Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements

As I will be at the European Council Meeting in Brussels tomorrow, on behalf of the Government I wish Members on all sides of this House, Members of the Upper House and everyone who works here in Leinster House a happy and peaceful Christmas. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his patience in some difficult and contentious issues that were raised here over the past 12 months. I thank his team here who ensure the House functions as a modern, efficient Parliament. They put in very long hours. I also thank the Captain of the Guard and the Superintendent for the work they do in presenting the House to the public. I thank everybody involved in the running of the Houses of the Oireachtas for their services and courtesy.

The European Council in Brussels tomorrow and Friday will be the first Council since Ireland successfully exited our international bailout. I will inform my European colleagues that this success was due to the sacrifices and perseverance of the Irish people. As the first eurozone country to successfully exit a bailout it is an achievement not only for Ireland but for Europe. It is also the final Council of the Lithuanian Presidency. Lithuania, together with Ireland and Greece, form the current trio Presidency group. I congratulate Lithuania on a successful maiden Presidency and wish Greece well with its impending Presidency.

This month the European Council has a very substantive agenda, with a number of very important issues to be discussed. The main items on the agenda are: the common security and defence policy, CSDP; economic and social policy, including implementation of the compact for growth and jobs, SME financing and taxation; economic and monetary union, EMU, including banking union; migration flows; and enlargement. Leaders will also take note of progress reports on the implementation of the internal energy market and on external energy relations. We will revert to energy policy in the spring.

The European Council will also welcome the successful outcome of the recent WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali. In addition we will discuss the ongoing and very serious humanitarian situation in Syria. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Donohoe, will provide more detail on this in his contribution. I expect the European Council might also look at recent developments in the Central African Republic and in relation to Ukraine and the eastern partnership.

My main priority for this Council meeting will be banking union. I welcome the fact that President Van Rompuy has also identified this as the top priority. As I have said here and elsewhere on many occasions, timely delivery of what we have already agreed in this area is a key credibility test for the Union. Finance Ministers continue to work on these issues and there are some indications of progress overnight from Brussels. A good and balanced agreement will be important for Europe and for Ireland.

On the common security and defence policy, conclusions were agreed by foreign and defence Ministers in their meeting on 18 and 19 November. We will be seeking to maintain a strong focus on enhancing the effectiveness of CSDP tomorrow. In his letter to Heads of State and Government, President Van Rompuy has set out what he sees as the key priority issues for the remainder of his term and that of the European Parliament. He emphasised the need to begin implementation of the youth employment initiative and the SME financing initiative from 1 January next. I welcome the fact that we will have discussions on these at the European Council.

The agreement reached between the Presidency and the Parliament last week on the bank recovery and resolution directive is another welcome step in putting together banking union. There has been progress on the deposit guarantee scheme. Ministers for Finance are in Brussels with a view to reaching agreement on the single resolution mechanism, SRM. There are some positive signs emerging from these discussions. They include agreement that a common backstop will be developed during the transition period of the SRM and that the banking sector will ultimately be liable for repayment. This is fundamental and welcome. Work is continuing on governance arrangements, including voting rights for the single resolution board. Again, we will continue to press for our concerns to be addressed. This is a complex and sensitive task. Each member state has a vested interest in seeing a good and balanced outcome. I know that the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, and his ECOFIN colleagues are working very hard to find the right way forward. Ireland supports a broad scope for the SRM and the creation of a single fund which should also have a credible EU level backstop. The combination of a single fund and the backstop will assist in achieving the objective established by the Heads of State and Government of breaking the link between the sovereign and the banking sector. As I mentioned, indications overnight from Brussels are positive. After all, that is the point of the exercise. Moreover, it is what we have committed to do.

With regard to partnerships for growth, job creation and competitiveness, the Council agreed in October that work would be taken forward to strengthen economic policy co-ordination on the main features of a proposal to introduce contractual arrangements and associated solidarity mechanisms. While a great deal of work has been done and good progress has been made, significant divergences of opinion remain on these proposals. This is a serious business if we are to commit member states to new binding arrangements. We want to ensure we get this right and should not rush to make decisions if there is a need to elaborate further on the nature, process and impact of such contracts. Any new contractual arrangement should operate within the framework of the existing European semester process. A number of economic governance instruments have been in operation since the adoption of the six pack and the two pack and we should approach this entire debate from the perspective of adding value to the existing framework, where appropriate, and avoiding duplication. Further discussion and clarification are required on central issues such as the nature of the proposed contractual arrangements and whether they would be mandatory or voluntary, the source of funding for the proposed solidarity mechanism, how we can encourage participation and to which policy areas the contracts might eventually apply. These are very necessary.

The precise roles in the process of the member states, the Council and the Commission also need to be defined. As a supporter of the Community method, Ireland welcomes the proposal that the Commission monitor compliance with the contractual obligations by recipient member states. However, we will need clarity on the respective roles of the Commission and the Council. Overall, I would like to see far more detail on these proposals before we make hard and fast decisions. Many other member states share this view. I believe we will return to this matter again in 2014.

I undertand my time is up.

