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Joint Committee on European Union Affairs debate -
Thursday, 26 Nov 2015

Work Programme 2016: European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development

We are now in public session. I am very pleased to welcome the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Phil Hogan. He is to present to the committee the European Commission's work programme for 2016. We recall that, on taking office, President Juncker promised a European Union that would be bigger and more ambitious on big things and smaller and more modest on small things.

I remind the Commissioner that he is under privilege. We read out the privilege statement earlier and I am sure he remembers it well. Can we take it as read? Agreed. With that in mind, I invite the Commissioner to outline to the members the work programme for next year.

Mr. Phil Hogan

Although President Juncker said we are big on big things and small on small things, it has nothing to do with height.

On behalf of the President of the European Commission, I am obviously very pleased to be back here in Leinster House to provide an overview of the European Commission's work programme for 2016. I thank the committee for the invitation to do so and look forward to hearing members’ questions in due course. The new Commission has been in office for one year so this is a good milestone at which to reflect on our work to date. The Commission is committed to making bold, yet pragmatic, proposals to tackle our common challenges and emerge stronger in the spirit of European solidarity and co-operation.

The ten priorities outlined by President Juncker remain the right ones and we intend to deliver on them in a focused and strategic way. Last year, President Juncker said we would do different things and do things differently. We are following through on our pledge to concentrate on the big things, as mentioned by the Chairman. We have set out our vision and outlined the steps required to achieve these goals. I will provide a brief overview of a number of priority policy areas, including the progress made to date. This will not be an exhaustive list, so I will be happy to address any further areas that are not covered.

First and foremost, we are maintaining the drive to create jobs, growth and investment. The investment fund is now up and running and delivering high-quality investments to turbo-charge the European economy, including in research. As members know, this is needed. A €70 million investment in 14 primary care centres in Ireland was among the first tranche of investments in projects under the Juncker plan. Ireland was among the first four member states to draw down finance from the European Investment Bank under the plan. We have also front-loaded €1 billion to speed up the implementation of the youth employment initiative to help up to 650,000 young people find jobs, apprenticeships, traineeships or continued education across Europe.

The Commission will now focus on improving the investment environment and deepening the Single Market so that it delivers better outcomes, removes barriers and creates the right environment for innovation, particularly among SMEs and start-ups. As Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, I repeat the message that the European agrifood sector is a vital driver of job creation and growth. I know I am preaching to the converted when I tell members that the agrifood sector has arguably contributed more than any other sector to Irish economic recovery, with 61,000 new jobs created in agriculture, forestry and fisheries in 2013 alone. With the CAP now reformed and more market oriented, the changing international context provides a wealth of opportunities for forward-thinking farmers and agribusinesses. I would like to be in a position to say ambitious and entrepreneurial Europeans, particularly younger citizens, will be able to view the agrifood sector as an attractive career prospect. The reformed CAP provides many incentives encouraging young and new farmers to enter the sector, while our committed pursuit of new markets will open new opportunities to be grasped. More broadly, the Commission aims to improve the business environment by deepening the Single Market and removing internal barriers to investment and innovation, including a range of proposals to implement the digital single market strategy.

Here in Ireland, we are particularly aware that a thriving digital economy can expand markets and create new sources of employment. In December, the Commission will present its vision for a more modern, European approach on copyright to take account of the digital revolution. Further initiatives on geo-blocking, the free flow of data, the cloud and VAT for electronic commerce will follow in the course of 2016. A good news story for EU citizens and consumers is that we foresee an end to roaming charges by 2017. Energy policy is also front and centre in our thinking. As members know, the European Union is a central player in the upcoming Paris climate talks. To that end, we will deliver three important packages under the energy union.

We aim to deliver a circular economy package to maximise resource efficiency throughout the entire value chain. We will set out a new blueprint to ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability, incorporating the Europe 2020 review and the UN sustainable development goals.

Closely linked to Internal Market reform is our commitment to building a more united, resilient and prosperous economic and monetary union. Members discussed this in September with José Leandro, director of policy strategy at the Commission's economic and financial unit. This week, the Commission presented a European bank deposit scheme to further reduce risk and ensure a level playing field in the banking sector. Enhanced dialogue between the Commission and the European Parliament is a key priority to improving the democratic accountability of our economic governance system. To prepare for the transition from stage 1 to stage 2 of economic and monetary union completion, the Commission intends to launch a wide-ranging debate across EU member states.

