Future of the European Union: Statements

At a time when the European Union faces serious challenges, it is appropriate that we mark Europe Day by turning our attention to the future of the Union while reminding ourselves of its fundamental purpose. It is 68 years since plans for the European Coal and Steel Community were announced. It was a bold plan in a post-war context which envisaged the close interlinking of European economies to ensure, as Robert Schumann himself claimed, that war between historic rivals would not only be "merely unthinkable, but materially impossible". Since then, the European Union has developed into an area in which citizens enjoy the highest living standards, the highest levels of social protection, the highest level of labour rights and the highest protections for human rights in history.

As we celebrate 45 years as a member state of the EU, it is timely to reflect on our relationship with the Union over the past number of decades. Ireland has benefited enormously from membership of the European Union. With EU support, it has transformed into a modern, outward-looking country and an excellent place to do business where the standard of living matches that of the most prosperous of our European partners. EU membership has helped to improve almost every aspect of life in Ireland from how we work, travel and shop to the quality of our environment, opportunities for learning and the way in which our businesses buy and sell goods and services.

EU membership has enabled our transformation from a mainly rural economy to a modern economy driven by high technology industry and global exports, while membership of the eurozone has facilitated exports and international travel. We have reduced our reliance on the United Kingdom in trade and there is now a much wider market for Irish goods and services across the Union. Furthermore, the EU provided the context through which we succeeded in forging strong bonds of co-operation and solidarity not only across the EU but also across these islands and on our own island, after many years of conflict. That has been highlighted even more by the challenges we are facing with Brexit.

Successive Irish Governments have recognised over the past 45 years, and no less so today, that Ireland’s place in the EU is in our best interests. Irish people are consistently among the most supportive of engagement at EU level. A RED C poll commissioned on behalf of European Movement Ireland and published this morning shows that 92% of Irish people support Ireland’s continued membership of the EU. More interestingly, 97% of 18 to 24 year olds showed support. This is a level we have never seen previously. More Irish students than ever are participating in the ERASMUS+ programme and are finding jobs and careers in other member states, while Irish business continues to grow and expand across the EU. A priority of this Government is to maintain and increase the number of Irish people working in the EU institutions, and we have been very active in promoting these career options and offering support to those searching for an international career in the EU. I have travelled to the various universities and engaged with the students to show them the opportunities that are available to them in Europe.

This is not to say that from Ireland’s perspective all is as it should be in the EU. However, while reforms in some areas may be necessary, the fact that the vast majority of people believe that our membership of the Union is a positive factor for Ireland is a valuable starting point. Most people understand that the EU is not perfect, and never will be. However, it is the best mechanism to deal with the challenges we face each day. Every year on 9 May we celebrate Schuman’s vision for Europe in 1950. This year is arguably even more significant as we face into an uncertain future as 27 members, following the decision of the UK to leave the Union. Of course, conversations must be held about the future direction of the EU, what we want from it and how it can work for us. This is all in the context of the difficult issues we have faced over the past number of years, such as the financial crisis, the migration crisis, the recent terror attacks on EU soil that have tested member states and the steady growth of Euroscepticism in some member states. Furthermore, the aftermath of Brexit and the new upcoming budget cycle, as well as political developments in other parts of the EU, have underlined the need for these discussions to take place.

Working closely with a range of EU partners has always been important for Ireland, but strengthening and diversifying these relationships have assumed renewed importance in light of Brexit. I thank our partners across Europe for the unwavering solidarity they have shown to Ireland on issues relating to Brexit and also in setting out our negotiating objectives. It is also essential for us to understand their perspective on other issues and to discuss our shared priorities for the future of Europe. For example, in many key economic and institutional policy areas we share a common approach with the Nordic and Baltic member states and with the Netherlands. Our engagement stretches across the Government, with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Finance engaging in meetings in advance of EU Council meetings with their counterparts. I will participate in a similar meeting organised by Latvia to discuss the multiannual financial framework, MFF, later this week. The Taoiseach and Ministers also engage in an intensive programme of bilateral exchanges with our partners, which allows us to seek common ground, agree key priorities or, at the very least, better inform each other of where we are coming from and of other issues where we might seem to diverge. Understanding each other better goes to the heart of what the EU is about.

We live in a changing world, with major shifts brought about by globalisation, migration, climate change and threats to our security as well as political challenges to the current international order. We, the member states and citizens of the EU, must ask ourselves if the EU is fit for purpose to address the many challenges we will face in the coming years. On 15 November last, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I launched a national citizens' dialogue on the future of Europe. Over the past number of months we have been engaging with people of all ages and from all sectors to hear their views about the Union and its future direction. We held regional events in Galway, Cork, Maynooth, Letterkenny, Navan and Dublin, to name a few, where we heard from citizens and from representatives of civic society, as well as community and voluntary organisations. The events were structured around discussions on key thematic areas, which included security, social policy, education, equal opportunities, the environment, competitiveness and investment. The key driver of these dialogues was the engagement and involvement of as many people as possible. The slogan we chose for this campaign is straightforward and simple: "It's your future; your Europe; get involved". I am pleased that many people did get involved.