I fully share the President's emphasis on the importance to the credibility of the Union of implementation of all of our commitments. Now more than ever as we prepare to ask people to vote for their representatives in the European Parliament elections, the public needs to see that we follow through and act on our commitments at European level.
The European Council will open with a discussion on the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP. This will be the first significant discussion on it in five years and it will provide an opportunity for a serious strategic discussion on what the EU and member states should do to maintain critical capabilities. In December 2012, the European Council reiterated its commitment to enhancing the effectiveness of the CSDP as a tangible EU contribution to international crisis management. Leaders invited the High Representative, with the European External Action Service and the European Defence Agency, as well as the Commission, to develop further proposals and actions to strengthen CSDP. We agreed to return to this issue at the December 2013 European Council, on foot of the work undertaken in the interim by the Commission and the High Representative. In July, the Commission published its communication and High Representative Ashton published her final report in October. These contributed to the conclusions agreed last month, which themselves inform the draft conclusions for the European Council.
As a strong and active supporter of CSDP, Ireland recognises the need to improve the effectiveness and visibility of EU action in this area. We currently participate in six civilian CSDP missions and three military CSDP missions. We consider that it is important for a correct balance to be struck in the conclusions between civilian and military CSDP and we wish to see the comprehensive approach to crisis management duly reflected in the December European Council outcome. We have also sought to ensure that the crucial role of the UN and regional partners is highlighted. The Minister of State will expand on this element of the European Council agenda in his contribution.
The work we do to shape our economic and social policy could not be more urgent. This week we will conclude the preliminary phase of the European Semester for 2014 by welcoming the annual growth survey and the alert mechanism report presented by the Commission on 13 November. The challenge now facing Europe's economy lies in sustaining a fragile recovery. We fully support the Commission's continued emphasis on five main priorities over the coming year: pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation; restoring 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. This is the fourth European semester cycle, the third under the enhanced governance arrangements introduced by the six-pack, and the first under the further enhancements introduced by the two-pack. Ireland, of course, having successfully completed our EU-IMF programme, will be participating in the 2014 European semester.
We will also review the compact for growth and jobs which was agreed in June 2012. This represents an important reinforcement of political commitment to doing what is necessary to support recovery in the real economy. This is as important today as it was in June last year. The December Council will take stock of progress under the compact, in particular in regard to mobilising enhanced EIB lending capacity, implementing youth guarantees and finalising outstanding Single Market files.
The compact for growth and jobs provides a clear framework for actions at three levels. First are the actions to be taken at the level of member states. This means renewed attention to the Europe 2020 strategy and the enhanced economic governance arrangements underpinning the European semester. The December European Council will, in light of the annual growth survey and alert mechanism report, identify the main areas for co-ordination of economic policies and reforms over the period ahead. Second is the contribution of European policies to growth. This means keeping up strong momentum in the work taken forward by the Irish Presidency towards deepening the Single Market, expanding the Union's external trade relations, and accelerating progress on banking union. The compact also provided for a €10 billion increase in the paid-in capital of the European Investment Bank, EIB. Third are EMU-related growth factors. This means further development of the work on the 'four essential building blocks' for strengthening the economic and monetary union. It is clear that Europe will have recovered from the current crisis only when its economies are growing again and creating jobs. The compact sets out very clearly what we need to do to support this recovery. We must ensure that it is implemented.
I expect there will be a particular focus in discussions on measures to underpin the financing of the economy. This follows the investment plan which the European Council agreed in June, mobilising the €10 billion increase in the capital base of the EIB. This will support a 40% increase in lending capacity up to 2015, bringing annual EIB lending volumes to between €65 billion and €70 billion. The report from the Commission and EIB that was presented in June indicated that the bank had already identified new lending opportunities of more than €150 billion in agreed priority areas such as innovation and skills; SME access to finance; resource efficiency; and strategic infrastructures. These are projects that would be unlikely to proceed without EIB support.
The investment plan also develops important synergies between enhanced EIB lending capacity and the new EU budget settled by the Irish Presidency. Resources here will be combined to support a significantly expanded volume of new SME loans across the Union. Work being led by Ministers Howlin and Noonan will see almost €1.2 billion worth of EIB project signatures and loan approvals in Ireland in 2013. This represents an increase of just over one-fifth on 2012 levels, which were in turn up more than four-fifths on the previous year. We also see room for further progress here, building from the successful reopening in April of the Irish PPP market -for the first time since 2007, and for restoring normal lending conditions across the economy generally.
The Council will also touch on the continuing work at European and national levels to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment. Work is continuing to ensure our initial youth guarantee implementation plan ready before the end of this year. This work is being led by the Department of Social Protection and supported by the OECD. Preparations are on track. Job creation is, of course, a vital pillar of our new medium term economic plan.
The December European Council will also aim to reinforce momentum under Single Market Acts I and II. In that regard, the EPSCO agreement last week on a general approach on posted workers is a welcome development. On 2 and 3 December, the Competitiveness Council identified three main strands that will lead to a better functioning of the internal market, the governance of the single market, the steps to be taken to unlock the full potential of the services sector and the actions to promote the transition to electronic procurement.
Heads of State and Government are also expected to review actions undertaken since May in the area of taxation by ECOFIN and the Commission. In May, the European Council highlighted the need for effective steps to fight tax evasion and fraud and called for rapid progress on a number of issues, including extension of the automatic exchange of information; an action plan on strengthening the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion; and, the directives on the VAT quick reaction mechanism and on the VAT reverse charge mechanism. The European Council also pointed out that these issues must be tackled at a global level and linked this work to ongoing work in the G8, G20 and, most importantly, the work already under way at the OECD.
The OECD's global forum on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes confirmed on 22 November that Ireland is one of 18 out of 50 countries or jurisdictions, and one of six EU member states, which are fully compliant with regard to practical implementation of the forum's information exchange standard. At the October Council, these issues were raised again in the context of the digital sector, and the Council welcomed the Commission's establishment of an expert group on taxation of the digital economy. I am pleased to report that an Irish woman, Ms Mary Walsh, has been appointed to the group. She is a chartered accountant and served on our Commission on Taxation.
Ireland welcomes the establishment of the expert group and we hope it will be able to assist the EU in tackling this issue. It is clear that the digital economy has moved at a pace that international tax rules may not have fully kept pace with. An expert analysis of these new business models is needed to ascertain where the economic substance and value and income producing activities lie and to consider to what extent international tax rules are still fit for purpose. This is already happening as part of the OECD BEPS task force on the digital economy. We support this initiative.
For our discussion on the shared analysis of the European economy based on the 2014 annual growth survey, and on economic and monetary union, we will be joined by ECB President Draghi. Clearly, the establishment of a banking union is a major political priority and will be a landmark in the evolution of the economic and monetary union. The first step in creating the banking union was taken with the recent adoption by the Council and the European Parliament of the single supervisory mechanism, SSM. The SSM has now entered into force, and the ECB will take over its full tasks under the regulation, exercising direct supervisory responsibilities from November 2014.
As part of the transition to the SSM, a balance sheet assessment will be conducted, comprising a supervisory risk assessment, an asset quality review and subsequently a stress test. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure that banks are appropriately capitalised going forward. The ECB, before assuming its supervisory role in November 2014, will provide a single comprehensive disclosure of the results and any recommendations for supervisory measures to be undertaken by banks. As part of the troika programme, the Irish banks had to complete asset quality reviews before the bailout exit earlier this week. Earlier this month, Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks and Permanent TSB informed markets that, following the asset quality reviews, they were well capitalised and passed minimum capital requirements.

I will allow for the fact that some of the time was used for goodwill wishes.

