Europe Week: Statements

On 10 May 1972, some 41 years ago on Friday, the people went to the polls to decide whether to join what was then the European Economic Community. More than four in five people voted "Yes". As we mark the 40th anniversary of our membership this year, it is plain that the four decades since we voted have fully vindicated our choice. The Ireland of the early 1970s was a very different place.

It is sometimes difficult to recall and appreciate just how different it was. In 1973 Irish gross domestic product, GDP, was 60% of the European average. Ireland was the poorest of the then nine member states. Today, despite our recent difficulties, our GDP is well above the European average. In 1973 Ireland was a country of traditional emigration, with a workforce of less than 1 million. Today, there are almost 2 million people at work, largely the result of many women entering the labour force. While emigration remains with us, it is not at the level that it was. In 1973, after decades of economic drift and isolation, the population of the country was 2.9 million. Now, it is 4.5 million. In 1973 our foreign trade was largely with our nearest neighbour and 55% of our exports went to the United Kingdom. Now, even though our trade with Britain has grown enormously, the figure is under 17%. Our external trade is much larger, more diversified and more balanced, and with exports accounting for over €90 billion, it is leading our economic recovery. The Single Market of 500 million people has been opened to our businesses and we have greater clout in negotiating the terms of our trade beyond EU borders when we do so as part of the world's largest trading bloc.

As our access to new markets grew, so did our attractiveness as a place in which to invest and do business. In 1973 a mere €16 million was attracted in foreign investment. Today, we count our foreign direct investment in many billions and the economy has been transformed, with almost 1,000 companies in the foreign owned sector. These companies have come to know the Irish people, their creativity and capacity for hard work. More and more of them are coming to invest here. We now have a real Single Market which is deeper, wider and more significant than the Common Market that the Irish people joined many years ago. We have also created an economic and monetary union, with the euro as our shared currency.

Ireland has not just been shaped by these developments. We have played our full role in shaping them. This is something that is too often overlooked. In Berlin last year when I had the privilege of accepting the European of the Year award in the name of the people, I spoke about how Ireland's commitment and contribution to the European Union through seven EU Presidencies had brought a distinctive clarity, an insight and resolve to negotiations at European level, for example, in chairing the meetings of the European Council in 1990 that welcomed German reunification following the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1996 laying the vital ground work for the introduction of the common currency and in 2004 welcoming ten new member states, mainly in central and eastern Europe.

Our current EU Presidency finds the European Union at a critical juncture. While the phase of immediate crisis is I hope behind us, we are far from building a strong and sustainable recovery. The urgency of the need for economic recovery is shared and palpable among our leaders, people and across the Union. During Ireland's Presidency we are making real progress in our three Presidency priorities of stability, jobs and growth. These priorities require little justification. Since the eurozone crisis began, 3.8 million jobs have been lost. In March employment across the eurozone fell for the 15th consecutive month, dropping at the fastest rate since January 2010. A total of 19 million citizens in the single currency area are now looking for work. The eurozone is suffering a second deep recession in just three years. Consensus forecasts for euro area GDP growth worsen every month. Without a change in direction, the International Labour Organization predicts another 4.5 million jobs being lost in coming years.

This is a crisis of an almost unprecedented nature. It is not just a sovereign debt crisis facing individual countries, although high public debt and deficit levels have complicated the response to the crisis. Many eurozone countries are facing a deeper economic crisis than other non-euro OECD countries with similar deficit and debt profiles. It is a crisis of confidence in the euro and the political and economic management of the eurozone. It is a crisis reflecting the unfinished and often dysfunctional nature of the Economic and Monetary Union we began 15 years ago.

We have taken some very welcome steps to stabilise the single currency. We have established the European Stability Mechanism as a credible and permanent funding back-stop for eurozone countries in difficulty. Through the six pack, the two pack and the fiscal compact, we have strengthened mutual surveillance of national budgetary and competitiveness developments and the potential sanctions for breaches of our commitments to each other to pursue sustainable economic policies. Many countries across the eurozone are implementing unprecedented national reform plans to restore competitiveness, financial stability, growth and confidence in their long-term fiscal sustainability. The people voted by a large majority in a referendum last June to approve ratification of the fiscal stability treaty. The European Central Bank has developed new instruments to stabilise financial conditions and improve the functioning of monetary policy. Most recently, European loans to Portugal and Ireland were extended to reinforce market confidence in their funding position as both countries plan to exit their programme of assistance. French support for this has been crucial and very welcome.

These are all important steps in the right direction, but there is no room for complacency. While financial markets have shown signs of greater stability, the crisis in the eurozone's real economy is still deepening. Improved budgetary discipline and funding support are only part of the solution to the eurozone crisis. They will only fully restore confidence if they are accompanied by greater efforts to support investment and growth and create employment. In a common currency area unco-ordinated national efforts alone are not sufficient to meet the employment needs of citizens. Much greater eurozone and EU collective action and co-ordination are also required. Some of the notable priorities from an Irish perspective include updating and intensifying implementation of the compact for growth and jobs agreed at the European Council last year; implementing the recently agreed youth employment guarantee; agreeing a bundle of measures to remove remaining barriers to the internal market, most notably in the areas of services and digital content; progressing a series of external trade agreements for the Union that could lead to the creation of over 2 million new jobs across the Union.

More urgent than any of these, however, is the need to address what has become the Achilles heel of the eurozone, the ongoing crisis in Europe's banking sector. We welcome the indication from the president of the European Central Bank that the ECB is considering further non-conventional measures to ensure the effective penetration of its monetary policy into all parts of the eurozone. This should involve a more structured dialogue between the ECB and the other eurozone institutions and governments about the necessary instruments to make this happen. It is also why the euro area summit commitments made last June were so important and must be followed through. They committed euro area leaders to the creation of a banking union that would break the vicious circle between the sovereign and banking debt crises by using the European Stability Mechanism to directly support financial institutions under common supervision. The summit committed to quickly putting in place the other elements of the banking union urgently needed to underpin Economic and Monetary Union and the Single Market.

For our part, as Presidency, we have prioritised the EU legislation required to achieve a banking union such as the capital requirements directive, the single supervisory mechanism, bank resolution and recovery and the deposit guarantee scheme. While we have made good progress, a great deal more work remains to be done. There are, as always, important technical details to be resolved, but with sufficient political will, there are no insuperable difficulties in these areas. The work done by the Eurogroup, the ECB and the Commission in agreeing the modalities of direct recapitalisation of banks by the European Stability Mechanism will be the next major step.

This is a key issue for the success of the Irish programme. We still need further assistance to reduce Irish taxpayers' exposure to our banking system as we try to return to market financing in a sustainable fashion. With such support, Ireland can emerge as a success story for the entire eurozone and return durably to the normal market provision of our financing needs next year when we exit the EU-IMF programme. A successful Irish exit from the bailout by the end of this year would prove and demonstrate that a combination of intensive national reform efforts and European solidarity can actually deliver results. It could provide momentum for reforming governments and investor confidence across the eurozone. Too many eurozone countries have fallen into the trap to which I refer. For the sake of our common currency, we need to see that it is possible for the country to climb out of economic difficulty.

Our membership of the European Union has helped and marked us to become a real republic. It is that journey, that transformation, that we commemorate in Europe Week, reminding ourselves of our respect for the Union and that by working together we will emerge from the economic difficulties that our countries face. We have come a long way and the journey ahead still challenges us.

Europe Week prompts us to reflect on the original Schuman Declaration and, in particular, its observation that Europe would not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It is stated it will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The reality that the integration of nation states is a process rather than an event remains as true today as when the Union took its first steps. While Robert Schumann's initial plan was to create an entity that would oversee coal and steel production in France and Germany, much more than that was envisaged. He was laying the foundation for an economic union that would be open to all countries that agreed to be bound by its values and rules. That foundation, reinforced by the Treaty of Paris a year later in 1951, has been followed by a series of further treaties that have progressively shaped the common institutions necessary both to respond to and shape deeper European interdependence. The accession of Croatia in July will bring to 28 the number of member states from the original six that took the first important steps. This enlargement process is perhaps the strongest testimony to the success of this unfolding project.

It is also clear that the union has been severely tested by the ongoing economic and social crisis. It is to this particular challenge that the Union, including Ireland, both as a member state and President of the Council, must now rise. Last week's spring economic forecasts from the European Commission pointed to a further economic contraction in 2013, with a contraction of 0.1% in the European Union and 0.4% in the euro area.

Unemployment remains at unacceptably high levels. There are now more than 26 million people out of work across the European Union, representing an increase of 2 million people on a year ago. Unemployment rates this year are now forecast at 12.2% for the euro area and 11.1% for the European Union. These figures mask dramatic disparities across member states, with unemployment running at 27% in both Greece and Spain. These figures represent real hardship for people and they demand our urgent response. Doubtless, we have recently experienced a period of relative calm in financial markets, and Europe has made important policy decisions that have helped to restore a measure of stability. However, stability, while important, is not enough. Stability must be a platform for what comes next, and Europe must now intensify its focus on growth and employment creation. As I stated, too many Europeans are without jobs and too many young Europeans are without prospects and opportunities.

As the House is aware, we set a clear course for the Irish Presidency of the European Council - it involves stability, jobs and growth - and we are determined to see that through. This determination builds on the very significant steps already taken since the onset of the crisis, particularly in terms of strengthening the rules underpinning the single currency area. We have already accomplished much, including a permanent firewall, the European Stability Mechanism to support member states in financial distress; stronger economic governance arrangements, supported by the new stability treaty; decisive and painful fiscal consolidation measures by member states to close gaps between public spending and revenue, supported by ongoing structural reforms; commitment to breaking the vicious circle between sovereign and banking debt; effective lender-of-last-resort support from the ECB; and further work towards a stronger EMU being taken forward by President Van Rompuy, on which he will report to the June European Council.

