This week’s summit has a deeply important agenda, but it is not clear that it will actually achieve its objectives. At its core, this is a summit about setting out intentions for the next five years. The leadership of the Union is due to be decided and there will be discussions on a number of fundamental economic, environmental and democratic issues.
Brexit is not on the agenda but in reality it is central to every decision that will be taken. Fianna Fáil is extremely concerned about the manner in which limited information has been available since March, on either efforts to mitigate the impact of a no deal in October, or move quickly to address the new challenges faced by Ireland should the Withdrawal Agreement be resurrected in Westminster. We have requested a full debate on Brexit to be held before the Dáil rises and it is our expectation that the Taoiseach himself will participate in the debate rather than delegate it.
Fianna Fáil has over the past year regularly pointed to the importance of this round of institutional appointments both for Ireland and for the Union as a whole. If member states are serious about addressing clear failing in the institutions, confronting the enormous challenges facing the Union and protecting economic growth then these appointments are their biggest test.
It is beyond absurd that the first consideration for many parties’ countries appears to be about getting positions for their group. The first and only consideration for each of these jobs should be to find people of energy who can provide real leadership. We cannot afford to have any passengers, or to continue with a position where the Commission, for example, has no credible strategy for engaging with the Union’s citizens. Equally it would be an unacceptable risk for Europe to appoint a President of the ECB who would move away from the correct and proportional interventions introduced by Mario Draghi.
The Spitzenkandidate system has no credible legitimacy on many levels. First of all, even if you assume that people were voting for the EU-level parties, no party received more than a quarter of the votes of EU citizens. There is no system where a party on a quarter of the vote or less automatically claims as its right the leadership of the government. It is nonsense and it undermines rather than promotes the cause of democracy.
More importantly the issue must not be who the President of the Commission is nominated by, but what they will do. The crisis of legitimacy and effectiveness of the Union demands a person who has demonstrated the ability to both lead on important issues and to communicate with ordinary citizens. They must have the ability to appeal directly to the people in the face of leaders determined to attack and undermine the Union.
The government’s support for the Spitzenkandidate system is wrong and threatens us all with signing up to a flawed outcome and weak leadership just at the moment when we need to put aside party labels and put the interests of protecting and promoting the Union first.
Fianna Fáil believes that Donald Tusk has been an excellent President of the Council. He has maintained an independence of leaders, ensured that everyone has had a voice and has provided moral clarity at critical moments. There have been times when he has been well ahead of everyone in demanding the Union stand by democratic values and human rights. He has done this in spite of the appalling harassment and libels of his own government.
Donald Tusk deserves our thanks and he must be replaced by a similarly strong character. It must be a person who knows when to demand action and to stop the efforts of some to equivocate in the defence of Europe and its member states.
The choice of a high representative is more complicated as it is not yet clear what the best approach to the job is. This said, in spite of fears at the time of her nomination, Frederica Mogherini has been a good holder of the office. In particular she had helped bed-down the EUs new diplomatic network and has kept doggedly working on vital but less prominent issues in the area of bi-lateral disputes and non-proliferation.
Of all of the appointments, the next President of the ECB may actually be the most important. While it has nominally been separated from the others for the time being, in reality all reports suggest that it is part of the haggling between countries.
The single most important decision in Ireland’s dramatically improved fiscal position was the appointment by the Council of Mario Draghi. He ended policies which had driven countries like Ireland into bailouts, agreed to vital debt interest relief, stretched the boundaries of the ECB’s mandate and fought deflation as hard as his predecessor had fought the phantom of inflation in previous years.
It would be disastrous for Ireland and Europe if, at a moment where the European economy is on the edge, to have any shift away from the Draghi strategy. There can be no compromise on this. We cannot support a person who opposed the Draghi interventions – or any person who tries to secure the office by giving a nod and a wink to Bundesbank fundamentalists.
They have hobbled discussions about expanding the Union’s fiscal capacity. They have rejected any interventions to address the impact of imbalances within the Eurozone economy. They have blocked a genuine banking union.
They cannot be allowed to return the ECB to the failed policies of the past or the orthodoxies which saw a few go to extreme legal lengths to try and hobble Mario Draghi’s work just as it was saving the Eurozone.
There are as yet no signs that this summit will reach a final agreement on the positions. In the past there has frequently been the need to call additional summits. What we need from this meeting is first and foremost an end to the idea of parties dividing up jobs and a commitment to finding the best people for these critical jobs.
The summit is due to have a discussion of budgetary and economic matters in general. Leaders cannot ignore the looming threat of another recession and deflationary pressures.
In consideration of the country-specific and cross-country recommendations it should be put on the record that the continued failure to address structural imbalances in parts of the Eurozone makes it very difficult to address the current threats.
Next week the government will, no doubt after many more days filled with media briefings and no genuine consultation, publish a statement which will, apparently, contain two scenarios for the budget. This reinforces the need for the Union to agree Brexit mitigation measures now rather than wait for the damage to occur before acting.
Climate change is due to be briefly discussed as well. Rather than more discussions about aspirations it is time for all countries to be required to be up-front and honest. Climate action proposals should be subject to the same level of rigorous review as fiscal proposals. Only then can we avoid the repeated launch of plans where the aspirations are not matched to specific costings and timetabled-impacts.
The summit will also hear a report on the continued spread of disinformation by forces outside of the European Union with the intention of undermining elections. As the report shows, yet again the Russian Federation has worked to bolster extreme parties and to promote false stories. These were particularly designed to promote anti-migrant sentiment and conspiracy theories about the EU. Fanatical anti-EU parties of the far right continue to be supported – and this includes the coverage of Moscow-owned media.
There can and should be no move to normalising relations until this activity stops.
Finally the summit should discuss the situation in the Gulf.
We are not in a position to say what is going on or who is responsible for the bombing of the tankers. What we can and should do is express our concern at the announcement by the President of Iran that his country intends to soon exceed the limits on enriched uranium agreed in the nuclear agreement.
There is no credible innocent explanation for this enrichment. There is nothing in Iran’s disputes with other countries which justifies the development of nuclear weapons. It has an incredibly strong army which is in fact strong enough to be used to fight in Syria and possibly elsewhere. It does not need these weapons and pursuing them will do great damage to its standing in the world at a time where most countries remain committed to finding a constructive way forward.