Following the drowning tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3 October in which several hundred African migrants lost their lives, the Justice and Home Affairs Council in October invited the Commission to establish a task force to identify priority actions with a view to preventing a recurrence of such tragedies. I discussed the tragedy with Prime Minister Letta of Italy recently and have committed to support all efforts at the European Council to address the awful circumstances which led to such a shocking outcome. Like all other member states, Ireland participated in the meetings of the task force on the Mediterranean and we support the conclusions reached in the task force's report. We agree that the best approach to this multifaceted problem is to focus on prevention and engagement with countries of origin.

The December Council will have its traditional annual discussion on enlargement, reviewing progress in the past year and looking ahead to the prospects for next year on the basis of the European Commission's progress reports and discussions in the General Affairs Council. Enlargement remains one of the European Union's most successful policies, fostering peace and security in the wider European region. Overall, we look forward to an ambitious EU enlargement strategy for 2014. The Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, will provide further detail on this element.

The attention of the Heads of State and Government will also be drawn to work on energy matters. This is a key area for all economies in Europe which we will address in more detail in the spring.

The European Council may discuss recent developments in the Central African Republic. We have seen in recent weeks an alarming breakdown in law and order and basic social structures in the country and a worrying increase in intercommunal violence and gross violations of human rights. The European Union's primary focus on the security front is centred on providing support for the African Union and French efforts. We will continue to monitor the position in the coming weeks to see if and how the range of crisis management tools at the European Union's disposal which includes the Common Security and Defence Policy can be of further assistance.

The European Council will consider what happened at the Vilnius eastern partnership summit on 28 and 29 November and the current situation in Ukraine. I have been following the unfolding events in Ukraine with growing concern, in particular, the actions of the Ukrainian police to break up the peaceful protest of citizens in Kyiv. The rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and are fundamental in any society. I strongly believe they should be fully respected by the Ukrainian authorities. I again call on them to exercise restraint, respect peaceful protest and ensure all avenues of dialogue are kept open.

I understand President Tusk will update leaders on the outcome of the UN climate change conference, COP19, held in Warsaw last month.

As I stated, we have a very full agenda and I look forward to productive discussions in the days and nights ahead. I will, of course, return to the House to discuss the outcome of the European Council when we reconvene in the new year. In the meantime, I wish all Deputies and staff a very happy Christmas. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his indulgence.

I wish the Taoiseach a very happy and peaceful Christmas. I will do my best to ensure it is peaceful. I also wish the Ceann Comhairle a happy and peaceful Christmas, free from the cacophony of sound which often emanates from the House in his direction. I wish the Captain of the Guard, his staff and all of the officials who have been supportive of debates and committee meetings a happy Christmas.

On 12 October the Taoiseach used the Fine Gael national conference to launch a three month long media campaign, of which last week was the high point. During this time seemingly endless parades of so-called exclusive interviews and background briefings have been used to present a selective and misleading picture of the Government's actions. There will be many other opportunities to discuss these and already we are seeing key claims being exposed. With the exception of the Taoiseach's cynical and untrue statement that Ireland has not been a full member of the European Union for the past three years, he and colleagues have laboured very hard to avoid discussing the European dimension of Ireland's crisis. As it does not help with domestic party politics, the central role of the European Union in most aspects of the crisis in the past five years has been ignored. What makes this serious is that the Government is deliberately ignoring issues which are central to long-term growth in Ireland. Some of these issues are on the agenda for this week's summit and it is now clear that what will be agreed will mean that Ireland has not received a proper response to its case and that key flaws which led to the crisis will be maintained.

The Taoiseach has regularly told international audiences that every element of Ireland's problems lies with his political opponents. He let the mask slip only once when he stated in Paris last year that Ireland was the first and only country which had a European position imposed on it in the sense that there was no opportunity for the Government to do it its way, if it so wished, by burning bondholders.

I said it here, too.

By contrast the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has stated this on a number of occasions, including last week in The Irish Times, although it has received little or no notice. Time and again independent experts have stated European policies, or rather their failures, were directly linked with Ireland needing a bailout in 2010. The ESM and the policies of Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank have changed a lot. The large spike in bond yields which followed comments of President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel was predicated on the idea that no backstop was available. While the new funds and policies are incomplete, they have greatly reduced any risk in investing in euro area sovereign bonds.

The scale of the crisis in the eurozone, in large part, stems from the failure to have a common system of financial regulation. This has lead to uncertainty and contagion, with countries such as Ireland obliged to act in the interests of the entire eurozone, with a sharing of the costs. A strong banking union is not only important, it is also essential if the eurozone is to have a strong financial system which supports rather than destroys growth. There are three core elements to a genuine strong banking union. They include a common supervisory mechanism, which means that all financial institutions operate subject to uniform and effective oversight.

The second is a common resolution mechanism, which means that individual institutions can be wound down without a risk of contagion, including certainty about who will be burned, and the third is a common deposit guarantee fund, which ensures no individual part of the financial system can be swamped by limited bank failures. With most of the political agreements in place, we know that we will have a system called "banking union" but we will not have banking union. Anyone who cares about the future of the eurozone and wants it to be stable and prosperous must be concerned by what will be formally agreed at this week's summit. National interests have prevailed on nearly every key decision. The core principle of sharing risk so that risk is minimised has been ignored.

There are elements of progress but nothing on the scale of what should have been agreed. The key parts of the new so-called banking union will cover 128 banks in total. Many banks that have the capacity to cause systemic problems will not be covered. The proposed single supervisory mechanism has the most potential to grow into a strong and effective policy. It will initially be more about co-ordination than common supervision but it is likely that the ECB will push it towards a more active stance. The effort to retain national influence has been successful for the moment. Over time Ireland should join the ECB in calling for the removal of any possibility of governments interfering in oversight matters. That should be independent.

The summit will formally sign off on an agreed method for winding down banks and paying off residual debts. The objective for this was set by the Taoiseach and others as being to break the toxic link between sovereign and banking debt. Even the most partisan commentators must admit that this link has clearly not been broken. To break the link between them, there must be no expectation that the state has an implicit guarantee to fund banks in trouble. This requires the availability of a large backstop of funds and this will not be available. The bank resolution fund the Taoiseach will agree over dinner tomorrow night will take ten years to build up its holding. After a decade, it will have €55 billion available to it. This has been estimated at only 0.2% of the total asset base of the covered banks. The fund could realistically cover no more than one or two mid-size banks. Breaking the link between sovereign and banking debt needs something else such as an ECB guarantee to underpin the system but this is not available in part because of splits in the bank but also because some countries, in particular Germany, have threatened to take the bank to court if it provides the required guarantee.