Pressing forward and banking union remains of overriding importance. Speedy progress is important in its own right but also as a test of our credibility and ability to deliver. This means sticking to the ambitious programme of work and timetable agreed by the European Council in December. Since January, we have worked intensively to drive forward this vital work. Thanks to good co-operation with other member states and the European Parliament, we have reached a positive outcome on the capital requirements directive that will ensure Europe's banks are built on a more solid foundation and which also provides for checks and balances on bankers' pay. We have also secured agreement on the single supervisory mechanism for European banks, and we look forward to its entering into force.

The next phase of this work – agreed bank resolution and recapitalisation arrangements – is a crucial one. It will strengthen the progress we have already made. Our goal remains to reach agreement with the Parliament on this by June. This will allow discussions to reopen on deposit guarantee schemes. The timelines are tight but, for our part, it is clear that the political engagement and commitment expressed by partners last year, including the solemn undertaking to break the toxic link between the sovereign and banks must be fully implemented. Therefore, we are building financial stability but we must also work to stimulate growth, not simply growth for its own sake but also for the jobs it will bring for our citizens.

The Union has a shared strategy and approach, the European Semester. In March, the European Council endorsed the five headline priorities of the annual growth survey: 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 the Union’s agreed pathways to growth but we need to add the specifics, targets and deadlines. The Single Market remains the cornerstone of the Union but its full potential is not yet realised. We have developed strong emphasis on creating the right environment for successful businesses. This means lowering SME transaction costs, making it as easy as possible to grow and scale internationally.

The agreement we reached on the accounting directive will simplify financial reporting requirements for millions of European micro and small enterprises. The unified patent court will bring protection of intellectual property rights within their reach. Finalising the public procurement package will streamline SME access to markets accounting for nearly one fifth of EU GDP.

We are also laying important foundations for the digital single market, coherent market rules that will support new growth areas, recognising that most job creation comes from fast growing firms. We remain hopeful that it will be possible to reach agreement at the Council on the main elements of the data protection package before the end of June, and we are making solid progress on the collective rights management and e-identification files.

Trade beyond our borders is another vital tool for growth. That is why the external trade agenda is a major Presidency focus. We are working to advance trade agreements with key EU partners, with particular emphasis on the vital EU–US trade relationship. Our ambition remains to secure a mandate for the start of negotiations on a trade-and-investment partnership with the United States during the term of the Irish Presidency.

The economic potential it represents is immense. Most importantly, we have focused on tackling unemployment, particularly the scourge of youth unemployment. In February we secured agreement on the youth guarantee, ensuring that all under-25s without employment will receive an offer of meaningful work, training or education. Implementation will be supported by the decision of the European Council to allocate €6 billion from the multi-annual financial framework to a new youth employment initiative. We want this €6 billion in funding released as soon as possible and are working to reach a final agreement on the MFF with the European Parliament and the Commission, which we hope to bring to a successful conclusion in the coming weeks. The MFF essentially amounts to a €960 billion stimulus for Europe and we are doing everything we can to bring it over the line.

I emphasise that the European Union's response to the unemployment crisis is by no means a purely economic matter. The Union has clear social objectives, namely, the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health. The cohesion policy, for which some €450 billion in EU spending is provided in the MFF for the next seven years, and its component European Social Fund is a very concrete expression of our commitment to that objective. There are important social policy legislative priorities also. Last February, the Commission produced its social investment package, which highlights the interdependence of economic and social goals and the crucial role of investment in people. The Irish Presidency is working to secure adoption of this package before the end of June. Last week, the social investment package was the focus of a dedicated Irish Presidency conference in Leuven.

The compact for growth and jobs is the European Council's blueprint for future work on jobs and growth. A full review has been lined up for the June European Council one year on from its adoption. The financing needs of the real economy are a crucial focus here. This means restoring normal lending conditions and unlocking productive investments. The spring European Council noted that the €10 billion increase in the European Investment Bank's paid-in capital agreed last year will help co-finance up to €180 billion worth of projects over the next three years. Successful mobilisation of these resources will be key to underpinning the recovery that is now in sight. It is clear that Europe will have recovered from the current crisis only when its economies are growing again and creating jobs.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the European Union. Despite recent setbacks, our experience has been hugely positive. We have developed our economy, modernised our society and widened our horizons. The experience has seen Ireland grow and mature, leaving behind the sense of isolation that undermined our early decades of statehood. The economy is more diverse, more open to trade and exports and better equipped to overcome the difficulties we now face. Access to the world's largest single marketplace and membership of the bodies that govern it enable us to attract the type of inward investment that remains key to our successfully emerging from current difficulties. EU membership has brought high standards to our workplaces. For example, it has catapulted to a higher level the proportion of our youth gaining a third level qualification. Effective use of EU funding has helped us to develop our infrastructure and modernise our agriculture sector. We have benefited from the solidarity of our EU partners and also contributed our solidarity to the Union.

The whole experience over decades is one which has taught us the importance of working constructively with others towards common goals rather than pretending there is some insular alternative. Such processes involve compromise and change, which is often difficult. One of the lessons of Europe is that those who engage in the round are those who benefit most. Ireland has truly engaged from the outset as a member state determined to see the Union succeed. Since 1973 we have been active participants, not observers, in this process. It is this perspective that has shaped our Presidency and will endure beyond it.

The founding of what is today the European Union was one of the most important and positive developments in modern history. It is right that we take time to mark this every year, both in the Oireachtas and wider society. There is a strong case for a significant increase in the level of public commemoration of the Union’s foundation. The problem is that far too much time is spent on worthy statements about past achievements and nowhere near enough time is spent on ensuring that the Union tackles the problems of today. Praising the Union’s founders but ignoring the urgent lessons their actions have for us is an absurd but far too real part of what is happening throughout Europe this week.

The European Union was born out of a time of unprecedented crisis. A conflict-torn continent had witnessed unthinkable barbarity. It had no idea how to stop the cycle of violence and promote a cycle of development. The founding principles of Schuman and others were deeply radical because they liberated Europe from an insular, narrow and ultimately aggressive model of nationhood. They promoted the idea that only by working together in close union could states serve their citizens effectively. They proposed that in place of conflict, a new spirit of co-operation could deliver far more. They have been proved right time and again.

The Government’s reluctance to acknowledge the work of governments and movements not from their own party traditions is now well established. It is a pity that this has meant there has been no proper marking of the 40th anniversary of the negotiation and accession of Ireland as a member of the then European Economic Community. It was an exceptional generation of political leaders and public servants who secured our membership. They did so not because it was inevitable but because they deeply understood the vital importance for Ireland’s development of membership of a strong community of European nations. They both understood and welcomed the forces of modernisation which would be unleashed. They did not sit still, take anything for granted or expect that the work was over; rather, they immediately set about helping to build the Union.

We should particularly note the work of our first Commissioner, Dr. Patrick Hillery. Having capped a brilliant career as a reforming Minister and a signatory of the Treaty of Rome with the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, he went to Brussels with the intention of making an impact, something which he succeeded in doing in only a very short period. He created the European Social Fund and pushed forward large amounts of progressive legislation to ensure that social objectives were promoted hand-in-hand with economic ones. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of politicians of other parties in the early years of our membership. In particular, we should remember the work of former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and his then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Garret FitzGerald. They initiated the formal approach to Presidencies in terms of work programmes and co-ordinated Council meetings, which grew steadily over the years. In addition, they presided over the crucial final negotiating session of the Helsinki Final Act, which remains a powerful statement of the primacy of human rights, respect and peaceful coexistence in Europe.

As we look back today on the founding years of both the Union and our membership of it, it is impossible not to see the difference in the approach of Europe’s leaders then and now. Quite simply, none of the great successes of the Union could have been possible if the approach of today’s leaders had been followed. There is none of the bold vision and absolutely none of deep solidarity which built the Union. Today’s leaders, in their lack of urgency and ambition, are betraying the spirit of the Union and presiding over a dangerous erosion of its foundations. Anyone who cares about the Union, who wants to move from crisis management to addressing the real and growing needs of its citizens, has every reason to be alarmed. We are now in the fifth year of the largest crisis to face the Union since the Treaty of Rome was agreed. Some 26 million European citizens are unemployed and economic forecasts are being cut, with much of Europe returning to recession. Extreme nationalism is on the rise in many countries.