These events culminated earlier today at our Europe Day event in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, where our discussions brought these key themes together. I am grateful to all of the people, including Members of this House and of the Seanad, who attended and contributed so much to this process over the past six months. Irish people have a deep and informed interest in Europe. We heard a wide range of views in what has been an open, inclusive and participative process. People have embraced it and got involved. I believe we have a real sense of how Irish people are engaging about Europe and the issues of interest to them. Broadly, the overwhelming majority of Irish citizens who participated in these events see opportunity in the EU and value Ireland’s continued role in it. Ireland’s future in Europe goes way beyond the Brexit issue, and we can look towards a shared future with our EU partners with real optimism.

Areas such as education and training, research and innovation, environmental protection, rural development and competitiveness were among the stand out issues where participants in our consultations felt more EU action is required. Specifically, the areas of education and training came up continually at each event and were in each question that was asked. We have to take all this information and bring everything we have learned through this process together. We have to make sure it informs the Government’s analysis and our contribution to the Europe-wide debate that is taking place.

A clear difference between today and when we joined what was then the EEC in 1973 is that we now live in a much more interconnected and globalised world. We face growing competition from emerging economies such as China, India, Asia and Africa, and are challenged by a range of new issues, such as mass migration, climate change, cyber threats and international terrorism. Most Irish people agree that these issues are too big to be dealt with by one member state alone and value the co-operation and solidarity achieved through the EU to deal with them.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has increased funding to a number of organisations that are involved in communicating European issues to the public. They include European Movement Ireland and the Institute for International and European Affairs, IIEA, both of which have been active and involved in the future of Europe discussion. I also recently announced a fund of €100,000 for 15 civil society bodies, NGOs and organisations through the Communicating Europe initiative. I can give a flavour of some, which are quite wide and varied. There will be a special Blindboy Podcast on Europe live at the MindField arena at the Electric Picnic festival in September. The young innovators for Europe project will be undertaken by the Young Social Innovators and a Big Friendly Guide to the European Union will be launched for primary schools, to complement the Blue Star EU education programme. I expect that these projects will further encourage people to engage, participate and communicate with the various different bodies and outreach assistance that is available to them.

Turning to the MFF, the European Commission just last week published its proposals in advance of negotiations for the next MFF from 2021 to 2027. This will be our first budget cycle without the contribution of the United Kingdom and debates have been ongoing around the approach we should take to the next budget, whether increased contributions from member states is the best way forward, whether a smaller Union necessarily means a smaller EU budget or whether a combination of approaches is the best way forward. We have always said we would be willing to contribute more but we would need to see that there is European added value where that money is contributed. Ireland has traditionally been a significant net beneficiary of the EU budget since accession in 1973. This is first time we will enter the negotiations where that will change. We must continue to adapt to the EU’s evolving priorities, particularly where we can see evidence of European added value. Ireland stands ready to engage positively on these.

However, we cannot lose sight of the value and contribution of traditional policies, including those on agriculture and cohesion. Indeed, the Common Agricultural Policy has been central to maintaining and supporting Irish farmers, who were the backbone of our economy for many years and still represent a hugely important economic sector for us. It is also vital that there be a continuation of the PEACE and INTERREG programmes post Brexit, as foreseen in the Commission's progress report from last December. Last week at our Brexit stakeholder forum I saw how important these are. We will consider the Commission's proposals in full and we look forward to engaging with them.

To conclude, it is evident that despite the many challenges we face in the coming months and years Ireland's outlook on the future of the European Union is positive. Irish people recognise the importance of EU membership. The ties we have developed and the relationships we have built will continue post Brexit. I believe it is fitting to celebrate Europe Day each year, as we look forward to a stronger and better Union into the future.

The next slot is Fianna Fáil's. Deputies Seán Haughey, Lisa Chambers and Billy Kelleher are sharing time.

That is correct.

As we know, today is Europe Day. It is appropriate that we are having a debate on the future of Europe this evening. This morning we had the final public session of the national citizens' dialogue in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, and it was encouraging to see the active participation of so many citizens in this public consultation process. In addition, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the European Union Affairs has given serious consideration to this matter in recent months. Fianna Fáil has made a formal submission to the future of Europe consultation process.

A RED C poll just published found that 92% of the Irish population now agrees that Ireland should remain part of the EU. This finding is welcome but this public support should not be taken for granted. The EU is in need of reform, and engagement and communication with the citizens need to be constantly improved. Brexit was a wake-up call for all of us, so this evening's debate is timely and necessary.

The White Paper on the Future of Europe was published by the European Commission in March 2017. It outlined the five scenarios. In addition, there have since been significant inputs to the debate from the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron.

Fianna Fáil has always been a strong advocate of the EU. Seán Lemass began the application process and we joined the EEC in 1973, 45 years ago, under the leadership of Jack Lynch and Paddy Hillery. There is no doubt but that Ireland has greatly benefited from EU membership. EU Structural Funds have vastly improved our infrastructure, and access to the European Single Market has transformed how we trade, study, travel and work. Sustained investment in groundbreaking research projects, clean beaches, safer roads initiatives, cheaper air travel, more stringent regulation of banks, broader tourism links and stronger employment and consumer rights offer just a glimpse of the variety of benefits Ireland has gained. Ireland should remain at the heart of Europe and we must play a central role in the constructive debate now under way concerning reform of the EU.