An evaluation of the banking agreements to be finalised this week published in Monday's Financial Times stated:

Without a backstop, there is no point. It is not a banking union and should be rejected.

I would not go this far but I believe Ireland should not agree this as a final deal. At a minimum, we should put on the table the need for a formal commitment that the funds available for safeguarding the banking system of the euro should be greater than 0.2% of its asset base.

In the two years that a banking union has been debated, the Government has refused to say publicly what it wants from the process. There is no public record of any statement by the Taoiseach setting out what would be required "to break the toxic link between banking and sovereign debt". This enables him to hail anything that emerges as a great victory, something which has become a standard tactic for him in Europe. Is he happy with this deal? Does he believe it represents the banking union we were promised originally? He has been notably silent on the statement of the Minister of Finance that he has effectively given up on retrospective bank recapitalisation and he is not worried about it. This is a complete reversal of the policy of the past three years and it is not good enough that this has been allowed to be buried under the weight of the Government's ongoing media campaign.

A commentator recently described the Minister as "a master of misdirection in his handling of the media". The tactic is now being deployed by the entire Government. In case the Taoiseach has forgotten, in June last year, the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform held a press conference during which they giddily outlined how they had just achieved a breakthrough on financing banks. The agreement of the European Council potentially to recapitalise banks directly with EU funding, something Ireland had neither put on the agenda nor lobbied for, was they claimed "a great victory for Ireland worth potentially up to €60 billion".

He told a very good story about the turkeys in-----

The Minister for Finance when asked what he was looking for said: "It's clear you've never been to the fair of Glin or sold a calf. Sure if I had told them the minimum, that's what they would give me". Last week, it was revealed that in spite of his experience selling calves and visiting the fair of Glin, he had got exactly nothing.

As the Deputy will be aware, one wants to be a good tangler when one goes there.

Given that the Government has given up, the minimum it owes the people is a statement on what it looked for and why it has accepted receiving nothing at all.

We also need to hear why the Government appears not even to be asking for full equality for Ireland regarding its debts. We have received the same interest rates as other countries but the ECB is retaining its profits on holdings of Irish bonds. In the case of Greece, it returns these profits. I am not clear whether the Taoiseach ever pressed the ECB about this.

Does the Deputy want us to go into a second programme?

I am talking about the fact that the ECB is retaining its profits on the holdings of Irish bonds. In the case of Greece, it returns these profits.

The Deputy should look at the conditions imposed on Greece.

It has always been the case from the outset that what works for one should work for the others just as it did with interest rate reductions. We got these reductions because other countries got there first and we took them.

The ECB often rightly points out that its credit has maintained the Irish and European markets. This is the duty of a central bank and not something for which anyone should be asked to express gratitude. Equally, the ECB has lost nothing whatsoever from this support, as it has given Ireland nothing. It has lent money to Irish institutions, which has been and will be returned. The ECB holding of Irish bonds stemmed directly from a failed policy implemented before the ESM and other measures were agreed. After costs, the profits on these holdings have been estimated at €500 million. The bank returns its profits on Greek bonds to Greece; it should return its profits on Irish bonds to Ireland. No Irish Minister, let alone the Taoiseach, has put this on the agenda. It represents almost the full amount of health cutbacks. The Government parties are so concerned about these that they withheld the health service plan until the week before Christmas. If the Taoiseach and his Government have formally given up seeking a reduction in Ireland's bank-related debts and if they are not seeking a return to Ireland of ECB profits on Irish bonds, they should be honest enough to admit that and to stop the misdirection.

Overall the model of banking union which will be agreed conforms to the idea of a common control framework without any shared responsibility. This is not what Europe needs. On Friday morning, the president of the European Investment Bank, EIB, will attend the Council for a discussion on measures to promote growth. The EIB has not even scratched the surface of what it could do. The main reason for this has been the decision of leaders to require national co-financing and other restrictions. The Government has again cut capital spending in next year's budget more than is necessary and this is part of the reason for the ESRI stating that the budget will act as a net drag on the economy next year. The time has come for the Government to take a more assertive an ambitious approach to leveraging EIB financing.

With regard to the scheduled discussions on defence policy, nothing has been produced which supports the case for a new initiative in this area. The current structures have not been given time to work and they cannot be said to have failed. As has been seen in a number of recent cases, even NATO members retain the right to disagree and go their own way on many issues. Earlier this year, the Minister for Defence signalled that he would try to water down Ireland's commitment to the triple lock, which is at the core of our neutrality. He presented the idea that it was contradictory and that we were giving unsavoury countries a veto over our actions. This argument has been behind the efforts of a wing of Fine Gael to erode neutrality over the years.

My party and I completely reject this. The United Nations is not working as it should but we must not abandon it as an essential part of the international system. Ireland has, and always will have, a limited defence capability. Focusing this on humanitarian actions is not only the right thing to do, it has full democratic legitimacy. There is no pressing need for a changed defence capability for the EU and our policy at this week's summit should reflect the will of the people and not the preferences of the Fine Gael Party.

The situation in Ukraine is both deeply troubling and inspiring. The actions of the Yanukovych government have been an outrage. One does have to look on Yulia Tymoshenko as a hero to understand that her continued imprisonment is a disgrace. The repeated beating of peaceful protestors, censorship of the media and undermining of parliament are not the actions of a democratic government.

The actions of the Russian Government have not been those of a government that believes in respect and co-operation between nations. The fact that it states its belief in an exclusive zone of interest covering other countries is the rhetoric of an ideology that should have long since been buried. In the face of this, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to march and to sing or shout their belief in the future for democracy and progress in their country. They have carried the blue flag of the European Union alongside their own flags. In the context of our ongoing crisis, this should remind us that the EU remains an inspiration and the best hope for all who want a Europe of peace, democracy and development. I warmly welcome the actions of Catherine Ashton in going to Kiev and refusing to back down at the Union's core demands. If we are to give up our the basic requirement that every member and every associate member must abide by democratic norms, the EU will lose its entire reason for existing. We cannot and must not give in to the demands of Ukraine and Russia. We must continue to assert European values and stand with the Ukrainian people. I hope the Taoiseach will make a strong public statement about Ireland's stance on this issue.

The British Prime Minister has launched the latest element of his campaign to build domestic popularity by scapegoating the European Union. He appears to be proposing that Britain should adopt a pick and choose approach to European law. His coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, has spoken out against this. We should do likewise. The European Union must be a rule-based community, where members respect the law until they succeed in getting it changed.