The basic freedoms which have been at the core of European co-operation for decades are under threat, with new limits on the free movement of people and capital being introduced or debated. The common currency shared by the majority of states and citizens is losing its popular legitimacy and maintains design flaws which are directly responsible for problems faced by many countries, including Ireland. It is now almost six months since the Prime Minister of Britain set up the choice between destroying the fabric of EU social protections or leaving the Union. Today his office has announced the intention to unilaterally introduce restrictions on the employment rights of EU citizens.
What has been the response to these rising challenges to the foundations of the European Union? It has been to hold crisis summits, issue worthy communiqués but ultimately to do nothing. A policy of waiting until the last possible moment before doing the minimum possible to muddle through has made the crisis much worse. This cannot go on. Without an urgent and ambitious agenda, the European Union may well be fatally damaged, returning Europe to the failed model of competing blocs. The first thing that needs to be done is for leaders to start defending the core principles of national and social solidarity as the only way forward for sustainable economic progress. One of the many bad developments of recent years has been how the terms of debate set by anti-European Union forces have not been challenged. The agenda, to which many countries, including Ireland, signed up last year, is one which emphasises free trade above all. What no one has done is reassert the central role in common standards in ensuring social progress is not undermined in the pursuit of the economic gains which free trade can bring.
The entire point of the European Union is that countries agree to stop the race to the bottom and ensure fair wages and decent conditions can be secured as part of expanding economies and fair competition. If no one is defending this, how can we expect to stand against the British Tory Party agenda of hollowing out the Union in the name of competitiveness? Yes, the Commission and the Parliament often propose measures which could damage fair competition and successful industries and they maintain an unfounded obsession with harmonising taxes. Equally, they are too slow to recognise when standards of employment protection are high. We should absolutely reject the idea that this is what defines the Union. The bulk of its work is about increasing opportunities for companies and individuals to grow, while protecting the working conditions and interests of workers. If we are sincere in believing the Union has a role to play in helping countries to develop and overcome this deep crisis, we should also assert the need for it to have a budget which gives it a chance to do this. The current budget represents less than 1% of Europe’s economy. There is simply no way it can play a significant role in responding to the catastrophic employment situation with the current budget, one which the Council is now seeking to actually cut. Europe’s citizens consistently state the Union should be playing a major part in tackling unemployment, yet it is denied the means of fulfilling this role. What is worse is that leaders continue to make inflated claims about action which do nothing but generate new cynicism. A classic example of this is action on youth unemployment, where the initiative agreed with much fanfare in February and which has been promoted since by the Taoiseach as a breakthrough amounts to exactly €122 each year for each young unemployed person. Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn has rightly talked about how European action on research is central to long-term economic growth and produced excellent strategies to move it forward, yet the budget proposed by the Council for this area is due to be cut by 11%. This is unacceptable in an area that is central to job creation. Whether it be through new revenue raising powers or otherwise, the European Union desperately needs a budget which can help it to fulfil the role of active promoter of economic development, particularly in helping regions with high unemployment levels and limited scope to provide a stimulus.
History shows that the Common Agricultural Policy, today under sustained attack, should be viewed as one of the great successes of collective action. A continent once known for regular food shortages has achieved food security for over half a century. Just as importantly, the European Union has provided essential supports for rural life and the improvement of the rural environment. Balanced social and economic developments and the good of society as a whole require that rural communities receive direct support. We all benefit from this and we will all suffer if the anti-CAP agenda continues. It should not be seen as the first port of call when money is needed for other programmes. The 10% cut being pushed by the Council will directly undermine one of the few areas in which the European Union has a comprehensive and effective policy.
In addition to defending the founding principles and programmes of the European Union, we need an urgent agenda of reform to address flaws which continue to do immense damage. As the Taoiseach admits when he is not playing domestic politics, Ireland has suffered significantly because of flawed and inflexible EU policies, particularly in the period 2009-10. It is now widely accepted that the failure to have any funding support available for countries and the refusal to allow either the winding-up of institutions or the writing-down of debts drove Ireland and Portugal from the bond markets and has inflated their debts. The justice of Ireland’s case for further significant relief from the burden of bank-related debts remains both strong and unanswered. Beyond this, the need to address the core flaws in the design of the euro is more obvious and more urgent than ever. We need a central bank which is concerned with more than the erratic pursuit of an artificial inflation target. The maintenance of high employment and living standards is the reason for the European Union and the euro and this should be reflected in the mandate of the European Central Bank. We also need a banking union which is strong enough to return confidence to the financial sector and lending to hard-pressed employers.
These and other essential reforms cannot happen unless countries commit themselves to a reform of the European Union which is true to its founding spirit and ambitious enough to tackle today’s urgent problems. This cannot happen if leaders continue to remain quiet as traditional anti-European Union forces step up their work to scapegoat it for every problem and to hammer away at its very foundations.
For our part, Ireland has to end its policy of standing on the sidelines. We cannot be neutral in the choice between a union of social and economic co-operation and one which has been hollowed out to become little more than a free trade area. It is long past time for the Government to set out its policy for the future of the European Union. The reasonable tradition of this House is that we do not directly comment on the work of the President. As such, I will use other opportunities to explain why I strongly welcome his recent comments on the future of Europe. At the same time, it must be pointed out that the Tánaiste is entirely wrong when he says the Government’s policy reflects these comments. The Government has issued no overall policy statement on Europe. I have asked for this on a few dozen occasions in the past two years, but the response has always been to take each issue as it comes.
In regard to reform of the European Union, the stated policy has been to wait and see what is proposed. Ireland has gained enormously from its membership of the Union. However, it is gaining nothing from a failure to use its position to demand a more urgent and ambitious agenda to tackle this shared crisis. If we continue with this approach, the only thing that will happen is that the Union’s traditional enemies on both the right and the left will grow stronger in their work of trying to undermine it. Leaders across Europe need to live up to the potential and expectations of the citizens they serve and show more solidarity in these threatening economic circumstances. There are over 115 million citizens in or at the risk of poverty and social exclusion. This cannot be allowed to continue, particularly this year which has been dedicated as European Year of Citizens.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Europe Day presents an opportune time to reflect on the state of the European Union. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have acknowledged that the ongoing economic crisis is having a devastating effect on citizens and communities across this island and Europe. The big question is: what are the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste going to do about this? They are our leaders at this time. As they and other European leaders gather for crisis summit after crisis summit, the dole queues are getting longer and longer. Some 20 million people are unemployed across the eurozone and the situation is even worse for young people. The level of youth unemployment is 30% in this state compared to an average of 24% across the European Union.

Our 30% level of youth unemployment does not take account of the scores of thousands of young people who have had to leave for other parts of the world. The statistics for some of the other so-called peripheral states are even more shocking, with youth unemployment at 55% in Spain, 38% in Italy, 38% in Portugal and 59% in Greece. This state and others like it have borne the brunt of the EU austerity policy.

Yesterday the Taoiseach said he was no fan of austerity. That is like Brian Cody saying he does not support Kilkenny. The Taoiseach is a champion of austerity here and across the European Union. The dire social consequences of the austerity approach will be felt for generations to come. Much has been made of the €6 billion fund established to tackle this issue. With 6 million young people unemployed, however, it is but a drop in the ocean compared to what is required. When compared with the billions of euro put into banks it demonstrates where the priority of EU leaders lies. The focus in the ongoing negotiations was and is on cutting the budget, but increasingly we are hearing verbal acknowledgement that the policy of austerity has failed.

It was in May last year, when President Hollande was elected in France, that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste became converts to the need for jobs and growth to tackle this crisis. While the language may have changed, there has been no substantive change to the policies being pursued either here or across the European Union. As An tUachtarán Higgins said recently, there is a flaw in the economic model and in the social and political mores of EU leaders. I warmly welcomed his remarks and was quite bemused that the Government also saw fit to welcome them when clearly they were at odds with what it is doing. There seems to be a need, and perhaps an opportunity, for a radical rethink of how our economic crisis is handled. A one-size-fits-all approach will not solve our economic crisis. Getting people off the dole and back to work needs to be prioritised. There is an urgent need to increase the lending capacity of the European Investment Bank, EIB, to stimulate activity in the real economy; to cleanse the European banking system of toxic debts; and to introduce debt-restructuring agreements, including debt write-downs for heavily indebted states. The €10 billion allocated by the European Council to expand the lending capacity of the EIB simply does not go far enough. One of the critical mistakes made in the handling of this crisis was the insistence, by the Government too, that citizens bear the burden of private banking losses. At the very beginning of the Irish banking crisis, Sinn Féin called for bondholders to take the hit. We said that Irish citizens should not have to cover the losses of private bankers and speculators.

Instead, billions of euros' worth of bad banking debt was heaped on the shoulders of Irish citizens. Last June, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste returned from a summit meeting in Brussels to tell us that a seismic shift, a game changer, had been achieved in Europe. They told us this would mean the separation of banking debt from sovereign debt and that in future bank crises the ESM would directly recapitalise banks and the sovereign would not be expected to take on a bank bailout. They said that because Ireland had taken on this liability there would be retrospective recapitalisation. Instead, almost a year later, progress on this has stalled and we seem no closer to a deal on the €30 billion or so that went into the pillar banks. Indeed, given the failure of European leaders to make use of the ESM in the recent Cypriot crisis, such a deal seems even further away.

There are also broader issues to do with the interaction between the European Union and citizens. Since the first steps were taken in the 1950s, more and more areas of policy have been affected by European institutions. Sinn Féin's approach to the European Union has always been one of critical engagement. Where measures are in the interests of the Irish people, we support them and seek to further them. Where they are not, we oppose them and campaign for change. We will not, however, support a drive for further centralisation of powers in the hands of an unelected EU bureaucracy. Irish citizens do not want to live in a province of a European super-state where technocrats take decisions with no accountability. Sinn Féin has been consistently critical of the EU project's federalist character and the profound lack of democracy at its core. We do not support a European Union in which a small number of large member states take it upon themselves to dictate economic or other policy to smaller states. We support a Europe of equals, a social EU where all states act together in their common interest.

The European project grew out of the ashes of the Second World War and a determination between the founding states, particularly Germany and France, that in the future peace and prosperity would define their relationship rather than war and mistrust. As the project has continued, the European Union has played a role in overcoming the divisions in Europe caused by the Cold War. Given its origins in an historic compromise, the EU could also play a very important, perhaps critically important, role in advocating peace, demilitarisation, nuclear disarmament and the just resolution of conflicts.

In Ireland the European Union has, through the PEACE programme, supported the Irish peace process and supported projects aiming to foster peace and reconciliation. In regard to the Middle East peace process, however, the Union could play a more useful role. Yesterday I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of the Jerusalem report, a report by EU heads of mission which raised serious concerns about the actions of the Israeli Government in building settlements and excluding Palestinians from their land. The Palestinian people are being treated shamefully by the Israeli Government in breach of all sorts of international laws, but it seems that little or no action has been taken on this report. I had asked the Taoiseach to raise the report at the March summit meeting but he did not do so and the report was not even discussed. Surely, given our history and our peace process, we have a duty to help people in that region. The EU leaders have also been quiet on the Israeli Government's recent attack on Syria. While I acknowledge the work of the Tánaiste in this area, if an Irish Government does not raise the need for a Middle East peace process at an EU summit, particularly during our EU Presidency, who will raise it? Who else is going to raise this issue if our Taoiseach does not?

Sinn Féin will support a European Union that acts in the interests of citizens, that respects the independence of states, that is democratised and accountable and that fosters economic and social justice. We oppose a European Union that aspires to be an economic and political superpower. We oppose further EU centralisation and control at the heart of the Union. The European Union needs to start acting in the interests of its citizens. If the Government does not raise the issues at the heart of this process, they will not be articulated. The economic crisis and the unemployment crisis, in particular, demonstrate the real crisis now facing the European Union. We need to act firmly and decisively to address this issue. The policy of austerity needs to be abandoned once and for ever in favour of a real shift towards growth and jobs. That truly would be an appropriate way to mark Europe day.