The EU certainly faces many challenges, including Brexit, international terrorism, the recent economic crisis, immigration, youth unemployment and the rise of far-right, illiberal tendencies and populism generally. Ireland can and will play its part in resolving these ongoing challenges. With the UK leaving the EU, there will be a shift in the balance of power in the European Union. The Franco-German alliance is now reasserting itself. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the EU must be a Union of equals in which smaller member states willing to play their part are fully included and respected. The EU must not be allowed to become a Europe that is dominated by larger countries which only serve the interests of a few, to the detriment of all others.

All of us who believe in the EU subscribe to European values and ideals, but these values and ideals are under threat in some countries, Hungary and Poland in particular, and it is very important we deal with these threats. Independent state institutions in Hungary and Poland are being curtailed. This threat to the rule of law undermines democracy and freedom, which are core EU values. The EU must take a strong and united stand and take appropriate measures against member states that undermine EU law. We are willing to play a full and active role in this debate, and I look forward to hearing the remaining contributions.

Fianna Fáil has always been a strong advocate of the European Union and we remain so. As my colleague has said, we joined the European Union under the leadership of Fianna Fáil in 1973. Since then, we have seen many positive impacts on and changes to our country as a result of our membership of the European Union. The ability to trade, study, travel and work in other member states is something we as EU citizens value very much, and the improvements in our infrastructure, waterways and environment are evident in every part of our country as a result of EU Structural Funds, policies and laws. Ireland is a proud and active member of the European Union and has been transformed in many ways with the help of progressive social policies from the European Union. We have seen a long period of peace and stability across the EU, and this is down to us working as a Union for the betterment of all citizens, something we should never take for granted.

As a party, we remain committed to the European Union. However, we need to see reform, and I believe citizens are demanding that reform. One need only consider Brexit to see there is a lot of unrest and disquiet among citizens across the European Union with the direction in which the Union is going. When one sees the advance of the far right and parties across different countries advocating an anti-European stance, that is quite worrying and something that we should not ignore but tackle head on. This is why I am glad to have an opportunity to participate in this debate on the future of Europe. Europe has faced many challenges, the most notable now being the one we are dealing with at present, namely, Brexit, which will test the Union and every member state, not just Ireland. However, I believe this is an opportune time for the European Union institutions and all member states to reflect on the EU project as a whole: what it is, what our shared objectives are and the direction in which we wish to move. Brexit presents us with a unique opportunity to have this debate both nationally and across the EU.

Brexit is undoubtedly the most significant event in the history of the European project and is a setback for the entire EU. We have concerns about the fact that the UK has stated it is leaving the customs union and the Single Market and concerns about the challenges this poses for us on the island of Ireland in respect of our Border with Northern Ireland and the communities North and South, but also for our business communities, which do a lot of trade with the UK. We know the European Union will be down approximately 12% of its budget with the UK leaving and we are also losing an ally in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy. The Minister of State mentioned the MFF and the next budget for the European Union. We are concerned that we will see a significant reduction in the CAP for our country and this will mean that hard-hit families across the farming sector will see a reduction in their incomes.

While there are many challenges, we need to see a Union that is strong and effective, a Union characterised by strong and stable democracies, balanced economic growth, sustainable employment, fair wages and a welfare system that protects against poverty and provides a floor below which no one should be expected to live. These are challenges that we must face head on as a State, as a Parliament and as citizens.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue in the little time I have. The European Union, the project itself, has been exceptionally positive in the impact it has had both in Ireland and across the broader European continent. This is clearly evident in increased living standards across all European countries in recent years. Considering the impact the European Union has had on employment law, equality legislation, social policy and the development of infrastructure across the European Union, it has all been positive.

National governments and political parties across Europe use the European Union as a battering ram from time to time. They blame the European Union for some of the policies that may be unpopular in the short term but probably positive in the longer term. At times, national governments fray away at the confidence of the European project for their own domestic purposes, and this issue must be addressed. The core message, however, is that Ireland has played a very active role in the European Union over many years. The European Union should remain a community of nations rather than moving towards a federal Europe, whereby it becomes a nation of communities. This is an issue we must look at long and hard.

Brexit, in the context of the economic impact it will have on Ireland and the broader European Union, is of huge significance. However, the question that must be asked is why did this happen in the first place? We see anti-European sentiment and agitation from extremes on the left and the right across Europe fraying away at this concept, so it is important to ensure that the political centre advocates all that is positive about the European Union. We see parties trying to undermine this, particularly on the left and the extreme right. Even some of the left, however, are now becoming pro-European, so we welcome Deputy Cullinane's party to the family of European parties.

Thank you, Billy.

The European project is not something we should just mention once a year, on Europe Day, and move on. The European project is significant, important and cannot be taken for granted, and we should be willing to improve on it consistently. However, Brexit resulted in a huge nation leaving the European Union.