I wish the Acting Chairman, Deputy Feighan, a happy Christmas and ask him to extend festive greetings from Sinn Féin to the Ceann Comhairle and all the team who run this Dáil. Nollaig shona don Taoiseach agus a chlann, don Teachta Martin agus na Teachtaí eile agus a dteaglaigh. Athbhliain faoi mhaise díobh go léir.

The Taoiseach started his statement by trumpeting the success of our exiting the international bailout. My party has long advocated that he should say slán abhaile to the troika and we welcome that he has eventually come round to that position. However, the question arises of whether he really said slán to the troika. His remarks on strengthening EU economic policy co-ordination make it clear this State will remain under surveillance for several decades and even then the European Commission will be able to prolong the period of supervision. Indeed, the European Council can impose whatever measures it sees fit on the State. The troika mindset of austerity remains and its policies are being faithfully implemented by this Government. Fine Gael and the Labour Party were happy to blame the troika for the imposition of harsh cutbacks and new taxes which in reality were their own policies.

Despite the Government's best intentions, I do not think it has stood up for the interests of the vast majority of citizens. Choinnigh sibh an ciorcal órga sábhailte. Tá siad ann fós - sin an fhírinne. D'fhág sibh daoine eile gan phingin rua. The Government failed miserably in its attempt to have our banks recapitalised, despite the eurozone commitment of June 2012. The fiscal compact treaty and other arrangements, such as the two-pack and the six-pack arrangements, continue the erosion of our economic sovereignty. In treaty after treaty, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have supported the dilution of Irish economic sovereignty. The European Union has more control over our political and economic future than ever before. We should not pretend there is any intention at EU level or within this Government to end austerity. Exiting the bailout will change little for middle and low income families. The legacy throughout the European Union is mass unemployment, and youth unemployment in particular, immigration, increased poverty and devastation of community and public services.

The European Parliament has established an inquiry into troika programmes in European member states and I understand a delegation will visit Ireland in January. I wonder what evidence the Government will bring before this inquiry. Will it tell the inquiry about the tens of thousands of young people who are scattered across the globe? Will it describe the impact of austerity on the most vulnerable of our citizens, including the young, the sick, the elderly, those with disabilities, carers and mortgage holders who are paying the price for its policies? Will it outline how our public services are being damaged on a daily basis or how food and fuel poverty in this developed State is increasing on a daily basis?

The European Council meeting will also discuss the Common Security and Defence Policy and, for the first time in approximately five years, it will deal extensively with military issues. The Taoiseach may be aware of the report by Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on preparing the December 2013 European Council on security and defence. The report makes an argument for increased militarisation. I note the Taoiseach did not state the Government's opposition to the report. We have a world that is blighted by poverty, conflict, disease and hunger. We clearly need to increase our support for the developing world rather than create further militarisation or develop more effective weapons of mass destruction. The report discusses ways of contributing to international security but the best way to prevent war and conflict is by building peace through political negotiation and reconciliation within and between states. A progressive European Union should champion peace building and development aid instead of military adventurism.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East and, in particular, the imposition of apartheid on the people of Palestine is unacceptable. The failure to intervene to uphold the rights of citizens in that region is an indictment of the international community. The conflict in Syria has also created a major crisis for refugees in particular. Will the Council discuss ways for member states to open their borders to take some of the men, women and children who have been left homeless and scared for their lives? One of the legacies of Nelson Mandela, who we laid to rest at the weekend, is the promotion of discussion, negotiation, compromise, reconciliation and peace building. The EU should learn from Madiba's experience that increased militarisation by the powerful will not help achieve peace or security but will have the opposite effect.

Catherine Ashton's report also states that work is underway to increase the usability of EU battle groups and notes that cost sharing or common funding must be addressed to foster member state involvement and to find consensus on battle groups. We do not hear the same sort of language in regard to dealing with hunger or aiding those who have been made homeless. These battle groups will create a standing European army that is ready for deployment anywhere in the world and will further weaken Irish neutrality and sovereignty. The report essentially sets out a coherent European imperial strategy and how increased militarisation and co-ordination of EU forces will help to achieve that aim. It is claimed, perhaps with justification, that one of the main reasons for establishing the EU was to build peace. Surely the militarisation of the European Union runs counter to that principle.

Time after time, people in this State and across this island have embraced that principle of active positive neutrality as a foreign policy matter. Will the Taoiseach urge and argue that the European Union should be a force for peace and reconciliation around the world, especially in the Middle East, and will he strongly make the case that the European Union should promote economic and social development rather than increasing the military budgets of its member states?

As my colleague, An Teachta Adams, indicated, this European Council meeting will to a large extent focus on the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP. The European Council will focus on reports aimed at laying out how the European Union can extend its influence through increased militarisation, although I suppose it will be couched in softer and more diplomatic language. It is clear that supporters of this increased militarisation fear that the financial crisis will have an impact on the European defence industry and, due to the financial constraints, no EU member state, except perhaps Germany, can launch major new militarisation programmes alone. While children and families across Europe are going hungry, EU member states are spending €194 billion on weapons. I want to see a reduction in this spending and I ask whether the Taoiseach shares that view. Defenders of the arms industry will say that it employs 800,000 people in the EU but, according to independent research, a euro invested in education or public transport creates twice as many jobs as one invested in the arms industry. The research also suggests that state investment in military spending, as well as being wrong, is one of the least effective ways of creating jobs.

There have been some military spending cuts since the financial crisis hit the European Union, but the reductions have been focused on personnel cuts, such as reductions in troop numbers, recruitment freezes, lower pay and decreased pension contributions. Four EU member states are still among the top 11 countries globally for military spending.

This State stands out due to its significantly low level of military expenditure, approximately 0.6% of GDP. It is a record we should be proud of and continue to build on. Ireland's level of spending is relatively low because of its historical refusal to become a full member of NATO. The big worry, of course, is that if the Government continues to undermine our neutrality and eventually erases it altogether, our military spending will increase significantly in order to bring the Defence Forces up to NATO standards.

It is time to stop putting defence lobbyists' needs above those of citizens. This European Council meeting should be a summit for peace, not for arms lobbyists. The Taoiseach stated in his speech, "We will be seeking to maintain a strong focus on enhancing the effectiveness of CSDP tomorrow," but what exactly will he be looking for? Is it more intervention in conflicts? Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Donohoe, will focus on that in his reply.