Tomorrow there will be a celebration of peace and unity in Europe. On 9 May 1950 the then French foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, made the first move towards the creation of the European Union. This happened only five years after the Second World War, when trust between the countries involved was extremely low and they were trying to heal their wounds and rebuild their war damaged economies and infrastructure. The countries made that effort then. They wanted to include in the agreement that they had almost destroyed themselves and had fought one of the most brutal wars with modern weaponry that the world had ever seen.

It also included the area of reconciliation and co-operation, a radical and brave move and hard to imagine only five years after the conflict.

Some 63 years on, it is hard to imagine how far Europe has come since the dark days of the Second World War. However, the European Union is now facing its biggest crisis since its creation which is having a negative effect on individuals and their families right across Europe. It has led to food queues in Greece, brought hundreds of thousands of Portuguese out onto the streets to protest, while unemployment in Spain now stands at 27.2%. Emigration levels in Ireland are comparable to when an Gorta Mór was killing the Irish people and driving others abroad in search of a new life for themselves and their families.

There is a growing awareness that cutting expenditure and increasing taxes will not get the European Union out of this disastrous financial situation. What is needed is a focus on job creation, growth and protecting the most vulnerable in our societies. Unilateral austerity will continue to drive the European Union into a destabilising abyss from which it might never recover.

The European Union is made up of 27 member states, has 23 official languages and a population of over 503 million. There is no predesigned or linear path that it has to follow as it grows and develops. Over 503 million people have made the European Union their home. What type of home will it become? The European Union does not have to be dominated by the policies of austerity, policies which have utterly failed people and communities right across Europe. We do not have to create a two-tiered European Union that punishes the peripheral countries, or southern and Mediterranean states, with crippling cuts and restrictive macroeconomic programmes.

As the European Union faces into the heart of this crisis, what we need is greater solidarity between EU citizens, not the strong versus the weak model being promoted. We know the political instability caused by the current economic approach and the deterioration of socioeconomic standards are also fuelling racism, sectarianism, reduced democratic accountability and an increase in support for far-right parties. The peoples of Europe have stood against and fought fascism on many occasions since its emergence in Italy under Mussolini, in Germany under Hitler, in Spain under Franco, in Romania, Croatia and Portugal. The list goes on.

And the communists.

Yes, the Blueshirts also, I suppose. We have barely banished this disgusting ideology to the 20th century, but it has not been fully defeated. Its re-emergence in some member states cannot be ignored. We have to do everything in our power to stop it in its tracks, including revising the economic system that is destroying families right across Europe.

It might be ignored by many, but freedom, democracy, workers' rights, as well as human rights and rights for minorities and those with disabilities, cannot be ignored any longer. Ordinary citizens fought long and hard for them and they need to be defended every day. As Europe Day approaches, EU leaders need to rethink their policies and really examine how socioeconomically destructive they are. The European Union has 26 million people, including 5.7 million youth, out of work, and 115 million at risk of poverty. Things obviously are not working. As we face into the celebration of Europe Day, there are many across Europe not celebrating. We are at a crossroads and it is time to look again at our direction. Austerity is not working. Other Members mentioned the recent remarks of the first citizen of this state on austerity. We need to listen and learn from them in order that we can change direction to have a more inclusive Europe and a European Union that will be ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members. Right now, it is failing its weakest and most vulnerable members with disastrous consequences.

I am sharing time with Deputies Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Shane Ross.

If we look back at the last two big recessions in the 1980s and the 1950s, they displayed the same characteristics as the current one, with large-scale emigration, widespread unemployment, higher levels of taxation and cutbacks in services. Both recessions passed, as this one will. On this occasion we know that our recovery is highly dependent on the European Union and what form that Union will ultimately take. For me, it is essential that the Union is democratic and have equality and solidarity at its heart. I welcome the speech to the European Parliament made by the President, Michael D. Higgins. What is regrettable is that this is not the mainstream discourse among European leaders. The President referred to the influential German sociologist and social philosopher Jürgen Habermas. In April Mr. Habermas delivered a lecture at Leuven University entitled, Democracy, Solidarity and the European Crisis. At the end of his thought-provoking lecture he stated:

If one wants to preserve the monetary union, it is no longer enough, given the structural imbalances between the national economies, to provide loans to over-indebted states so that each should improve its competitiveness by its own efforts. What is required is solidarity instead, a co-operative effort from a shared political perspective to promote growth and competitiveness in the eurozone as a whole.

Such an effort would require Germany and several other countries to accept short and medium-term negative redistribution effects in its own longer term self-interest — a classic example of solidarity, at least on the conceptual analysis I have presented.

The concluding comments in his wide-ranging paper were:

The leadership role that falls to Germany today for demographic and economic reasons is not only awakening historical ghosts all around us but also tempts us to choose a unilateral national course, or even to succumb to power fantasies of a “German Europe” instead of a “Germany in Europe”. Germany not only has an interest in a policy of solidarity; I would propose that it has even a corresponding normative obligation.

If we are to look to the future of Europe, it is helpful to look at the conditions that allowed post-war co-operation, part of which required debt resolution. UCD professor of social policy, Mr. Tony Fahey, delivered a paper to the Social Justice Ireland conference in 2012 on the future of the European social model. In it he stated:

There were many reasons why the economic aftermath of the Second World War became so positive within such a short period. By 1945, government debt in Britain and France approached 250% of GDP. Germany’s debts outstanding from the 1920s and 1930s devolved largely onto the new West German Government - they have been estimated at 300% of Germany’s GDP in 1938.

In France, a burst of inflation peaking at 74% post war reduced government debt to just 40% of GDP by 1950. Britain, keen to protect the status of sterling as a reserve currency, struggled to avoid either direct default or indirect default through high inflation. As a result, its national debt declined much more slowly than that of other European states.

The exceptional case was that of West Germany. Uniquely in Western Europe in this period, it obtained the benefit of generous debt forgiveness, largely brought about through the intervention of the United States. Through the London Debt Agreement of 1953, it secured a write-off of over half of its foreign debt and easy repayment terms of the balance.

We are constantly told of the German memory of hyperinflation and there is no doubt that it occurred following the First World War. However, what occurred in the Marshall Plan was an extraordinary act of solidarity in much more difficult circumstances than those of today. It was an act that laid the path not just to the construction of the European Union, but it also enabled the reunification of Germany. If we are to have a strong Europe, if small countries are to pool more of their sovereignty, we need this to be a European Union of equal member states.

I am concerned that we are moving blindly forwards without seriously considering the implications of having Europe dominated by a handful of very powerful states. We are not setting the ground rules. There are no common values. We are making decisions with short-term interests in mind only. I echo the call for the Government to set out its vision of the kind of Europe we want to see and to which we want to aspire.

This morning at Arbour Hill we commemorated those who had given their lives in 1916 in the cause of Irish independence. If we decide to share more of our sovereignty, we must decide collectively to do this with full knowledge of both the positive and negative consequences.

The Taoiseach pointed out that four out of five people had voted to join the European Economic Community. I was one year old at the time and obviously did not have a vote, but if I had been old enough to vote at the time, I would have voted to join the European Economic Community. The concept of independent - it is important to remember that word - nations working together for the benefit of all had to be good. How could one have argued against it? However, it did not stay like that and the problem is that we are now heading towards a European super state, something with which I believe the people do not agree. If we were to have a proper debate on the end game in terms of where we are going in Europe, I believe people in Ireland would not be too fond of it. Four out of five people may well have voted in favour of joining the European Economic Community, but in recent years it has not been quite that easy to have referendums passed. There is a problem from a democratic point of view with the way many referendums, including those on the Nice and Lisbon treaties, have been run. If the people proposing that we vote in favour do not get their way, those who vote against are rather insultingly told that they do so because they do not understand what is involved. Is it possible that those who voted "Yes" in these referendums did not understand? People involved in the "No" campaigns argued constantly that we were heading for a European super state, but they were told it was propaganda. People like Giscard d'Estaing were quoted and it was thrown back at the "No" side that that would not happen. I thought it was propaganda at the time and, unfortunately, that has been proved correct. The "No" campaigners were right. We are heading straight towards a super state in which we will have virtually no power.

Schuman was quoted and the word "solidarity" was mentioned. The Tánaiste has said we have benefited from solidarity. Where was the solidarity, however, when we had the guts of €70 billion worth of debt rammed down our throats? Where is the solidarity in Europe when there is virtually no unemployment in Germany and we have massive unemployment here? The German state is benefiting massively from the eurozone. However, we are not benefiting from it because when interest rates do not suit us but do suit Germany, it gets its way. We have lost the levers of control in our own country.

We will be told by people in the farming community, particularly the Irish Farmers' Association, that we have benefited through the Common Agricultural Policy. In terms of what the policy has achieved, it is turning farmers into prostitutes. They are now dependent on that income and cannot find another way. The Tánaiste has said there is a massive financial benefit under the CAP. This time around we are looking at a figure of just over €1 billion. Every year - the figures are available - we lose €1 billion because of the loss of our fishing rights. Add the €2 billion extra in value we could achieve in processing and we lose €3 billion. When this figure is put against what we gain under the CAP, it does not seem that attractive.

At a showcase on the reason the European Union is so wonderful and why we would all be living in caves if we had not joined it, organised by Leviathan and attended by the Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, I heard that we would not have women's rights if we were not in the European Community, the European Union or whatever it is called nowadays. The reality is we would have had women's rights if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two main political parties in this country, had had some backbone and stood up for women and not waited for someone else to do so.

This week we saw a new law proposed by the European Commission under which it will be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade vegetable seeds that have not been tested, approved and accepted. That someone would be forced to do this is over the top.

Tomorrow morning in Listowel turf cutters will be dragged before the court for trying to keep their homes warm. The propaganda machine is travelling around the country to make it sound all right. I attended one of the debates. It cost €9,250 to hold the meeting in Athlone. I also spoke on local radio stations. People had not been told about it and, therefore, no money was spent on advertising.