We have to ask why that happened and could it potentially happen again in other countries in no longer looking at Europe positively but negatively. That is primarily because political choices might be made in smaller nations that might elect governments on the extreme left or right, as has been the case in some countries. It is something about which we should remain constantly concerned.

I welcome the opportunity to have a discussion on the future of Europe. It is timely and important that we take stock of where Europe is at. Ireland and smaller countries have to play their role, have their place and are central to what should be a reform agenda within the European Union. My party believes the entire island of Ireland should stay in the European Union, that the European Union has been good for Ireland and that there is much we can celebrate in being a member of it. Equally, my party has a critical engagement with the European Union, rightly so when one considers that many citizens across the Union are becoming more concerned about the centralisation of power and, as Deputy Billy Kelleher said, a drift towards a more federal Europe and the building, not of a social Europe but a more undemocratic Europe where the big institutions have far too much power and people who are not elected to positions are making decisions that affect the lives of others and cannot be held to account. We all know what happens when that happens. In this State we can point to many examples and the most recent scandals to see that it does not work. However, the thing Deputy Billy Kelleher left out in his contribution is that the creeping federalisation of Europe did not happen by chance. It did not happen overnight, it happened with the passing of every single treaty that his party supported and championed. All of the treaties that gave the big institutions the powers they have, that created the undemocratic Europe we have and the federal Europe the Deputy now decries are treaties his party went out and sold with gusto.

The Deputy's party would just vote "No".

At least my party and others had the courage to have a critical engagement and state that while, yes, we wanted to be part of the European Union, we wanted a European Union that was democratic, one in which smaller states did have powers.

I noticed that when other Deputies made their contributions, there were no interruptions.

Deputy David Cullinane to speak, without interruption, please.

I assume I will be given the same opportunity-----

Yes, the Deputy should try to address the issue.

-----as difficult as it might be for some of the representatives of those parties that were part of the problem that led to the creation of what is becoming a federal Europe. They do not like to hear the truth.

It is interesting that almost every party is becoming more critical of the European Union. For example, the Government is robustly challenging the Apple judgment of the European Commission. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are, rightly, exercised by a consolidated tax coming from the European Union. Everybody has a right to be critical and should be critical of measures that emerge from the European Union, but that does not make us anti-European, it makes us alert to others having agendas, including other bigger member states, and the fact that we must look out for our interests. We must be confident and able to assert our own identity and vision for the type of European Union we want to build. I want to see a European Union that is about workers' rights, social solidarity and investing in public services and which is not about stripping countries of social services and the neo-liberalism that has seen more privatisation and outsourcing to the private sector of what the public sector did in the past. Much of this has been driven by European directives and the European Union. There are some areas where the European Union has been good and others where it has not. It is important that we have an honest engagement and discussion about what the European Union is and what it has done for Ireland.

The biggest challenge facing the European Union is Brexit. That should not define the European Union, but it is obviously huge in the impact it will have on citizens in Europe and this state, in particular. There was a political agreement in December. The Government came back and hailed it as a breakthrough, that we had a cast iron guarantee that the Irish issues were protected, that we had a backstop arrangement that was bulletproof, as the Taoiseach put it, that the Border issue was safe, that there would be no hardening of the Border and that the Good Friday Agreement would be protected in all of its parts and that the rights of EU citizens living in the North who were Irish citizens would be fully protected. It has all begun to unravel since. It began to unravel because it was only a political agreement. The key words in it, that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, were exactly that. We now see a civil war in the Tory Party playing out before us, with multiple wings, and nobody knows who is in charge, or from day to day what the British Government's position is, yet we are at a defining moment in the talks between the European Union and the British Government on trade and we are nowhere near knowing what it will all mean for Ireland. The European Commission tried to translate the political text into a legal format which was rejected out of hand by Mrs. Theresa May who said no British Prime Minister could countenance a border in the Irish Sea, which is precisely what she did when she signed up to the backstop arrangement. At this point, people living on either side of the Border have no idea about what will be put in place. The British Government has resiled from the political agreement made in December, which is unacceptable.

We have to hope the European Union can reach an agreement with Britain on some customs partnership or free trade agreement. That is where we are. It is a long way from bulletproof, being cast iron, and all of the certainties that we were guaranteed. We face an uncertain period. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are saying the right things and presenting an image of wearing the green jersey, that they were out representing Ireland's interests. We said we would support the Government in achieving the best outcome for the State, but both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste said we needed an agreement with the British Government by June. We accepted this. We need to see the colour of Mrs. Theresa May's money and the British Government's proposals in June. Now we hear from the Tánaiste that what he actually meant was if there was sufficient progress. What does "sufficient progress" mean? There is no benchmark that sets out what it is. I can imagine that when we arrive in June, the can will be kicked down the road, that there will be further uncertainty and that we will still not know what has been agreed to. There is a fear that if the British Government puts its proposals on the North of Ireland on the table they will also be the proposals that it wants for the rest of Britain. That will end its hand in the ongoing negotiations. All of us in this House were deeply conscious of the potential for the Irish issues to be used as a pawn in the negotiation between the European Union and Britain and that is how it has worked out. We all agreed that we would move from phase 1 to phase 2 if we there was real progress on the Irish issues. We moved to phase 2, but we do not have real progress. The Government has a big job of work to do and I wish it well because we want the best deal. The problem is that there is so much uncertainty.

