I will participate in a meeting of the members of the European Council which will take place by videoconference tomorrow, Thursday, 25 March and, if necessary, on Friday, 26 March. It had been planned to hold this meeting in person in Brussels. However, due to the continued high, and in some cases growing, prevalence of Covid-19 in a number of member states, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, took the decision earlier this week to hold the meeting by videoconference.
The items on the agenda include Covid-19; the Single Market, industrial policy, digital and the economy; relations with Russia; and relations with Turkey. Other current external relations issues may also be discussed. We will also participate in a euro summit in inclusive format to discuss the international role of the euro.
I welcome that President Biden will join us on Thursday evening for a discussion on the transatlantic relationship. I discussed the EU-US relationship with President Biden and with Vice President Harris last week when I met with each of them on St. Patrick's Day. On that occasion, I assured the President and Vice President that, if the US is looking to strengthen the transatlantic relationship, there is equally interest and enthusiasm on the European Union side to renew and reinvigorate that relationship. I believe further that Ireland has a distinctive role to play in furthering the transatlantic relationship.
In my contribution this afternoon I will address Covid-19; the Single Market, industrial policy, digital and the economy; and the euro summit. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, will address relations with Russia and with Turkey in his closing remarks.
Last week, on 18 March, I participated in a videoconference with Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, and with the Prime Ministers of Finland, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Malta.
President Michel has held a number of such videoconferences in recent months in order to hold more informal discussions with smaller groups of leaders in advance of meetings of the European Council. We had a good exchange that focused, in the main, on Covid-19 and digital policy issues. All leaders were agreed on the need to significantly increase the production and delivery of vaccines using all tools available to us. As the House will be aware, supply has become a real constraint in rolling out vaccines not only here in Ireland, but across the European Union, in large part as a consequence of AstraZeneca's failure to deliver on its European Union contract. We also agreed on the important role that the digital agenda will play in underpinning the European Union's economic recovery once we overcome the current pandemic and we looked forward to discussing the various dimensions of the issue when the European Council meets.
I also took the opportunity to brief colleagues on my US engagements on St. Patrick's Day, including my meetings with President Biden, Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi. The new US Administration is strongly supportive of international co-operation and I told colleagues that there is now a significant opportunity to strengthen the transatlantic relationship in areas of mutual concern, including Covid-19, trade and climate action.
Covid-19 has been a standing item on the agenda of the European Council in recent months and we will again take stock of the epidemiological situation across Europe when we meet tomorrow. The incidence of the disease is increasing in many member states and additional restrictive measures have been introduced across the European Union in recent days. This can be linked directly with the increased dominance of more virulent strains of the virus, as we experienced ourselves in the early weeks of the year. While we now have one of the lowest incidences of the disease in the European Union, we, of course, remain vigilant. Tomorrow we will discuss efforts to increase the production, delivery and deployment of vaccines and European Union co-ordination in response to the pandemic, including on new variants of concern.
In the face of challenges with the supply of vaccines, we should not lose sight of the scale of what has been achieved. In less than a year, a number of highly effective vaccines have been developed, tested and made available to vaccinate against a virus that was completely unknown. It is a remarkable tribute to science and international co-operation. It is also important to recall that the decision that the European Union should come together as one to order and distribute vaccines has been a good one and very much in Ireland's interests. While there have been frustrations, the cause is the limited supply at global level as manufacturers ramp up their production capacity to meet unprecedented global demand. It does not bear thinking about how Ireland, as a small country, would have fared in a context where we were out on our own as the world's biggest countries competed and outbid each other for access to limited supplies. The European Union has given us access to a portfolio of more than 2.6 billion doses. Deliveries of vaccines will continue to increase as production ramps up and vaccination programmes will continue to gather pace in the coming months right across the European Union and beyond. For our part, we have been administering vaccines as quickly as we can and will continue to do so. In that context, it is vital that vaccine supply chains remain open. I will make it clear at our meeting this week that I do not support actions that would disrupt vital supply chains and undermine vaccine production when the situation remains so fragile.
Of course, the European Union must continue to hold to account those companies with which it has entered into contracts. There must also be transparency as to the numbers and destinations of vaccines that are produced. However, the pandemic is a global challenge and we must work together to overcome it. Equally, the production of vaccines which rely on a range of inputs, from the elements of which they are constituted to the vials in which they are bottled, is a global activity, relaying on complicated and easily disrupted relationships. Any interruption carries real risk to supply. The world as a whole needs us to work together to increase production. As the WHO reminds us, until all of us are safe, none of us is safe. That is why we will continue our discussions on global solidarity tomorrow. We need to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines across the globe. Irish Aid recently announced a planned contribution of €4 million to COVAX to finance procurement of vaccines for developing countries. Ireland will also contribute €1 million to the World Health Organization to support its oversight of the COVAX mechanism, ensuring fairness and transparency. This is part of at least €50 million allocated to global health by Ireland in 2021. Ireland's direct support to COVAX complements a broader team Europe response. The European Union has doubled its funding for the initiative from €500 million to €1 billion, to which Ireland makes a pro rata contribution. When taken with the commitments of individual member states, this brings the entire European Union pledge to COVAX to €2.2 billion.