The Deputy must conclude.

I looked at the people sitting at the top table. One person was from Athlone and, therefore, no expenses were incurred. One person was from Clara and, therefore, minimal expenses were incurred. Another was from Longford and, therefore, minimal expenses were incurred. I presume the Minister of State did not incur expenses. I understand the idea was to give us more of the propaganda about the European Union, but on what was the money spent? Are debates in empty halls around the country the only ones we will have on this subject?

In the past four months Ireland has had a great opportunity to put Irish interests first in Europe. I am not a great subscriber to the polite protocol that when we assume the Presidency, we should always sacrifice our own interests in favour of the greater European interests. We are in a situation where we need to use this opportunity and there was nothing in the contributions from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to suggest they had put Ireland first. The problem with the Irish Presidency - it is permeating throughout Europe - as acknowledged by Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and which is not shouted about very loudly, is that, first, we have been fire fighting. We have no vision of where we are going. Second, much more importantly, is the excuses offered, whether quietly or loudly, that nothing can happen until after the German elections are held in the autumn. That is a terrible reflection on where the European Union stand. The hidden message - it is not well hidden - is that Angela Merkel is the most powerful figure in Europe and we have to defer to her. We cannot reflate; we cannot do anything about austerity; we cannot move in any direction until she wins her election in October when, suddenly and miraculously, she will reflate the German economy, loosen the purse strings in Europe, loosen her grip on other economies and allow us a little more freedom to do what is in the interests of the economy. There is no evidence, however, that hidden in the Christian Democratic Party is some sort of liberal who will allow the purse strings to be relaxed. I suggest to the Tánaiste that the time to confront the great German hegemony in Europe is now when he is in a position to do it, but that is not happening. The deference shown to Germany and the German economy is at the heart of the problems of Europe, but it is not acknowledged.

The contributions of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were big on aspirations, laying foundations and the achievements for which they were waiting, but they were very light on detail. I am a little weary of hearing how we are working towards separating sovereign and banking debt.

That, as everybody in the House knows, has proved to be a great disappointment because Germany will not allow it to happen. There is no guarantee it will allow it to happen in October either, whoever wins the election.
There has been no discussion on the part of the Government of the magnificent ideas put forward by the President of Ireland last week and the previous week in this debate. Is it embarrassed by the fact that he has plunged Ireland into a debate about European institutions, a debate long overdue? What are the Taoiseach's and the Tánaiste's views on the fact that the President of Ireland took to the European Community the arguments made about the inadequacy of democratic accountability in the European Union of which we are a member? Is it an embarrassment to the Government that he spoke so eloquently about the ECB and named it or about the fact that it was running what he called an unacceptable "hegemonic model"? Are they embarrassed by the fact that he criticised the leaders of Europe, not by name, but by saying they needed a radical rethink of their economic policies? Are they embarrassed by the fact that he also said it was extraordinary how Ireland had put up with the policies of austerity - he did not mention "austerity" but cutbacks and sacrifices - and that it had shown such endurance? He described this - in its most polite terms - as pragmatic, by which he meant we had deferred again to the greater powers in Europe.
That is the debate we should be having here today, not engaging in the self-congratulatory stuff we have been hearing from Government spokespersons about how well we are doing in terms of worthy aspirations such as solidarity and the nondescript non-achievements listed today. We should do ourselves proud by welcoming what the President had to say. We should say we wish to debate what he called "fiscal technocracy" and that we are willing to criticise the leaders and institutions in Europe on being unaccountable. We must say we are willing not to be craven in the face of the greater economic powers which are pulling the strings.

I am tempted to respond to the points made by various Deputies, but I have points of my own that I wish to make.

I am a little bemused by Deputy Shane Ross's sudden shift in political philosophy. I recall a time when he and his colleagues in the well known Sunday publication for which he writes repeatedly called for greater fiscal restraint and the previous Government to reduce excessive public spending. I remember when the Deputy was a Senator when he called repeatedly for a reduction in waste in public expenditure and the size of government, etc.

Is the Minister of State advocating waste?

No. The Deputy wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to be populist and get headlines by condemning all efforts made by the Government to cut and reduce public spending, but at the same time he wants to claim that he is favour of fiscal rectitude. That does not make sense and is incoherent.

Is the Minister of State in favour of waste?

I suppose this is not the Deputy's first time to do so.

The Minister of State to continue, without interruption.

I accept that there is a genuine crisis of confidence in the European Union. This is an inevitable consequence of the financial, economic, banking and debt crisis we have faced in recent years. However, I disagree with Deputy Shane Ross on the current position. Some very difficult decisions have been taken, but perhaps they are not ones we all like. There are more steps to be taken and, to use a much overused metaphor, we must grasp nettles that have not yet been fully grasped. There is still much work to be done, but I do not accept that the challenges have not been faced up to. The crisis facing Europe is the biggest economic crisis since the 1920s, but it is not unique to Europe and is shared in other parts of the world. It is being tackled and Europe is facing up to it.

A number of serious questions face the Government, other governments in Europe, all public representatives and citizens concerning the diminishing levels of public confidence in the European Union and European Institutions. These pose serious challenges for the Government. The first place where we should discuss and debate these issues is in the Dáil Chamber. Yesterday I was pleased to have the opportunity to appear before the Joint Committee on European Affairs which is chaired by Deputy Dominic Hannigan and at which we had an interesting and constructive debate. It is one thing to sit on the other side of the Chamber and constantly condemn and be negative about everything and ignore the responsibility we all have to come up with solutions, all for the sake of opposition. The search for solutions was the spirit in which we entered the debate at the committee. We had a genuine discussion and some interesting proposals and ideas were advanced by members of different political parties.

Last month a survey conducted in six of the largest member states found a huge drop in the level of trust in the European Union as an institution. Some 69% of people in the United Kingdom, for example, said they tended not to trust the Union. Perhaps that is no surprise, given the history of popular and growing Euro-scepticism in that country. It is useful to note that the trend is replicated elsewhere. The percentage of Spanish people who now say they tend not to trust the European Union has risen, from 23% in 2007 to 72% in 2012, a massive jump. Despite some of the comments made from the other side of the Chamber which seem almost xenophobic and anti-Germanic, some 59% of Germans expressed the same view, up from a figure of 36%. Therefore, there is a lack of trust in the institutions, whether one comes from the perspective of so-called creditor countries or debtor countries, large or small countries. This is an issue we must tackle. There is no doubt that the crisis of confidence extends to all other member states. It is not a problem to be ignored and cannot be swept under the carpet. Perhaps we can agree on this.

Addressing citizens' concerns must be the top priority for the European Union. We may have different views about how this can be achieved, but we must tackle the issue. Many argue that the economic crisis lies at the heart of negative perceptions of the European Union. There is a lot of truth in this. People are suffering; these are difficult times and people are looking for somebody to provide hope and solutions. They are also looking for somebody or something to blame and they see the European Union as part of the problem.

Under the Irish Presidency, the European Union is working at full stretch to try to provide solutions. Our theme is "Stability, Growth and Job Creation" and we are working intensively to try to deliver on that agenda. It is not as simple as Deputy Shane Ross would like to suggest; it is hugely complex. We have a massive unemployment crisis and it will take significant work to get the European economy back on track.

I predict that confidence levels in the European Union will increase again as our economic fortunes improve. I do not doubt that will happen as we provide opportunities and create an environment in the European economy in which jobs can be created and growth can occur. It is important to say, however, that that is not enough. It is not simply a question of using growth and prosperity to buy confidence in European institutions. While it is true that increased confidence will be an inevitable side effect of such improvements, to emphasise this is to miss the point somewhat. We cannot be complacent. We have a responsibility to address the disconnect for our citizens, which is a genuine challenge for the European Union. We need a Union that responds to the concerns of citizens. We need to find ways of communicating more effectively with citizens about the Union and how it functions. Deputy Micheál Martin alluded to some of this earlier in this debate. As he suggested, some of the freedoms and rights we enjoy as European citizens such as freedom of movement and freedom of capital are coming under threat, largely or partly because of the economic crisis. In the past 20 years - if not the past 40 years - we have begun to take for granted some of the freedoms European citizens have enjoyed. We need to deal with and tackle the fact that they are coming under threat. If citizens hold the European Union partially responsible for the economic crisis, we have to ensure they also understand the solutions being provided at EU level to try to help us to emerge from the crisis.

There has been a great deal of talk about the European Union's democratic deficit. My firm view is that the institutions are rooted in democracy. They may not function as effectively or as smoothly as they might. I think the notion that the Union is being run by an unelected and unaccountable elite or bureaucracy is actually not true. The Council consists of the leaders of directly elected national governments. We were elected to the Dáil after campaigning on EU issues, as well as national issues. Many issues fall into both categories. These days, most issues are interconnected - they are both national and European in nature. The members of the Commission are appointed by the same democratically elected national governments. Members of the European Parliament are directly elected by Europe's voters. Three key institutions constitute the cornerstone of the European project. The Commission is rooted in the democratic legitimacy of this Chamber. The Council comprises representatives of all national governments and the European Parliament is directly elected. Those who talk about a democratic deficit should not forget that all three institutions are rooted in democracy, which is all about checks and balances. Before European legislation becomes law, it passes through demanding tests at Council and Parliament level that are arguably similar to the tests at national level. That has been enhanced since the Lisbon treaty was agreed. The European Parliament now has a much enhanced role through the process of co-decision. As a result, its Members are as important and influential as Ministers in the Council.

Of course, the evolution of the European Union raises questions of legitimacy. As we pool more powers and touch on more areas of policy and decision-making, it is inevitable that the powers of national governments and the roles of national parliaments are affected. Member states have chosen to allow more decisions to be made at European level and Irish citizens have had many opportunities to vote in referendums. Ireland is the only member state that held a referendum on the stability treaty, on which we voted just under one year ago. Successive treaty reforms in many areas have boosted the role of national parliaments in the Union's legislative process, but that is not clear to voters. It is not always apparent. I suppose we do not always promulgate the fact that the Oireachtas now has a much more weighty role in decision-making, but, as legislators, we have not explained this to voters. There is an onus on us to do so. Rather than coming here and railing against the European Union, perhaps Deputies should take a little more responsibility for explaining to citizens how it works and engaging with voters on the roles and powers of the Oireachtas in ensuring the Union adheres to the principle of subsidiarity, etc.