I refer to the potential for a European army. Last December the Dáil voted by 75 to 42 in favour of Ireland joining the PESCO agreement on greater European co-operation on military missions. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coalesced on the issue. As they are in government together, it is no surprise that they did so, but we, in Sinn Féin, opposed it.

Sinn Féin was aligned with ETA for years.

Other parties which are fearful of an emerging European superstate were also against it. Some of us in this House do not wish to see a European army. I am not sure about the Deputy-----

PESCO is not a European army.

-----but I do not want to see my taxes-----

Will the Deputies, please, address the Chair?

Sinn Féin was aligned with ETA for years. That was a military alliance.

Perhaps I should address the Chair as there is a lot of heckling from the Fianna Fáil benches; they obviously do not like what is being said.

Yes, Deputies should address the Chair.

I put it to the Acting Chairman who is impartial that there is absolutely no doubt that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agreed to support greater militarisation of the European Union. What will that mean? It means that at a time when there is a housing crisis, a health crisis and people are living in real poverty these guys think it is good that we should spend more money in developing a European army. I do not believe it is. This is a neutral state and that is how it should remain. We can see what is happening in the world with President Donald Trump causing trouble in Iran and elsewhere. I see no benefit in this State being part of any alliance that involves NATO or any large power.

We should be proud of our neutrality and we should remain a neutral state. We should not be party to the PESCO agreement or to an increased militarisation of the European Union. I do not believe that the 75 Deputies who supported that measure are actually in tune with the vast majority of people in this State who, like me, value our neutrality. I do not mind paying taxes, but I want those taxes spent on public services and for good, rather than taxpayers' money being spent on increasing the militarisation of the European Union.

As we mark Europe Day we celebrate the most successful peace process in our continental history. Since Ireland joined what was then the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973 our country has literally been transformed. The events of the last decade, however, have challenged the institutions which decades of work have assembled and have led to fresh questions about the future of our Union and about where we are going. The wrenching economic crisis sparked an existential crisis, the consequences of which are still playing out. New institutions and mechanisms were established and fiscal and economic powers concentrated in the Commission and in the ECB. Ireland has recovered economically but socially the scars remain. Political instability in Italy and Spain continues and Greece still struggles to recover from its economic woes. The rise of right-wing populism in France and Germany shows that even the heartlands of the Union are in difficulty, while in the east the undermining of democratic institutions in Poland and Hungary poses a threat that we simply cannot ignore.

However, the greatest test for us is Brexit. The exit of a member state was contemplated in the Lisbon treaty but few of the crafters of that treaty believed it would ever be tested. The vote of the UK to leave the Union nearly two years ago continues to reverberate and the unthinkable will become reality next March when the UK actually leaves. The challenges I have highlighted are all of deep concern, but it only shows how far we have come that 28, soon to be 27, individual countries on this continent continue to participate in the greatest concentration of sovereignty in European history. The clear message is that together we are stronger and together we can solve problems that have beset this continent for centuries. Together Europe is able to find solutions to the difficulties we currently face.

Encouragingly, as others have pointed out, the results of the most recent European Movement poll show that 92% of Irish people want to stay part of the European Union. It also found that despite the lack of real public debate about the decision of Ireland to join PESCO, which was referenced by the previous speaker, 59% of people supported Irish engagement in military and defence structures. To my mind that is a surprising figure. I regret the rushed decision of the Government last year to sign up to PESCO without proper debate here. We need to give people confidence in the decisions we take. The approach of Malta, which believes that certain operations may breach its neutrality, would have been a good model for us to follow. The move towards enhanced military and defence co-operation poses risks for Europe and presents a domestic challenge for our foreign policy if military strategies become part of European Council decision-making.

The successes of the Union have been many. It has fostered peace on our own island and been instrumental in supporting and negotiating the Good Friday Agreement. The shared EU membership of Ireland and the UK formed the essential bedrock to the Good Friday Agreement and provided the platform for ever-closer alignment and integration of the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. The dismantling of customs posts and the creation of cross-Border bodies, often generously funded by the European Union itself, have laid the foundation for peace and strengthened the all-island economy, as a common set of regulatory standards enabled the free movement of goods, services and people on the island. It also provided a route for the vindication of rights and for the tens of thousands of Irish citizens in Northern lreland an uncertain future lies ahead. The irony of Northern Ireland unionists who advocated for an EU exit signing up for Irish passports to maintain EU citizenship rights, including the freedom of travel, was lost on no one.

The solidarity shown to Ireland since Brexit has been evidence of the power of membership for a small country like us, as fellow members have committed to our objective of resisting the reimposition of anything like a strengthened or hardened border on the island of Ireland. A further example of that solidarity was when the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, sought the support of the EU Council after the chemical weapons attack in Salisbury. That again was a clear demonstration that by pooling sovereignty we have actually strengthened our position as a country. This is an option that will be denied to the United Kingdom after next March.

