I am pleased to have the opportunity to brief the House ahead of the forthcoming informal meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Monday next, 30 January. This informal meeting will take place over a working session on Monday afternoon. There will be two issues before us, both of great significance for the European Union. First, we will address any outstanding questions on the draft intergovernmental treaty and, second, we will examine what needs to be done to ensure a return to growth and job creation. Both issues are important for Ireland and concrete progress on each is essential. I will be working to ensure an outcome which is well balanced.
Clearly, a common currency needs common and enforceable rules and a shared commitment to discipline. That is what the new treaty is about. It is also clear that putting in place measures that will help us to avoid future crises, although they may improve market sentiment, will not on its own get us beyond the current crisis. For that, we need growth and, to be more specific, job-creating growth.
The Government has been very active in advancing Irish positions ahead of the meeting. I spoke this morning to the Austrian Chancellor and will make a number of calls to colleagues, including the Dutch and Italian Prime Ministers, this week. In addition, I will meet the Danish and Finnish Prime Ministers at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Tánaiste has also been engaged with his colleagues ahead of the meeting and met a number of them, including his Portuguese, Luxembourg, Dutch, Austrian and Finnish counterparts, at this week's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has been in intensive consultations with his counterparts, including a recent visit to see a German Minister, Mr. Schauble, in Berlin and a call on the President of the ECB, Mr. Draghi, in Frankfurt today.
In addition, to help drive the growth agenda, the Government has taken a proactive step and co-authored two key inputs to next week's summit. Our contributions focus on areas which should see a concentration of effort, with one on the digital Single Market and one on broader Single Market questions, including advancing the trade agenda. We have done so in co-operation with a number of like-minded member states, including Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Estonia. I will say more about these in due course.
Before I do so, I will update the House on progress in the negotiations on the draft intergovernmental treaty. As I said after the December European Council meeting, it was clear to European leaders at the time that, in spite of the extensive range of measures already taken to restore stability and strengthen co-ordination, more needed to be done. To get ahead of the economic and financial crisis once and for all and in a convincing manner, we had to act decisively. We decided to firm up the stabilisation tools we had put in place to underpin the currency - the firewalls - and strengthen budgetary discipline by entering into more binding commitments to each other. These new commitments are to be enshrined in the new treaty under consideration. It is in Ireland's vital national interest that each and every member state of the euro area implements completely and without delay the full range of commitments it has entered into.
It is this element - honouring and implementing the rules - that has not always been achieved in the past. At this stage we are well beyond the point when we can afford to turn a blind eye. We have seen in recent times how vulnerable we all are to a loss of confidence in the ability of one member state or another to sustain its economy. We should be clear that all the hard work we have done to make our way back to a secure position could be undone, through no fault of our own, by the reckless behaviour of others.
Ireland needs to see the new treaty adopted and enforced. It is absolutely in the national interest to do so. I reject arguments that fail to recognise that this approach will best serve our interests and bolster our recovery. Discipline and co-ordination will be our touchstones. The new treaty will take implementation of all that has been agreed previously to a new level. In the past we relied, perhaps too heavily, on peer pressure and are now giving real muscle to the process. All member states - big, small, north or south - will have to abide by the rules and the EU institutions will have a key role to play. Adoption of the treaty will help to generate confidence, the necessary precursor to investment, growth and jobs in Ireland and across the euro area and the wider European Union. That is no small prize, but it is one that the Government is firmly fixed upon. It is critical to the national interest.
As the House will be aware, the negotiations are being advanced rapidly. An initial draft of the text was circulated just a week after the December European Council and the following week - Christmas week, when the House was in recess - negotiations started in earnest in Brussels. Further intensive rounds have taken place and as the negotiations have progressed, revised versions of the draft treaty have been prepared, each of which has sought to capture agreements and understandings reached during the preceding negotiations and, naturally, bridge differences between member states. This has been a thorough and methodical process which nonetheless has been undertaken at considerable speed, given the pressing need for the treaty to be put in place without delay in order to instil the maximum degree of confidence at the earliest possible moment.
The latest iteration of the draft treaty was shared with member states last Thursday night. Reflecting our desire to engage with Members of the House, the Tánaiste shared the draft and his analysis of the state of play with the members of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs last Friday morning. That same draft was the subject of further discussions in Brussels yesterday and today, this time among EU Finance Ministers.
On Friday morning Ministers attending the General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels will have a breakfast meeting with European Council President Van Rompuy when he will brief them. Just this morning it was decided that there would be another round of negotiations at senior official level on Friday afternoon next in Brussels before the final draft is presented to us at the level of Heads of State and Government. The text will then be taken up at next Monday's informal meeting of the European Council. We are now approaching the end game. I am hopeful that when EU leaders gather in Brussels, we will be able to bring the work to a successful conclusion.