As a result of the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament is now more powerful than ever. It has new law-making powers. It has all the responsibility involved in the process of co-decision with the Council on the vast bulk of EU legislation. Almost all policy issues are now decided through co-decision. The Parliament has to consent to the EU budget. A greater role is also foreseen for the Parliament in selecting the next President of the Commission. This is an exciting opportunity. Political parties at all points on the political spectrum will have an opportunity to propose candidates, to run them on the basis of certain electoral platforms, to campaign on all aspects of EU policy and put them before the electorate. What could be more democratic than this? As public representatives, we have to get behind the European electoral process by advocating, campaigning and supporting it. We know that the turnout in European Parliament elections has been abysmal in many countries in recent times and this presents an opportunity for enhancement. We need to get our message out before the 2014 elections.

I would like to refer briefly to an important issue in which both the European Parliament and national parliaments have a role. I know some Deputies in this House are not happy about the increasing move towards greater economic and monetary union. Personally, I support it strongly because it is important to underpin our currency and economic recovery. We have to face up to the questions of democratic legitimacy that arise with this move. We are putting new and more integrated systems of economic governance in place. We know that what happens in Germany and France affects us. We also know that what happens here affects Finland, Cyprus and every other member state that is part of the currency union. We know that member states are more interdependent than ever before. Therefore, we need to have better oversight of what is happening in other parliaments and governments as decisions are made in each member state, as it is apparent we are deepening integration. It is important to emphasise, however, that this is not an end in itself. We are doing it in order to underpin economic growth. I hope it will also serve to advance our key social priorities. These two elements should go hand in hand.

The significant moves made in the direction of greater economic co-ordination require stronger democratic underpinning and demand a substantial reinforcement of the role of national parliaments at all stages of the European semester process, including a much stronger engagement with the European Parliament. I know that a number of measures have been taken. I am also aware that the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, Deputy Dominic Hannigan, has been involved in new initiatives to work to co-ordinate the responses of national parliaments and the European Parliament to some of these developments and changes. That is really exciting and I am very pleased about it. I have worked closely with Commissioner Šefovi who is responsible for institutional affairs. We have written to the Speakers of all parliaments across the European Union to call on parliaments to give particular attention to and place a focus on debates, country-specific recommendations which will be adopted at the June European summit. This gives national parliaments an opportunity to hold governments to account, scrutinise proposals coming from the European Commission and ensure they put their stamp on them by making a full and meaningful input into them as part of the European semester process and all of the economic governance measures that go with it.

There is much more I would like to say. This is a really important debate. I thank Members. We may not agree on many things - in some cases, we disagree on most things - but I appreciate that everybody present has genuine concerns and we have to try to work together to address them. I am conscious that we have a lot of work to do. This is an exciting time because genuine reform is possible at EU level. I hope we can work together in this Parliament to achieve this, as we will do with other parliaments right across the European Union.

It is clear from all speakers in this debate that the European Union, as we know it today, is in a state of flux. Crisis after crisis, summit after summit, the Union has found itself asking the same question: where do we go from here? That question has yet to be answered by those who are currently driving the European project. In fact, the only constant since the economic and financial crisis in Europe began five years ago is the absolute lack of leadership being shown by the European political elite. This is a great shame as the potential of unlocking the energy and talent of 27 countries, together with more than 500 million people, has been lost over the past five years.

It is regrettable that an entire generation of young Europeans have seen nothing other than crises. I believe this is leading to a disinterest and lack of belief in the European project which so many people, including those in the Minister of State's party and in mine, put so much time and effort into, with a view to building around that vision set by some of the great people of the past. Sadly, the response of the current crop of leaders across Europe has effectively been found wanting and, I believe, has created a level of disinterest and disconnect that has led to this re-emergence of nationalism, which is damaging to the long-term vision.

I know the efforts the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, has been making in her role. While I do not want to put words in her mouth, I can imagine it has been difficult to try to force certain parties and certain leaders in Europe to really understand the disenchantment that has been inculcated in society and among a younger generation who did not know Europe in the past. That generation did not know from where it had come from and did not understand the genesis of the peace process that brought us to accept that countries had to work together. In addition, they have not really understood the benefits because they did not know what was there previously. For that reason, a huge amount of work will have to be done to recapture this generation.

Watching the European response to the economic developments we have witnessed since 2008 has been at best disjointed and at times farcical. The past carry-on of a senior player from France was outrageous and certainly degenerated into farce on many occasions, which is what has led to much of the cynicism. The ink on various statements from the conclusions of European Council summits would be dry only seconds before they became inconsequential and were overtaken by what was happening in the markets. Thankfully, we have moved away from the continual crisis model of management, thanks more to actions in Frankfurt than in Brussels.

For Europe, though, many deep problems remain. The EU faces a number of exceptional difficulties at this time. Despite the current period of relative stability, we have still not seen the end of the eurozone crisis. Ten out of 17 eurozone countries experienced stagnated or declining economic activity last year. Indications are that economic activity will decrease further this year as the recession spreads to the eurozone core and deepens further, as it clearly will do. The monetary response has been more forthcoming since the appointment of Mr. Mario Draghi as President of the ECB, which is to be welcomed. I have to say that the previous administration at the helm of the ECB did more to damage the credibility of the efforts of some of the Governments by responding in a way that sought to protect only one country. It tried to take its role in regard to inflation across the zone, which obviously impacted Germany more than anywhere else, as being the only criteria by which it would move, which was damaging. Mr. Draghi has taken a much more enlightened approach and the markets and leaders across Europe certainly recognise that.

The fundamental structures and legal basis of a true economic and monetary union remain unfinished, leaving much uncertainty about the future of the euro project. A more complete economic and monetary union is necessary to ensure the mistakes of the past can never happen again. Last June, the European Council concluded that a vital element of European recovery would be the separation of sovereign debt and banking debt. This statement was welcomed then and is still to be welcomed today. However, the actions arising from this statement have yet to be carried out.

The Minister of State referred to the European affairs committee, which has done sterling work under its chairman, Deputy Hannigan. Last week, the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, came before that committee to talk about the unfinished business of the banking union and the various different strands within it which need to be completed. While there is a considerable amount of work to be done, there would appear to be a tardy pace with regard to moving towards ultimate banking union. I accept it takes time to get everyone on board for the various different aspects. However, it sends a bad signal to citizens across Europe who are suffering and in a dreadful situation.

One need only look at the impact here. That June statement contained commitments that the Irish debt position would be looked at favourably. I accept the position in June related more particularly to the recapitalisation of the Spanish banks, which, ultimately, did not take place, but there was an expectation in this country that the investment in the legacy banks would be addressed. While that was not specifically set out, the expectation was that the ESM would take a stake in the two pillar banks in lieu of the €30 billion that had been invested by the Irish State and taxpayer, and that this would go towards reducing or stock of national debt. This would then make it more possible for the State to get back into the markets and borrow for project finance for various infrastructural projects, which would act as a stimulus to job creation. We are now led to believe this might happen, might not happen or could happen, or that it has yet to be fully realised how it will impact. We are hearing from certain people within Europe that they did a deal with us on the promissory note and on the interest rates, although this had more to do with the negotiations on Portugal at the time, and, therefore, as we got a lot, we may not get any more. However, we have seen nothing by way of debt write-down. This is the only way we would see some recompense for the sacrifices we have made. In the other instances, all we have done is kicked the repayments further down the road. It is helpful from a cash flow perspective but not in dealing with our overall debt position.

It is Europe Day and we are trying to look at this in a critical way while at the same time recognising the importance of Europe. However, the people who are affected by this are those who are unemployed. They would benefit from that kind of a cash injection in recompense for what the State had invested by the ESM taking a stake, and I believe this would show good faith by European leaders towards Ireland and would assist towards getting people back to work. It cannot be all just about fiscal rectitude, which of course is a central tenet and what banking union speaks to. However, there has to be a quid pro quo. We have to try to get people back into work in parallel with the recalibration of our fiscal position.

The goal of a banking union is proceeding slower than one might have hoped for and has resulted in further uncertainty in the European banking sector. In an integrated banking system where free movement of capital across borders can create instability in the market, it is vital that supervision of our banks is carried out on a European-wide basis. EU banking regulation is an important piece of the jigsaw in repairing Europe's broken financial system. A functioning banking system with proper regulation and wind-down mechanisms would be a key step in breaking the link between sovereign debt and banking debt. Europe needs a credible, competitive banking system that has the capacity to lend to its small and medium size businesses. This is vital for sustainable growth in employment into the future.

With regard to banking regulation, Mr. Michael Somers, the former head of the NTMA, made reference to an issue I had been made aware of through my role on the finance committee, namely, some financial institutions and international banks are finding it very difficult to operate in Ireland now because of the very strict regime of financial regulation that has been implemented. I find it hard to believe that a number of institutions like Goldman Sachs would have handed back their banking licences, not for domestic activity but for internationally traded services where their customers are largely outside of Ireland. They are not able to operate in our financial services centre but are moving to places like Frankfurt and London. There seems to be a lack of uniformity in the implementation of the financial regulatory regime that is being put in place.

That is something I am disturbed about because if we are to have commonality of regulation, the expectation is that there would be uniformity with regard to the implementation of those regulations. However, this does not seem to be happening and is impacting negatively on our capacity to continue to retain these financial institutions and increase the number of people working in them. Sadly, we are seeing a reduction in employment in this area. This is about internationally traded financial services. It is not about the major issue we had, namely, our domestic banks which lent recklessly. The institutions we are talking about here had nothing to do with that so that is something we need to be very careful about because it is impacting on unemployment.