Even as one member leaves, the prospect of growing the Union remains. There are six possible future members in the western Balkans, including Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. The EU has been an invaluable partner to peace in Ireland and, with our experience, can play a similar role in the Balkans, an area that has been ravaged, settling down ethnic challenges that have scarred this continent in recent decades. Ireland must also play its role in fostering the path to peace of those potential new member states.

Speaking to the Institute of International and European Affairs, IIEA, just over a year ago I said that once again winning the citizens of Europe to the European project and giving people enthusiasm for a vision of the potential of Europe requires a genuine recommitment to a framework for a Europe based on equality, personal freedom and prosperity. It requires EU institutions and leaders to address the problems pressing heaviest on their citizens, in particular stagnant or, in some cases, absent growth and spiralling youth unemployment. They must once again rekindle the potential of hope for our people. In other words, I believe we need to reinvigorate the notion of a social Europe. A Europe that does not recognise the dangers of economic under-achievement throughout this continent will not and cannot win the support of the European people.

Economic under-achievement has fostered a splintering of our politics and a rush to the extremes which repeatedly offer simplistic solutions to real challenges. We need to debate this and to act upon it. Prolonged EU austerity has done great damage to the political and social fabric of our Union.

As Jean Monnet once argued:

Europe has never existed. One must genuinely create Europe.

When visionary leaders such as Monnet spoke about a Europe of the future, they spoke about an idea of tremendous power. The social Europe we created allowed nations to take risks on other nations knowing that the power of the idea of membership of a common European project was such that it could be used to bed down democracy, to maintain peace after centuries of war, and to promote stability and the common good and prosperity of all our peoples. Since the European project began, the integration has occurred. We have begun to create Monnet's vision of Europe. However, without revisiting the concept of social Europe, which was once a dominant idea, we will surely face a disintegration of that great value and the vision of Monnet.

Europe needs to rediscover its spirit and its purpose, that is, to serve its people not to dictate their futures. The Union will survive and prosper if it shows it can meet the needs of its people. Right now, that means growth, jobs and improved living standards.

Social democrats across Europe have led this agenda. During 2016, the Commission began consulting on the pillar of social rights. Last January, the European Parliament endorsed the proposals of its Socialists and Democrats group. At Gothenburg last November, the first summit in 20 years, the European pillar of social rights was jointly proclaimed by the Council, Commission and Parliament. The important document proposed a foundation of minimum social rights. Ireland must now lead on that social agenda.

I leave with one message to the Government tonight: put meat on the bones of this debate, commit to the implementation of the European pillar of social rights, and create the vision of a Europe that can be supported and embraced by all its people.

I am delighted on Europe Day to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this important debate. Clearly the EU is facing major challenges over the next few years, and the decision of the British people to opt for Brexit has offered an existential challenge to its very existence. In virtually every EU country, of course, there have been ongoing and long-standing concerns over the levels of democracy, accountability and transparency in the EU's quasi-federal structures. These concerns have often been too easily dismissed as populism by commentators who, of course, are devoted to the EU project. The conduct of the bailouts of euro members like Ireland, Greece and Portugal since 2010 has greatly exacerbated these misgivings and reservations among the European electorates. The great Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance Minister, is now forming his own Europe-wide political party, which we may see in Ireland.

Brexit was a striking response to these concerns, but wide sectors of EU opinion have had similar worries and concerns and even felt revulsion over the treatment of the smaller euro member states. Rather than deeply examining how these concerns may be addressed in future revisions of the EU treaties, many analysts and journalists simply condemn the fears of the European peoples and label representatives as populist, including those who genuinely want a much more democratic EU. I am one of those.

At a recent meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight involving Members of the European Parliament, Deputies tried hard to show our European parliamentarians how close the relationship is between Ireland and the UK on personal, cultural, social, economic and political grounds. Above all, we emphasised the critical joint responsibility of the Irish and British states for the Good Friday Agreement. At that meeting, we also discussed the proposals for the EU's multi-annual financial framework budget and the likely consequences for Ireland's EU contribution, which is set to reach €3 billion per annum in 2019.

Many other EU countries are also grappling with challenges produced by issues such as the migration crisis, slow economic growth and climate change, to which other speakers have referred. Ireland has to contend not only with working hard to achieve the least damaging result on Brexit but also with how to respond to the proposals of the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron. President Macron's vision on the future of the EU is clearly a programme for a federal structure, a federation. In his book Revolution and his Sorbonne speech of September 2017, he outlined how he wishes to transfer the sovereignty of the historic French Republic of 1789 to a new republic of Europe, led especially by France and Germany. He writes:

Faced with the current serious challenges, it would simply be an illusion, and a mistake, to propose to rebuild everything at the national level. Faced with an influx of migrants, the international terrorist threat, climate change, the digital transition, as well as the economic supremacy of the Americans and the Chinese, Europe is the most appropriate level at which to take action.