Hard-pressed citizens right across the European Union are hoping against hope for real job creation programmes and more health care projects and social protection schemes, yet the worry many have is that the EU leaders will meet to listen to and address complaints about the lack of military spending. I wish I had the eloquence or ability to convince the Taoiseach and others to oppose this further militarisation of the European Union in the form of calls for increased military spending and moves to create what is effectively an EU army.

Will the issue of tax evasion by EU-based multinational corporations be discussed at this Council meeting? A report released on Monday last by the Brussels-based development NGO European Network on Debt and Development, Eurodad, states that developing countries lose between €660 billion and €870 billion each year mainly in the form of tax evasion by these corporations. This is a significant issue which needs to be challenged urgently. EU citizens are donating money to combat poverty in developing countries, through Government aid programmes and private donations, yet EU-based multinationals are turning large profits in the same countries without paying taxes. It does not make sense. This tax evasion undermines the socio-economic development potential and progress of developing countries. For example, developing countries face funding shortfalls of €112 billion annually in terms of meeting the United Nations' 2015 development goals, and plugging this tax evasion could go a long way towards helping these countries to fix this. Until the issue is tackled by EU leaders, Europe will continue to give to developing countries with one hand while taking with the other. Will the Taoiseach raise these matters at the Council meeting?

The European Union is continuing to press ahead with a fishing partnership agreement with Morocco. Sadly, the European Parliament voted in favour of this agreement last week; however, it faced strong opposition, including from my party colleague, Ms Martina Anderson MEP, and the GUE-NGL group in the Parliament. This new fisheries protocol with Morocco will reward Morocco for its aggression and its violation of the guaranteed human rights of the Saharawi people - violations that have been documented by credible and independent international human rights organisations. The partnership also gives a form of legitimisation to Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara, a forceful annexation that the EU and its member states have never approved or legally recognised. As an occupying power, Morocco has no right whatever to exploit the natural resources of the occupied territories of Western Sahara or to enter into agreements with third parties concerning those resources. It also undermines attempts by the EU and other regional actors to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict in that area.

I am running out of time, but I want to refer to Ukraine. We all accept that there are difficulties there. On Monday, EU foreign Ministers and Russia's foreign Minister, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, failed to find common ground on the issue. Yesterday, Ukraine's president opted for a strong no-strings-attached Russian bailout instead of the EU alternative. Russia has the power to literally switch off heat and gas in the region as it faces into winter. I do not know whether the EU negotiators had factored this in. Clearly, there is a geopolitical stand-off in the region, with the Ukrainian people caught right in the middle. We need to step back and let common sense prevail. The countries in the EU's partnership have the potential to become a bridge between the EU and Russia. It is important that the European Union does not put these countries in an impossible position because of the growing tensions. I would be interested in hearing from the Minister of State the position Ireland will take at the Council meeting.

I call on Deputy Boyd Barrett, who I understand is sharing time with Deputy Wallace.

Like my colleagues, in all sincerity, I wish the Taoiseach and all other Deputies the best for Christmas and thank the staff for all their hard work. In doing so, I am acutely aware, as I am sure the Taoiseach is, that there are hundreds of thousands in this country who will not really be celebrating Christmas and for whom it will be a tough time, a trial, something to get through rather than enjoy. That is our responsibility, the Taoiseach's responsibility and the responsibility of European leaders.

That brings me to what I see as something of a merry-go-round of European Council meetings that have gone on for the past two and a half years. Almost invariably, such meetings are accompanied by announcements of breakthroughs, triumphs and, famously, in June of last year, game-changers, but despite all the triumphalism, the critical issue of the significant odious debt mountain and the accompanying costs of paying off that debt, which was put on the backs of the Irish people, remains unresolved. As the Taoiseach will be aware, that cost is considerable. Our citizens, many of whom will suffer this Christmas, carry 40% of the cost of the European bank bailout, or €9,000 per citizen.

That is a tough burden for anybody to carry. It is a gross injustice because we are not the ones primarily responsible for the crisis. We can argue about burden sharing and responsibility sharing but the vast majority of those citizens who will suffer this Christmas are not to blame for what happened, yet they are carrying the can. It has left us in a terrifying situation as an economy, with 120% debt, but if one takes a more accurate measure of our economy the percentage is 150% of GNP. Against that background, the Government has refused to demand, as we would like, or even to ask for a write-down of that debt, and now the promise that we got last June that there would be retrospective recapitalisation of the banks, which is not a write-down but the nearest thing to one that Europe seems to be talking about, appears to be disappearing into the fog of abandoned promises. I ask the Taoiseach how that can be allowed to happen. How can he let it happen, given the gross injustice that loading this debt onto the backs of citizens involves? It is irrefutable that this is an injustice. There is no way they can justify that level of disproportionate unloading of the cost of the European crisis onto the backs of our citizens.

We should demand more. The Taoiseach might not want to go as far as I or others would go, but to let this drift on as another abandoned promise is not acceptable. That abandoned promise is now being replaced with the strategy for growth, as Deputy Collins pointed out.

Let me acquaint the Taoiseach with a conundrum that he must understand.

That is not on the agenda.

No, but this is what is replacing the necessary debt write-down.

There are two lines in it and then we will move on.

Those are two lines referring to a time to come.

I ask that the Taoiseach let me finish; he will have a chance to respond. There are two lines in the document about that, but the approach is to let us forget about that and talk about growth.

We are not forgetting about it.

We all want growth, but there is a conundrum: in order to make that debt sustainable we must have growth, but in order to have growth we have to get a break on the debt.

One cannot have growth without a break on the debt.

The Deputy should follow that through and tell me what he would do.

To follow that through, we should not pay out €9.1 billion in interest next year.

What would the Deputy want us to do?

What is the Deputy's recommendation?

It will make the level of growth that the Taoiseach is talking about impossible. He will have his chance to respond.

What is the Deputy's recommendation?

Fifty-three billion euro of creditor compression.

In the Taoiseach's growth forecast in this strategy he has a baseline assumption of 2% growth and an optimistic scenario of 2.3%, but the ESRI has three scenarios. It has a stagnation scenario in which the debt issue is not resolved and the growth the Taoiseach hopes for in Europe does not materialise. Why is that stagnation scenario not set out, when IFAC and the troika have said that the downside risks are the greater risks? They have said on the record in the Department of Finance that those are the greater risks.

Any objective analysis of the economic scenarios facing us would at least have indicated that this was a possibility. Instead, the Taoiseach has given us an aspiration which may materialise.

The Deputy should tell me how he will get that write-down.

