiseach sat back with public relations team ready to spin.
The good personal relationship between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Cameron has unfortunately delivered nothing discernable for Ireland. Their joint approach to Northern Ireland has been hands off and therefore very damaging. In relation to Europe it has meant that there have been meetings long on rhetoric and devoid of detail.
Five years into his announcement that he wanted an in/out referendum and two years after the renegotiation of British membership of the EU was launched we have still not heard from the British what they actually want – and we have not heard from our government what we are willing to support.
It appears that the Prime Minister was finally forced last week to agree to say what he is looking for.
The first demand is for an opt-out from the concept of “ever closer union”. This is part of the Treaties which has no specific legal effect and is of no concern.
The second demand is for an explicit statement that the Union is a multi-currency union. This is intended to separate the working of the Union from that of the Eurozone. In practice this could be very damaging.
The completion of a real fiscal union and a real banking union requires a central entity to develop, enforce and administer policies. This can, credibly, only be the institutions of the European Union.
What we urgently need on this is a proposal for the long-term governance of the Eurozone – and without this, the British idea would be risky at best.
Thirdly they are looking for a means of renationalising areas which have been subject to joint-decisions within the Union. If this is a Trojan horse for the Tory agenda of removing basic worker protections and other regulations which implement equality and safety policies then we should not accept it.
Finally there is a general demand to protect the City of London and give guaranteed access for it to all Eurozone opportunities. This is basically them saying that Eurozone countries must bear all constraints of membership but share all the opportunities.
This is a particular concern for Ireland as the returning of certain Euro markets to the Eurozone is a fairly standard policy and one which we might significantly benefit from.
Taken together this is still a vague list which is more about English nationalist concerns than improving the work of the European Union for other states or even other parts of the UK.
Britain remaining in the Union is important for Ireland – but not at any price. We need to know exactly what they are looking for and we need a debate on how far it is in our national interest and the interest of the EU as a whole to make concessions.