The scourge of high unemployment has returned to many EU member states. I need not remind Members that in April 2013, EUROSTAT estimated that over 26.5 million men and women were unemployed in the EU. They are 26.5 million men and women for whom the Union has failed dreadfully. The experimental policies of the past four years emanating from Frankfurt and Brussels have in many instances made the crisis deeper and, some would suggest, much more prolonged and the end is not yet in sight. Worse still are statistics relating specifically to youth unemployment. One in every two people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Spain and Greece who are not in education are unemployed. That is a startling figure. The youth unemployment rate in the EU is higher than 23% and is creating a lost generation in many states. I spoke about this at the beginning of my contribution.

These are the people who really have lost faith in Europe. It is alright for those of us who are a bit older and have the capacity and knowledge of history to see the benefits the European project has brought. We can put the current crisis in some context. Young people cannot put that into context because all they knew was a thriving European project with little recognition or knowledge of the war-torn landscape from which the EU emanated. It is not acceptable and has given rise to political extremism in the most affected countries. The rise of the far Right in many European countries is a chilling reminder of why this Union was created back in 1951 after the devastation of the Second World War. Increasingly, people who have lost all hope in moderate politics turn to the extremes to give them answers that moderate politics supposedly cannot. This can and must be challenged by democrats across Europe, both Left and Right. We must provide the answer. Europe must provide the answer to its citizens who cry out for work. We need to remember the values and principles of the foundation of this great project, which has secured peace and prosperity for more than half a century in a Continent which knew nothing but internal wars.

The focus needs to be on creating new jobs in growing sectors of the economy where we hold the competitive advantage. Europe needs to focus on its strengths in the pursuit of increased employment. Creating high quality products that consumers want is central to this. Increased investment in research and development in our university sector is also key. This investment in areas which have the potential to create thousands of new jobs is vital for Europe's future success. Investment in building an integrated European energy grid, better transport connections and more business-friendly regulations across the Union would serve as an impetus to boost growth and employment in the coming years. The EU must become a Union of enterprise, strong social protection and sustainable prosperity in order to guarantee a better future for all its citizens.

Europe needs a new vision and a new direction which delivers for all its citizens - north and south, east and west, peripheral and core. The equality of treatment between member states and the solidarity between governments needs to be restored to the European project. Indeed, the use of the Community method of decision making where the Commission, reflecting the Union's interests and no singular government interest, needs to be the basis on which we move forward as a single bloc. Sadly, during the crisis, we have seen the work of the Commission much maligned and we have moved back to just one or two countries taking the lead. Over the past five years, we have seen an increasing use of intergovernmental deals, which leaves many out in the cold and creates a fracture amongst member states.

As a small nation which has benefited greatly from EU membership but which also has a proud record of contributing to the building of the Union, Ireland must strive to ensure that the basic values of the EU are protected and promoted. With an ever increasing Union expanding to 28 members in July with the accession of Croatia, about which we are all very excited - both the Minister of State and I have a keen interest in Croatia joining as it will add considerably in terms of the skillset it will bring - we need to find new ways to accommodate all voices and not just those with the largest populations or biggest GDP. Europe also needs to listen to its citizens more and work to enhance their livelihoods.

The establishment of a European Union was a brave and bold move taken by men and women of vision and belief in the future. Europe needs that vision again today. Brave and bold actions are once again required to consolidate and advance the Continent's achievements of the past 50 years. United in diversity, Europe can offer the solutions required to the challenges we face today.

I call Deputy Hannigan. I apologise as I was not notified until now that he was to be included in the last slot.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I wish to update the House regarding the work of the Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs. I chair this committee which has a very busy workload, particularly in light of the fact that we hold the Presidency at the moment. First, I will discuss the work we are doing on the debate on the future of Europe. I also want to speak about ways in which we can enhance the role of national parliaments in respect of EU policy. I believe we need to bring parliaments closer to decision making in the EU, which would result in a more democratic Europe.

Our committee's remit is to consider strategic matters relating to Ireland's membership of the EU. Since February, we have been holding a debate on the future of Europe. The future of Europe means different things to different people. For some, it means seeking greater economic, political and fiscal union but to others, it is about reducing links in Europe and a return to a purely economic Community. That debate is ongoing in several countries, including the UK.

The committee felt that we need to take stock of where we are and where people think we should go. It is not the first time we have undertaken a piece of work like this. During the fiscal compact treaty debate last year, we held a debate within the committee on that matter and engaged with politicians, leaders of civil society, academics and diplomats across Europe to get their views on how this fiscal compact would impact on Ireland. These committee meetings were broadcast on UPC and allowed people to watch proceedings and become engaged. At the end of the proceedings, we published a report that included copies of all the submissions we received from members of the public as well as the attendees at the committee meetings. It gave a detailed analysis of the main arguments for and against the treaty. We published that a year ago in advance of the referendum at the end of May. It showed us that there is an appetite among Irish people for analysis of Europe and commentary on Ireland's role within Europe. We all know that Ireland's role is changing, particularly in light of the fluid nature of European affairs, so we consider it important to carry out an examination with a focus on the future of Europe.

The committee is focusing on following some key areas in the debate. We are looking at financial integration, economic and monetary union, democratic legitimacy and accountability and political integration. We are looking at something that is of great importance to Ireland, namely, the UK's involvement with the EU and how its changing policies may affect our membership. Since we began these hearings in February, we have received a number of submissions from experts across the country. We have heard from people like Nat O'Connor; the academics Seamus Coffey, Brigid Laffan and Gavin Barrett; and economists like Alan Ahearne. We have also heard from politicians such as Emer Costello, Paul Murphy and Gay Mitchell. Last week, we had the opportunity to hear from the Governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, regarding his views on economic and monetary union. These debates continue. David Lidington, the UK Minister of State for Europe, will address the committee tomorrow and we are looking forward to hearing his views on the UK's role in Europe.

I know that members of the committee on the Independent and Fianna Fáil benches are here tonight and attend the meetings on a regular basis but these meetings are open to any Member of the House. If somebody feels they want to come in and question the Governor of the Central Bank regarding the ECB or the Central Bank, they can do so. Every Member of this House will be afforded the opportunity to ask any witness any question they want so I am extending an invitation to our committee hearings to any Member of this House with an interest in Ireland's involvement in Europe.

The committee hopes to publish a response to all of these submissions during the summer. We will then work on a strategy on how to extend this debate beyond Leinster House in order that more citizens can become involved.

The committee is also engaged in a series of multilateral meetings with other European national parliaments in order to assess how the role of national parliaments in the new economic governance structure can be strengthened-----

On a point of order, it is welcome that one would be invited to the committee and I would love to have attended the recent meeting. However, another pressing European issue was being discussed at the same time. There was a debate on the CAP in one room and a debate on the future of Europe in the other at the same time.

The Deputy will know that we are all very busy. We would love to divide ourselves in three to attend every meeting, but that is not possible. A schedule of meetings is published every week and I invite the Deputy to attend ours, if he wishes. He is also free to suggest the names of guests whom the committee could invite to attend meetings.

We try to ensure meetings are as convenient as possible.

I refer to the issue of the European semester raised by the Minister of State. The committee is presented with a unique challenge about how national parliaments deal with the European semester which will force us to examine their role in the context of greater economic interdependence in the European Union. The fiscal stability treaty was approved by referendum last year and came into force soon afterwards. This presents certain challenges for national parliaments.

Irish parliamentarians and parliamentarians across Europe are not clear on their ongoing role with regard to the European semester. Last November a group of us had an initial meeting in Denmark on the issue. We wrote to President van Rompuy asking him for his views on the involvement of national parliaments in the semester process. He replied that the onus was on national parliaments to come up with ideas. We have had further debate on these issues, including meetings in Dublin and Denmark. The Irish parliamentarians presented a paper at the meeting in Denmark outlining the key issues to ensure the involvement of national parliamentarians in the process.

Many Members are still not aware of the future impact of the European semester on the budgetary process here It is not just that we are in a bailout programme; even countries not in a bailout programme will have their budgets subject to scrutiny at European level. Parliamentarians are aware that the timing of the budget will change from December to October, but they are not aware of the oversight process that will come into play with the six-pack and the two-pack in place. It is a complete change to the budgetary process and national parliamentarians need to be aware of it. We need to ensure we retain democratic accountability in order that national budgets will continue to be set by national parliamentarians. We must not give away too much power to the European institutions.

The committee will continue to work on this issue in the coming weeks and months. However, it will also examine other issues. Next month Senator Kathryn Reilly will be publishing a report on youth unemployment. This follows on from a number of committee meetings on the topic. The committee is also holding a series of bilateral meetings with Members of other European national parliaments with the aim of explaining to them the particular circumstances of the Irish economic situation, including the bank guarantee and the bank bailout. This is an important exercise in sharing awareness which will allow the committee the opportunity to dispel many myths among our European partners. In recent months it has met parliamentarians from Germany, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and elsewhere and these meetings will continue in the coming weeks and months.

I wish to inform the House about the forthcoming conference to be held at Dublin Castle next month, to be attended by 300 parliamentarians from the EU committees of all member states. The COSAC conference will be held over two days at the end of June and will be the final conference of the Irish Presidency. As Chair of COSAC, I am responsible for compiling the agenda for the conference and the schedule of events is being finalised. I am pleased to announce that the President will attend, as will the Taoiseach and the Ceann Comhairle. The future of Europe will be discussed at one session which will be attended by the former President of the European Commission, Mr. Jacques Delors, as well as Commissioner Viviane Reding. Another session will discuss how Europe needs to take account of the needs and rights of younger citizens. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, will attend this session, as well as speakers from the Roma community, the LGBT community and the disability community.

We will host a session on development aid at which the speakers will include the international philanthropist Mo Ibrahim from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Barry Andrews, formerly of this parish and now chief executive of GOAL. They will speak about the impact of development aid on the Third World.