The Deputy should be allowed to continue without interruption.

A suggestion I gave to the Taoiseach yesterday is that he should go to Europe tomorrow and say that instead of giving them €9 billion next year, we will hold €3 billion and use it to fund a major programme of social house building by the State-----

Who will lend us that money?

Will the Acting Chairman ask the Members opposite to stop interrupting me?

The Deputy should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Who will lend us the money?

They will have to write it off.

The building of social housing would house the people who have no roofs over their heads and will be homeless over Christmas. It is not funny.

I know it is not. Those people are in my constituency too.

It would generate revenue for the State. It would save in terms of social welfare expenditure.

Go on, Deputy.

It would put people back to work. It would genuinely stimulate the economy and it would pay for itself. The Taoiseach knows the maths. We are paying out half a billion a year, €600 million if we include leasing arrangements to private landlords. That money will come back to the State and we would save money by putting construction workers back to work, allowing them to pay tax. We would save huge amounts in social welfare expenditure. Why can the Taoiseach not do that? Why can he not tell our European partners to do that?

I cannot believe the Taoiseach is heckling me so much.

The Deputy should come back to me in six months and then we will see what he says.

That is a suggestion for the Taoiseach. I suggest he does that because his policy is to give tax incentives to property speculators again. I cannot believe it.

That is a mad suggestion.

It is causing a rent bubble in Dublin that is directly contributing to homelessness and is giving monopoly control over property in Dublin to big corporate speculators.

That is fantasy.

Frankly, it beggars belief.

Lastly, I have a genuine request. Four hundred workers at Lufthansa are facing the loss of their jobs. Lufthansa is a German company and all the workers want is a fair redundancy package and for a €12 million deficit in their pension scheme to be filled by the company. It made €261 million in profits last year and it has massive accumulated profits. Will the Taoiseach ask Angela Merkel at the margins of the European Council meeting to put some pressure on Lufthansa to do a fair deal in order that those workers who face the loss of their jobs at least get a fair redundancy deal and have the deficit in their pension fund filled by Lufthansa, which is a very profitable company?

When did the Deputy become a supporter of Lufthansa?

Thank you, Deputy Boyd Barrett. I call Deputy Wallace to make his statement.

This week, EU and US negotiators are meeting in Washington DC to hold a third round of talks on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, TTIP. In an open letter, nearly 200 environmental, consumer and labour groups have urged European Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, and the US Ambassador, Michael Froman, not to include an investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, mechanism in the deal. They argue that not only does the ISDS mechanism have very little to do with trade and tariffs, it also undermines democratic decision-making while giving corporations the power to undermine domestic and international policies designed to protect the public interest. Their open letter states:

ISDS grants foreign corporations the right to go before private trade tribunals and directly challenge government policies and actions that corporations allege reduce the value of their investments. Even if a new policy applies equally to domestic and foreign investors, ISDS allows foreign corporations to demand compensation for the absence of a 'predictable regulatory environment.' [...]

ISDS forces governments to use taxpayer funds to compensate corporations for public health, environmental [energy, financial regulation], labor [land use, transportation] and other public interest policies and government actions.

I can tell the Minister of State that they are not traditional trade issues.

Corporate Europe Observatory, a research group, published a leaked version of the European Commission's communication strategy regarding the TTIP. On Friday, 22 November, the European Commission held talks with EU member states to discuss the PR strategy for the trade deal in order to "reduce fears and avoid a mushrooming of doubts", and the Commission proposed to "further localise our communication effort at Member State level in a radically different way to what has been done for past trade initiatives". Fortunately, the Corporate Europe Observatory leaked the report discussed by EU member states. In it we see a direct attempt by the European Commission to mislead the public with the assistance of the governments of member states. The public relations programme is outlined in an enlightening paragraph as follows:

The aim is to define, at this early stage in the negotiations, the terms of the debate by communicating positively about what the TTIP is about (i.e. economic gains and global leadership on trade issues), rather than [...] about negotiating data privacy [and] lowering EU regulatory standards". For the approach to be successful it needs to be both proactive and quickly reactive, involving monitoring of public debate, producing targeted communications material and deploying that material through all channels including online and social media.

It is not surprising that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, parroted the EU line and will not engage with the obvious problems and dangers posed to Irish sovereignty and the public interest by this treaty, particularly the threat posed by ISDS. It is also interesting that the Irish media have not discussed the trade deal in a critical manner at all. A search for the term "TTIP" in the LexisNexis news database, limited to Irish publications and with the sole condition that "TTIP" had to be included in the first three paragraphs of the article - in other words, that it was the subject of the piece - resulted in one article. Mr. Stephen Carroll of The Irish Times had written it, and it read as if tailor-made for the European Commission's propaganda guidelines, the only source quoted being the same Karel De Gucht, no less than five times.

While the Government and the Irish media show no signs of being interested in clarifying some of the issues surrounding this secret trade deal, it is clear what the driving force behind it is, the implications it will have for the Irish, and what this says about the ideology of the Government. The TTIP is the political project of a transatlantic corporate elite which, on the unfounded promise of increased trade and job creation, will attempt to reverse social and environmental regulatory protections and redirect legal rights from citizens to corporations.

Speaking of a complicit media, a lot of ideological work is required for the powers-that-be to convince the population that austerity is good for them or to reduce the intensity of protest against it. All major news outlets in Ireland are right of centre. While that is bad for those who want to know what is really going on, it is good for those who want a favourable spin on their policies. Neither Fine Gael nor the Labour Party was in favour of excessive austerity before the election. They were wiser then and realised that austerity attacks ordinary people by cutting Government spending on social services, health care and welfare. It seeks to make labour more flexible by dismantling and downgrading work conditions and protections to give more power to employers over employees. It raises regressive taxes such as VAT and encourages privatisation of State-owned enterprises, which are often sold to investors at bargain prices.

An interesting study by UCD lecturer Dr. Julien Mercille details how the Irish media have promoted austerity. The study examined more than 400 editorials and opinion pieces in Ireland's three leading newspapers, The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent, and found that only 12% of articles opposed fiscal consolidation, 55% supported it, and 34% did not voice any clear opinion. Worse, these numbers arguably overestimate the extent of the small opposition to austerity because many of the articles opposing fiscal consolidation simply rejected specific cuts without proposing any alternative policy. It is astonishing that only 3% of all articles supported an increase in Government spending, which could form the basis of a Keynesian stimulus programme. The media debate thus revolves around how best to implement austerity without questioning it. Totalitarian regimes would surely be impressed by the effectiveness of this information control.