During the videoconference, we will also discuss a co-ordinated approach to safe reopening of our economies and societies. It will take some time before this becomes possible, but we have an opportunity to begin to plan for this together. In the meantime, we must to ensure that the Single Market is protected and that the unhindered flow of goods and services continues, including through the use of green lanes for goods.
As the House will be aware, the Government continues to advise against all non-essential international travel. Restrictions on non-essential travel remain necessary and are reinforced by legal measures to protect public health and to mitigate the risk of new variants of Covid-19 entering the country. For essential inbound travel, all arriving passengers, with very limited exemptions, must have a negative pre-departure polymerase chain reaction, PCR, test result, complete the passenger locator form and observe post-arrival quarantine. At tomorrow's meeting, I will update my European Union colleagues on the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine this week in Ireland. The position on international travel will be kept under review over the coming months in light of epidemiological developments and the progress of vaccination.
On St. Patrick's Day, the European Commission published a legislative proposal for digital green certificates. Our discussions tomorrow will touch on this issue as we look for the technical work to be progressed over the coming weeks. While there is clearly value in having vaccination certificates for medical purposes, their use for travel purposes requires further consideration.
This week's meeting will also return to Single Market, industrial and digital policy issues, setting important political orientations for the ambitious legislative agenda being advanced by the Commission in this area. We touched on these issues at the meeting of the European Council last October and adopted conclusions. The need for a more competitive and resilient European Union is more evident than ever. To achieve this, we need to set the right strategic direction for the digital transformation, unlock the Single Market's full potential, especially in the field of services, and ensure that the European Union remains a champion of open, rules-based multilateralism. We will only achieve this by developing our own economic strengths, dynamism and competitiveness. It cannot be about excluding others or taking a protectionist approach. We need to work together to support research and innovation, develop technological capabilities and skills, and facilitate the development of a green and digital economy. An open, well-functioning, competitive and innovative digital economy is essential for the European Union's future economic strength.
I welcome the digital compass proposals presented by the Commission on 9 March, setting the course for a digitally empowered Europe by 2030. These include clear ambitions for digital skills, data and connectivity infrastructure, and for increasing the digital intensity of business and public services. I also welcome the emphasis on addressing global challenges through strong international partnerships, including in particular the proposed renewal of the transatlantic relationship through a new EU-US trade and technology council. The Commission's digital compass proposals are consistent with the emphasis placed by Ireland and like-minded member states on setting a strategic direction for Europe that is open, competitive and innovation-friendly.
On the question of taxation in the new digital economy, Ireland remains fully supportive of EU efforts to advance agreement by the middle of this year within the framework of OECD and G20 co-operation. At our meeting, leaders will also express our support for the policy priority areas of the annual sustainable growth strategy published by the European Commission. These will be reflected in national recovery and resilience plans being prepared by member states, including Ireland, ahead of the deadline at the end of April. The recovery and resilience facility is the centrepiece of the next generation EU package agreed by the European Council last July and will be one of the main European Union tools supporting the economic recovery across the Union.
The economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are serious, and employment levels are now well below where we want them to be. The impact has also been highly uneven and presents particular challenges for young people and those employed in contact-intensive sectors. It is important that we retain a clear focus on job creation and having the necessary supports in place to help these cohorts return to employment as quickly as possible. Advancing the green and digital transitions will also underpin a growth path that is sustainable at both the domestic and European Union levels, supported by the right mix of monetary, fiscal and structural policies.
The euro summit will set important orientations for finance ministers on ongoing work on the international role of the euro. In December, we agreed that this international role should be commensurate with the global economic and financial weight of the Union. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will participate in his capacity as president of the Eurogroup, and I expect that we will also hear from President Lagarde of the ECB on monetary policy developments. In his letter to President Michel on last week's preparations at the Eurogroup, key elements identified by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, include: a strong economic recovery, integrated financial markets and payments systems, and delivering on green and digital finance. The international role of the euro in the coming decade will clearly depend in the first instance on how our economies recover from the impact of Covid-19. A strong European recovery, which addresses divergences and prepares for the transition to a digital and green future, will help us achieve these broader, strategic goals. If there is a common thread running through the issues we will discuss this week, it is our interconnectedness, whether that is in terms of delivering vaccines at scale and at pace, developing a green and digital economy, or advancing relations with external partners. We will only secure our future health and prosperity by working together. This is true of our actions within the European Union and of our engagement across the world.
In his concluding remarks, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will update Members on the discussions planned on the European Union's relations with two of our most important neighbours, Russia and Turkey. Our consideration of these relationships will build on discussions we have had at a number of recent European Council meetings. In this too, it is vital that the European Union engages in unity. I look forward to engaging with my European Union colleagues at tomorrow's meeting of the European Council on all of these issues and will report back to the House in due course.