A session on enlargement will be addressed by experts, including our own Erwan Fouéré. Ireland has been a member of the European Union for 40 years, a period of tremendous economic growth, social change and also peace in the country. We want other countries to enjoy these benefits. Enlargement has been at the heart of our Presidency. We expect to hear about progress on the Serbian application for membership, particularly in the light of the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo brokered by the European Union. We are looking forward to discussing progress on the situation in Turkey. We expect to see a chapter on that country's accession process opened before the end of the Irish Presidency. We want to see further progress in the case of other states such as Macedonia. The House will be aware of the issues relating to the naming of the country, but throughout the Presidency we will attempt to find ways to open accession negotiations as a means of building trust on this issue between the relevant states. It will be a very busy end to the Presidency before a return to the normal day-to-day work of the committee.

The committee is fortunate to be staffed by some excellent and dedicated public servants. We are very grateful to the Ministers, Deputies Eamon Gilmore and Lucinda Creighton, for their continued presence at our meetings. They inform the committee of what will be discussed at General Affairs Council meetings. They deal with comments and questions from members, including Deputy Timmy Dooley and me. We are grateful for their attendance. I am particularly grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to speak in the House on behalf of the committee.

I wish to share time with Deputies Seamus Healy and Richard Boyd Barrett.

I congratulate and compliment Deputy Dominic Hannigan on his chairmanship of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. I note Deputy Timmy Dooley's fine contributions. I am afraid all the niceties are over after that little piece.

Today is seen as a celebration of Ireland's membership of the European Union and also of the Union's contribution to Ireland. It is a reminder of what we agreed to 40 years ago when it was then called the European Economic Community. If any person outside Leinster House or on any street in Ireland were asked for his or her thoughts on the European Union, I doubt if the word, "community" would be in the reply. The Irish public perception of the Union has been seriously challenged in recent times. These days, Irish people associate it with the policies run to suit Germany, in the main, and, to a lesser extent, France. This makes sense because Germany and France account for close to 50% of EU GDP. When Irish people think of the European Union, they think of the European Central Bank, the policies of which are decimating the quality of life of thousands of hard-working and innocent people. Instead of a collaboration of countries with a common goal of peace, economic growth and mutual assistance, the European Union of today is a collection of small nations subject to the policies of economic domination by major powers. It is a Union in which promises are broken, like the promise given to Ireland that the link between bank and sovereign debt would be broken. That broken promise has saddled a generation of Irish children yet not born with an unbearable debt burden. Well paid PR experts in Ireland and across Europe can spin all the stories they like about a European Union of democratic values.

Nobody believes that hype anymore, not least our own President, who reflected public opinion recently when he felt compelled to speak about the devastating effect austerity measures are having on the country. The people who founded what became the EU envisaged a Europe in which most people had work, yet the most recent figures show that approximately 26 million people are unemployed across the member states. Further, 150 million people are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. In Ireland, 700,000 people are living in poverty while an estimated 5,000 are homeless. Policies implemented by the so-called troika, which we are told are being pursued for the greater good of the State and Europe, have the country on its knees. If proof is required, I invite any EU leader to visit my constituency, in which one in five people are unemployed and one in three people under 25 are without work and have little optimism about gaining employment in the region. If one walks down any street in Ireland, one will see an increasing number of businesses boarded up. If one talks to small business owners, they will recount the weekly if not daily battle to stay afloat.

While these people and thousands like them await anxiously the day on which we turn the corner, the grim reality is that the EU's Europe 2020 strategy has moved us towards a structure of economic governance that makes austerity policies a permanent fixture. The much-applauded stability mechanism will ensure more bank bailouts at the expense of ordinary people. There is no question about it. We cannot keep ignoring the fact that people in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and elsewhere are suffering the terrible consequences of policies which are designed primarily on the basis of their impact on the speculative markets rather than their compassion and empathy for the predicament of European citizens. While youth employment across Europe stands at one in four - and is almost 60% in some countries - the EU continues to adhere to a version of logistical economic theory, the assumptions of which have little or nothing to do with compassion. In some member states of the EU, an entire generation is getting lost. It is hardly what the people who founded the EU envisaged. Unless the desperate calls for reform of the ECB are listened to and the dual strategy of price stability and growth is adopted, this will continue.

How can the people of Ireland have any faith in Europe when they see what has happened to their country? It is a country that was rich and was recognised globally as one of the best countries in which to live. Look at it now. Nearly a quarter of the population are unemployed and 700,000 people are impoverished. We talk about a European policy which is intended for the betterment of the country, yet two in ten children go to school without sufficient food or proper clothing. When 150 million people across Europe are in poverty and 26 million are unemployed, these policies have failed. They have failed the European people and the ordinary, everyday working person. Certainly, they have failed the Irish people.

The European Union has placed a huge millstone around the necks of the Irish people. The millstone is called "debt, debt and more debt". The bank debt of €64 billion is not the debt of the Irish people and we are not responsible for it. It is the debt of speculating European banks and finance houses and it is those institutions which must be made to shoulder it. Ireland must get a write-down of the debt, which is a crushing burden on us, our children and our grandchildren. It has created huge austerity. We need only look at the unemployment figures of well over 400,000, which is 14% of the population, huge emigration, cuts to services, tax increases, social welfare cuts, pay and pension cuts, increased levels of poverty - particularly for children - and high levels of mortgage distress. That is what the EU, with regard to debt, has done to this country, our children and our grandchildren. The EU must be made to agree to declare bank-related debt a burden on all countries in proportion to their gross domestic products. The debt must be mutualised.

In the matter of bank debt, the EU has been singularly unfair to Ireland. The Commission's data agency, EUROSTAT, has produced figures which are truly shocking. Ireland has taken a huge hit for the rest of Europe. If one looks at the cost of the banking crisis to member states, Ireland is at the head of the queue. The crisis has cost us in excess of €41 billion, which is ahead of every other country, including Germany. It gets worse when one looks at it from the point of view of gross domestic product. Ireland is at the head of the posse in that context also. The bank crisis has cost us 25% of our gross domestic product. The nearest member state in those terms is Latvia, to which the cost was 3% of its gross domestic product. While Ireland has 0.9% of the EU population and its economy represents 1.2% of the EU's gross domestic product, it has paid 42% of the total cost of the European banking crisis. It gets worse again when one looks at it in per capita terms. Again, I cite the EU's own statistics. The banking crisis has cost every individual in this country €8,981. The average for the EU is €192 per capita.

These figures are shocking. In fact, things are even worse, as EUROSTAT does not take into account the additional €22 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund which was used to address the banking crisis or the €30 billion NAMA paid for banks' loans. Our money is streaming out of the country, as are our people, including many who have been expensively educated and are highly qualified. This has happened previously in Irish history. When British landlords were bleeding the country dry, Michael Davitt launched a plan of campaign to start a land war, which was ultimately successful. James Connolly, whose execution we commemorate next Sunday, wrote of the need for the reconquest of Ireland. We need a new plan of campaign and a new reconquest of Ireland today. Sadly, the three main political parties are in league with the European Union, acting through the troika, and they have sold out our economic and political sovereignty. I am confident, however, that the current generation will not be found wanting when it comes to re-establishing this country's well-being, independence and sovereignty.

I regret that the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, is not here to hear my comments, although she probably is not very sorry about that fact. She often accuses me and those of us on this side of the House of being negative so I want to take the opportunity to say something positive.

I will pass it on. I will let her know.

It is important during this European week that we review the experience of the last year. While Members have referred to certain negative things, I want to discuss some of the positive developments here and in Europe as a whole. One of the very positive things that happened in the last week was that 4,000 people went into the Wicklow hills to join in a demonstration featuring music, poetry and readings from plays to indicate that they wanted to retain ownership of their public forests despite the attempt of the troika and the Government to take that away.

Amazingly, and tremendously positively, within two days of the demonstration a Government Minister said the sale of the forest was unlikely. That is a good news story.

Deputy Boyd Barrett delivered it.

The public sector workers in this country, who have been battered with pay cuts over the past five years, finally said "No" in the past few weeks. They defied threats and bullying, stood together, showed solidarity and said "No". Positively, the Government threats to legislate immediately and impose 7% pay cuts did not happen. It shows positively that when workers stand together they can achieve results.

Another good news story is Cyprus, where the troika, with the collusion of the Cypriot Government, attempted to raid savings under €100,000 of ordinary people. The people of Cyprus took to the streets, surrounded their Parliament, stuck together, showed solidarity and manifested people power. Lo and behold, they forced the troika to reverse its plans and to do something that, until that point, had been considered completely unthinkable, namely, to burn the bondholders. It was an extraordinary victory for people power. What is even more amazing is that it produced a fundamental shift in European policy, away from the one that said we cannot burn bondholders to one that says we can. The new banking resolution regime proposed by the European Union now says we should distinguish between ordinary savers and professional speculators and investors. It is a major victory for people power on a European scale.

Another fantastic thing is the co-ordinated series of general strikes that happened across southern European countries in November last year. It was a true demonstration of international solidarity and people power when workers in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal went on strike on the same day to say they had enough of austerity. Positively, this produced a shift in rhetoric, if not in policy, from the European leaders. They are now saying we have reached the limits of austerity and we must rethink. The interesting thing about these positive good news stories is that they come from below, from people themselves taking action. This is something governments and politicians often do not like because it takes the focus away from their importance and begins to point to the fact that real change comes from ordinary people organising themselves, taking to the streets and showing solidarity. This can force policy changes from the mighty troika and from governments trying to ram solidarity down their throats.

Austerity, not solidarity.

On a positive note, we need more of that sort of people power. We need people to take to the streets and say that austerity is not working, that we want a fairer policy where the bondholders and speculators pay the price for their crimes so that the rest of society can flourish and develop and that we can focus on creating jobs.

For the past five years, Europe's policy has been to say we must have specific targets on deficit and debt reduction. That has not worked very well. As a positive alternative, I suggest specific targets for the reduction of unemployment. For example, if it is 14% this year, the Government should have a target of 10% next year, 5% the year after that and 0% unemployment the following year. Starting policy consideration from that perspective would lead to us being in a far better place.

I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for that good news.