Therefore, Macron envisages the end of European nations holding their own sovereignty. In practical terms, Macron's new European constitution will include an EU finance Minister and a shared EU national debt. Perhaps we will start calling it continental debt. Many felt the launching of the euro without an all-Europe debt structure was crazy economics. Macron's model will certainly involve a common consolidated taxation, CCT, base, including clearly pan-European rules on corporation tax and the Europe-wide digital tax. Macron also envisages a great deepening of the current PESCO arrangements, which the Dáil recently approved, although 45 of us voted against them, and the creation of a European defence force, a European army. The President of France seems to want these new structures put in place and a clear path to European sovereignty by 2024, the date of the European Parliament elections after next. Obviously, Macron's vision depends on German support to go even remotely down this pathway to a federal state. He seems to accept, however, that an inevitable consequence of this federalist programme will be a multi-speed EU. A number of states, perhaps including Germany, may join France on a federalist road but other states, although continuing in the EU, will remain outside this core group. Macron's anti-worker initiatives in France do much to undermine his federalist vision since his domestic policy seems clearly to undermine further the "social Europe" programme, about which Deputy Howlin spoke powerfully. Social Europe was such an attractive feature of the EU for the first 30 years of Ireland's membership.

It may well be, therefore, that we are heading for a multi-speed EU, with member states in different orbits around states that want a federal structure. There has always been the issue of deepening or widening. Deputy Howlin referred to the waiting list of states, such as Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, from the former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Armenia and the Ukraine, and perhaps at some stage Turkey and Russia. The very best outcome for Ireland in the wake of Brexit would be that the UK would also be one of those outer states. It would still be orbiting in the European system. Clearly, the UK will continue to be deeply involved with the EU in areas such as security, policing and scientific research. Despite the appalling performance of the current Tory Prime Minister and her appalling Government, as evidenced again this morning during Prime Minister's questions, which I glanced at before coming into the House, it is likely that the UK will end up in the customs union, or at least a customs union as proposed by the distinguished representative Keir Starmer of UK Labour Party, whether before or after the next UK general election. These matters may have to be resolved by a UK general election.

Ireland's critical economic needs and the issue of preventing any border returning in our country make an ongoing close relationship between Ireland and the UK imperative. Thus, when our own people may have to decide on whether to belong to President Macron's core, if the programme is to go ahead, or to be a close confederal member of the future EU, along the present lines, it will be in our interest to support a multi-speed EU constitution. In any case, Europe's greatness lies in the differences and unique cultures, wonderful languages and traditions of all its people, or its 40 or 50 nations. The EU's future evolution should always reflect that essential reality.

I agree with commentators such as Stephen Collins that the Irish Government should engage in a constructive way with President Macron but, given our historical experience, most of our people find his federal vision anathema. We spent so long as part of the British empire. Many people would not be attracted to joining a new Carolingian empire, or seeing a restoration of that empire, which, as the Acting Chairman will know, encompassed France, Germany and Italy.

The most pressing realisation now is the growing size of Ireland's EU budget contribution. We are now one of only nine net contributors to the EU budget and are entering our fifth year as a net contributor. The 2021-27 EU budget is being set at €1.27 trillion for the 27 remaining EU states and this will now represent 1.11% of the EU GNI. Commissioner Hogan, a former Deputy, seemed to be seeking 1.2% or even 1.3%. This type of figure was sought by some of the parliamentarians we met. While the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has signalled willingness to support this budgetary programme, many countries such as Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark are opposed to Jean-Claude Juncker's proposal to breach the previously agreed EU budgetary cap of 1% of GNI. While the British are expected to go on paying into the EU budget past 2021 for critical issues like passporting rights for their financial sector and the EU open skies policy, the additional funding is needed to make up a deficit of up to €12 billion that will be caused by the UK's departure in March 2019. In 2018, Ireland is making an EU contribution of €2.7 billion and will pay almost €2.9 billion in 2019, a doubling of what we paid just five years ago, when we became a net contributor. Therefore, we are now a very significant and important pillar of the EU, certainly in financial terms.

This includes a cut of 5% in Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, spending which will profoundly negatively impact on our farming sector. I think the Minister, Deputy Creed, met his French counterpart earlier this week about this matter because France has a similar view to us. Ireland's contribution and growing net contribution to the EU budget must be kept under very close scrutiny in the coming years, given that it is now becoming a bigger budget than the budget of many of our Departments. The MEPs we met on the budget committee recently told us how the EU's future budget deficit - at least two thirds - will be financed. It will not be by cuts but new moneys. Some of the new money will be additional funding, such as the customs duty that we will be asked to supply. Our Committee on Budgetary Oversight and the whole Dáil need to keep these financial matters under close observation as well as being supportive of the EU budget. I believe, despite the awful Tories who are in government in the UK, and hope that there will be a soft Brexit and that there will not be a Border here. We need to engage with the deep and profound thinking that has been done by people like President Macron about how the European Union will evolve.

The Minister of State had a long day with it being Europe Day. I acknowledge the importance of today, now more than ever before because of the challenges we are facing with Brexit. We are concentrating more on the new Europe, what we want from it and how we will achieve the goals, aims and aspirations that we as a country have on behalf of the people in different sectors, whether agriculture or tourism, and all of the other problems that we have. We had a useful exchange this morning which I thought was beneficial and which went down well. There were maybe 200 or 300 people at that conference event but it was seen and heard around the country and was well reported on. There was a positive reaction to that. I and my fellow members of the committee are dealing with issues like this and the future possible expansion of the EU. Last week, we met with people from the Balkan states. Today, we had the ambassador from Kosovo. We had an interesting and useful exchange with him. We remember the time when Ireland was rightly very welcoming of people in difficult situations. I recounted a story where my late father insisted on being on the runway in Kerry airport to shake hands with every person who came off the plane from Kosovo. They got a special clap on the back and he was very welcoming of them. The ambassador was delighted to hear that story today.