The media have not been shy about announcing their role in convincing the public that austerity is good for them. At the outset of the crisis, in November 2008, an editorial in the country's newspaper of record, The Irish Times, called for a campaign to educate the population about the need for austerity and civic discipline. The problem was that Irish people did not appreciate the possible extent of the economic downturn because only 10% of them thought the budget should be tougher while two thirds thought it should be less tough, according to a national poll. The editors thus concluded that the Government would have a major job to do in educating public opinion about unpalatable economic realities and the need for civic discipline.

There is little doubt that austerity has led to the socialisation of private losses of elite institutions. This is still taking place. These developments, including the proposed TTIP agreement, are part of a wider moulding of national and legal structures to facilitate corporate business at the expense of the rights of citizens. In effect, the Government has colluded in the international race to the bottom in social protection while simultaneously transforming Irish law into a commodity to be put up for sale on the international market. The process is best exemplified in the annual report of the World Bank, Doing Business - Measuring Business Regulations, which grades 178 countries. We recently lauded ourselves when Forbes put us at the top of the list, but people should remember that in order to win this dubious accolade, Ireland must simultaneously rank among the worst countries in the world for social protection and financial regulations. This was left out of the discussion.

I will not heckle while the Minister of State is speaking.

I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for that. I welcome his contribution at any time. I wish everyone a happy Christmas and a well-deserved break. I take on board the point made by Deputy Boyd Barrett that many people are not in a position to enjoy Christmas, and we keep them in our minds in the work we do here.

I will address some issues raised by my colleagues, many of which focused on the role of the CSDP and the discussion that will take place at the upcoming Council meeting. It is understandable that Deputies raise questions and views on this point because it is the first time in many years that the CSDP has been a discussion topic at a European Council meeting. It is understandable that it is the subject of questions in the Chamber.

The discussion tomorrow and Friday is the culmination of a process that began last December. The European Council of December 2012 adopted conclusions calling on the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and the European Commission to develop further proposals and actions to strengthen the CSDP and improve the availability of the required civilian and military capabilities through a strengthened European defence industry. The preparatory process has been ongoing since that time. During Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union, for example, we hosted a series of seminars that provided member states, the European External Action Service, and international organisations such as the UN and the African Union with an opportunity to exchange views on issues related to crisis management and peacekeeping.

Earlier this year, as key inputs to the process, the High Representative circulated a report on the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, while the European Commission published a communication entitled "Towards a more competitive and efficient defence and security sector". Last month, EU foreign and defence Ministers held a joint meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, at which they discussed and subsequently agreed a comprehensive set of conclusions on the CSDP. All of these will feed into the conclusions to be discussed in Brussels tomorrow.

CSDP, as set out in the Lisbon treaty, is an integral part of the CFSP. It is intended to equip the Union with operational capacity for missions outside the EU aimed at strengthening international peace and security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations charter. I want to emphasise two points to address the concerns raised by Deputies. All development of policy in this area takes place within the architecture set out by the Lisbon treaty and voted on by the Irish people. That explicitly recognises the foreign and security policy principles of our country, particularly our affirmed neutrality. That is the framework within which the discussions take place.

The second point I want to emphasise is that of the types of operation in which Irish troops and civilians have been involved since the implementation of the Lisbon treaty and since policy in the area has developed. The operations were in Chad, Somalia and Gaza, all of which involved attempting to that ensure vulnerable people had access to the principles of the United Nations charter, including the protection of their human rights and protection from difficulty. Across that period, in the policy as formulated, we have seen members of our armed forces and civilians participate in operations that explicitly recognise the neutral stance and policy of our country and are also designed to deliver to people in need of affirmation of the principles of the United Nations and the values that underpin it. It has been in existence for ten years and, in that time, the EU has launched 30 missions, two thirds of which have been civilian and one third military.

The EU is currently conducting a total of 17 missions, 13 of which are civilian and four are military. Ireland, as the Taoiseach mentioned, is currently contributing to six civilian and three military missions.

After ten years in existence it is generally accepted among member states that the CSDP needs to be reinvigorated. The European Council is likely to suggest ways in which this can be achieved. In order to increase the effectiveness of and impact of the CSDP, it will important for the EU to adopt a comprehensive approach to crises as they arise. The EU must work closely with its partners, such as the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, NATO and the African Union is this regard. It needs to be able to plan and deploy the right civilian and military assets rapidly and effectively. We continue to place great emphasis on partnership between the EU and the UN in the area of crisis management. In order for CSDP to remain as an effective and credible tool, the EU will also need to continue to improve and develop the capabilities to be used in future CSDP missions. In that regard, the European Council is likely to highlight ways in which this can be done. The European Defence Agency, EDA, plays an important role in this regard and the European Council is likely to prioritise certain co-operative projects between the EDA and member states, such as air-to-air refuelling capacity, satellite communication and cyber- and remotely piloted aircraft systems.

The final area the European Council is expected to discuss is the strengthening of Europe's defence industry. In the context of the Commission communication which I referred to earlier-----

The Minister of State is running out of time.

I will wrap up in a moment. It is likely that the European Council will request the European Commission and the European Defence Agency to bring work forward in areas such as research, standards and certification, small and medium enterprises and security of supply.

I will briefly refer to other matters raised by a number of colleagues, particularly Deputy Crowe, who mentioned enlargement, Syria, etc. I acknowledge the progress made by High Representative Catherine Ashton with regard to efforts to normalise relations between Serbia and Kosovo over the past six months. I look forward to seeing continuing progress on the Serbian accession negotiations and also the outcome of the negotiations between the EU and Kosovo on a stabilisation and association agreement. On another positive note, the European Council is expected to confirm that we can look forward to a decision on the granting of candidate status to Albania in June 2014, and I will visit that country in January.

The conflict in Syria was mentioned by colleagues. Ireland has been doing all it can to help, providing over €14 million in assistance since the crisis began. We are currently examining future support for Syria and preparing for the second pledging conference due to take place in Kuwait on 15 January. This pledge will represent an increase on Ireland's pledge made at the Kuwait conference last January. The Government is also supporting international efforts to find a sustainable political solution to the crisis. We have called for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access and urged all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and refrain from targeting civilians.

I conclude by thanking everybody for their contributions. Perhaps some of the more detailed points that I could not refer to because of time can be dealt with at the next meeting of the European affairs committee. I wish everybody a good Christmas.