During the course of the negotiations the Government, assisted by our team of senior officials drawn from each of the relevant Departments and Offices, has been fully engaged with our EU partners, both in Brussels and across EU capitals, in order to ensure our national concerns are fully appreciated and understood by other member states. At each iteration Irish interests have been advanced. At the same time, we have been active in cultivating alliances with other partners on matters of common concern. This approach has been productive. We have particularly pressed our partners on the need for Ireland's programme country status to be properly taken into account; the need for an appropriate basis to incorporate a debt brake at national level; the need for a workable application of the structural balances methodology; and the need to ensure as much of the content of the new treaty as possible is put on a clear EU legal footing. That is important. In each of these instances I am satisfied that the draft text has been moving in the right direction.
Of course, the negotiations are as yet not concluded and, therefore, the draft text remains open to further revision. A number of issues remain outstanding, some of which may require final decisions to be taken by leaders when we meet next week. These include arrangements for the treaty to enter into force and for participation at euro summit meetings by non-eurozone member states. These are important considerations. However, as we reflect on the detail, we should not lose sight of the reason we are pursuing this course at this time. We are not negotiating a new treaty for its own sake. We are doing it with a view to making a serious and credible contribution to stabilising the common currency as a means to support a return to sustainable growth, accompanied by job creation. The Government is using all it energy to secure this outcome at next week's meeting.
As I have said many times previously, Ireland has nothing to fear and a great deal to gain from this process. That is why we continue to work to ensure our best interests will be reflected in the outcome. We do not want to see the important progress we have made through our hard work and determination set back in any way. We are working our programme and meeting our commitments, of which we want to make a success, difficult though that is. Anything that makes a positive outcome more likely is to be welcomed, as the new treaty should be.
I appreciate the great interest the House takes in what will be required in order for the country to ratify the new arrangements. At the risk of repeating myself again, I can only say the Attorney General will be asked for a formal view once a final text is available. Until then it is not possible to be definitive and it is not helpful to speculate. The test will be whether the proposed treaty is compatible with the Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann. The Attorney General will study the legal implications carefully and advise accordingly. As I have stated in the House and elsewhere many times, if a referendum is required, one will be held. Whatever path towards ratification is required, the Oireachtas will be fully and appropriately involved in the process. That is without question.
As I said, discipline on its own will never be enough. I will work for an outcome that recognises the urgent need to prioritise steps we can take to encourage and sustain growth. We can be absolutely sure about one thing: without growth, Europe will not recover and we will not generate jobs. Growth is the key. It is necessary, therefore, to restore fiscal balances and market confidence in debt sustainability. It is the key to supporting job creation and addressing the unemployment crisis, particularly that facing our young people. Growth will not generate itself. We must create the right conditions and environment to nurture growth across the European Union. That is what is of real importance to the people.
I wish to see real results arising from next week's meeting. It is an objective I share particularly with colleagues in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and Estonia, which is reflected in joint contributions with these countries to next Monday's meeting. We have co-sponsored two papers which address a number of important issues which serve to advance our national interests. These include: priority actions to complete the Single Market, including, in particular, the significant potential in the digital Single Market; further reduction of regulatory burdens on the small and medium enterprise, SME, sector; better targeting of labour market supports, including a new focus on youth unemployment - this matter was discussed at the British-Irish Council in the past two weeks; a stronger emphasis on the external dimension of the Single Market and the growth potential of third country trade; a more growth-friendly EU budget; and a growth test for future EU proposals.
Europe has a real opportunity to progress an ambitious package of measures, reflecting the seriousness of the situation. The Commission's annual growth survey 2012 was published in November, marking the starting point of the second European semester of economic governance. The key message is that, faced with a deteriorating economic and social situation, more efforts are needed to put Europe back on track and sustain growth and jobs. Ireland supports the five priorities suggested by the Commission: pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation; restoring normal lending to the economy; promoting growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow; tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis; and modernising public administration. These are consistent with the Europe 2020 strategy for growth that is smart, sustainable, and inclusive. They align well with the national priorities established by the programme for Government.
It is clear that we must deliver better educational outcomes, that we must keep our focus on knowledge-intensive development and that we must improve participation and employment rates with sensible and job-friendly labour market policies. A key challenge in the current environment is to create a climate of confidence for new investment and to steer this investment in a direction that is sustainable. Again, we see strong complementarities in this regard between the Europe 2020 strategy and the programme for Government. Countries that, like Ireland, are participating in an EU-IMF programme are not required to prepare a full national reform programme and a stability or convergence programme for submission in April. That is because the extent of the monitoring and reporting already taking place through the regular quarterly reviews is seen as rigorous and largely sufficient. However, we will, nonetheless, be preparing a comprehensive review of national progress under the Europe 2020 strategy for submission and look forward to engaging constructively in the second European semester process. The emphasis of the European semester on strengthening the alignment between budgetary priorities and structural reforms is the right one. It is consistent with the direction we have set for ourselves in this country.
I wish next Monday's informal European Council to be a productive one to demonstrates the European Union's ability to focus on the urgent and important issues and at the same time conclude work on the new treaty and intensify efforts to deliver growth as a means to recovery. I will, of course, report back to the House after the meeting.