I am glad and heartened to see the results of a recent RED C report which clearly states that 92% of people in Ireland are deeply committed to the EU model and to continuing to be members of the EU. We are willing to put our shoulders to the wheel to make the new Europe work. That is what it is all about. We want it to be a better place for our citizens to live in, for our citizens to move around in and for our young people. At the end of the day, it is about our young people. They are the future. It is important and I encourage every Deputy to get the report, which is county by county. There is valuable information in it which outlines how each county benefited from being members of the EU over the years. It is a good synopsis and is beneficial. I recommend that Deputies who have not seen it get their hands on it and distribute it to their constituents to show that we are benefiting. We have been good to Europe, Europe has been good to us and we want that to continue.

I am glad to be able to speak on the future of the European Union about which I have had concerns, as have many others, for some time. I have been a campaigner since 1973 when we joined Europe. The ideas and views, as Deputy Haughey mentioned earlier, went back to the late Seán Lemass and many other political leaders here aspired to this, worked for this and helped to bring it about. We have benefited hugely from Europe for a number of decades but the shoe is on the other foot now with the situation with the evolving Europe and the pull. Certain countries have taken a huge amount of power, and have neglected and have not listened to ordinary people. Surveys have shown that. The most recent European Parliament analysis found that, in the context of the renewed debate on the future of Europe, only 47% of European citizens feel that their voice counts in the EU. It is the best result since the 2009 European elections. That is concerning. Less than half are committed and feel that their voice counts. We must be ag éisteacht i gcónaí. I should wish everybody a happy Europe Day. Happy days is right but people are dissatisfied. If they are not happy and feel they are not listened to, there will be unease and there will be shifts. There could be seismic shifts in European elections. We have seen that in many nations. There have been major shifts because people feel disenfranchised, feel a huge disconnect and are concerned about that. Over half of the EU's population, of more than 500 million, feel that their voice is not heard. That is a frightening statistic. I do not know about the poll but I assume the report is reputable. It is very concerning that over half feel that, which is more than 250 million people, because 47% are satisfied.

Last year, the European Commission presented a communication outlining ideas on the future of food and farming. The communication proposes a number of changes to the CAP, which is important. The CAP has a major impact on Irish farmers, from the farm to the fork, right down to housewives and the consumers. The changes to CAP focus primarily on making it simpler and ensuring best value for money. It is anything but simple, as far as I am concerned, and it is hard to see where the value for money is. The new CAP wants to establish a system allowing EU countries and regions to fulfil EU goals with their own tailor-made policies. That is a nice and aspirational paragraph. That has not been happening. How will we get the 53% who said they were unhappy and disconnected? What kind of a tailor will we need to make the suits to fit them to make them think that they are being listened to? There is much food for thought here. It is important that we listen or get out to these people. We do not have the heavy gang who, even after Brexit, went off on a tangent of threatening, even when a sovereign country had a vote to leave the EU. The same communication gave no details of how much money would be available and if the budget would be affected by the UK's withdrawal. It is fine to go into the tailor and order a suit but if one does not have money to pay for it, one is in trouble. We want to have a tailor-made system to establish our own tailor-made design yet we have no idea of what is in the budget. There are cuts in the budget so we need to be honest with ourselves. This is very strange.

The multi-annual financial framework revision will also have an impact on the post-2020 CAP. We know that and are unsure of where that is leading us. The future CAP will therefore face several financial challenges while having to deliver for farmers. Several instruments are already available to farmers, such as loan funds. These can often be very hard for smaller farmers. We see that with single farm payments. The smaller farmer often comes out worse after these things.

We have a lot of work to do and the Minister of State has a lot of work to do. It is very important that we bring the people with us and that the people are listened to, as they are not. A total of 55% of people in that survey felt disenchanted while only 47% of European citizens feel that their voice counts in the EU. The British people got lectured from on high after they voted for Brexit. They got lecture after lecture on how they were not good Europeans. They had made a sovereign decision. It has had and will have a huge impact on us so we need to be very conscious of that and support them. One of the reasons was that they were paying in as well - in fact paying more. If President Macron gets his way, he will have a Europe that he and a few more will be in charge of, including finances, and the smaller countries will be left out in the cold. We know that Ireland is now a net contributor, which is a big difference from the early days of the EEC, so it is a big change. There is a lot of work to be done. The Taoiseach came back here last December and told us he had cast-iron guarantees - practically bulletproof - that there would be no Border and this, that and the other. It has evaporated like the snow over St. Patrick's weekend. We have no guarantees and we are left wondering where it will take us. I am asking the Minister of State for European affairs to be a strong voice for Ireland. Above all, we need to listen to concerns unless the Government wants a seismic shift in the next European elections, which are only around the corner. Make haste slowly but bí ag éisteacht leis na daoine.