The 2016 European semester will put a stronger focus on the economic and fiscal situation in the euro area as a whole, emphasising employment and social performance through the development of a European pillar of social rights. I commend the committee on the work it has done on this important area. I encourage it to continue with this work because such engagement is vital to success. For the European Union and member states to succeed in meeting our jobs and growth targets we need to achieve a broad consensus on the right policy direction and generate strong support for reform efforts.

Earlier today, the European Commission published the so-called annual growth survey, which represents the launch of an annual cycle of economic governance. The focus remains on pursuing policies to boost investment and structural reforms and ensuring a sound fiscal base.

While the economy remains our priority, as members know well, addressing the refugee crisis and managing the migratory pressure on our external borders remains a most pressing priority. The instability, war and poverty in our neighbouring regions mean that this issue will remain at the top of the political agenda in Europe for some years to come. The European Agenda on Migration, which was presented in May 2015, provides a comprehensive approach to migration management based on the principles of solidarity and responsibility. In addition, two emergency schemes to relocate 160,000 people in need of international protection from the member states most affected are already operational. The Commission has welcomed Ireland's commitment to take 4,000 refugees. Every day, the FRONTEX joint operations Poseidon and Triton are rescuing people shipwrecked in the Mediterranean Sea. I pay tribute to the Irish naval forces on their tremendous service as part of the European humanitarian operations. The EU has already mobilised €4 billion in humanitarian, development, economic and stabilisation assistance for countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. An additional €1.8 billion will be used to set up an emergency trust fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa.

Stronger and deeper co-operation with third countries of origin and transit is key to managing migration better, including through a concerted effort to provide support for the growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons in third countries. I am pleased agriculture was recognised as making a contribution in this regard at the recent summit in Valletta. The crisis has shown that, beyond these immediate steps, we need to rethink fundamentally the way we manage our common external border and our European asylum framework. We will overhaul our common asylum system to correct the gaps and weaknesses exposed in the Dublin system and strengthen the role of the European Asylum Support Office. Today, this means stepping up existing efforts while pressing for an action plan on return to be fully and quickly put into operation, and for agreement on the pending proposals implementing the European agenda on migration. The Taoiseach and other European leaders will be in Brussels on Sunday to discuss issues concerning the European Union and Turkey.

To act effectively abroad, the European Union must live and grow as a union of democratic change at home. On this front, the Commission will work in partnership with the European Parliament and the Council to ensure the negotiations on a new inter-institutional agreement on better regulation can conclude by the end of the year.

This is necessary to strengthen our common commitment to better regulation as a tool to achieve better results, increase transparency about how European decisions are made and equip the three institutions to work together better.

In 2016, we will introduce our proposal for an inter-institutional agreement on a mandatory transparency register for interest representatives seeking to influence policy making in the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. We would like national parliaments to have a strong voice in European policy making, which is why more than 200 visits have been made by Commissioners since the Juncker Commission took office.

We appreciate that change.

Mr. Phil Hogan

This level of engagement is, of course, unprecedented, but it is essential and will continue. We will also continue to expand our citizens' dialogues, which allow Commissioners to listen directly to citizens in their own regions and reply on the issues that matter most to them.

I will briefly mention the ongoing debate on the forthcoming UK referendum on EU membership. Given Ireland's economic, geographic, historical and societal ties to the UK, it is appropriate that a deepening discussion is taking place in this country on the so-called Brexit. That debate is happening on a variety of levels, including in the Houses. I commend the excellent report prepared by the committee. I am sure that Mr. Jonathan Faull's intervention here yesterday was instructive and engaging. It is right that Irish parliamentarians express their views in this debate and that their reflections are heard in London and Brussels.

As members are aware, EU member states and institutions have faced a series of complex and, at times, daunting challenges in recent years. To respond to these challenges, it is essential that we make the best use of our resources. The Commission has pledged to do things differently, and we are delivering on that pledge. The budget must be geared to results and the mid-term review of the multi-annual financial framework will consider how to target funding for key priorities better while putting a stronger focus on achieving results.

All of our proposed actions are underpinned by our new better regulation agenda. We want to ensure that, when the EU takes action, it does so in a way that delivers results and makes a positive difference in the lives of citizens. Our work programme will review key areas of existing legislation, such as health and safety in the workplace, to ensure that they are fit for purpose and continue to deliver results. We also propose to withdraw a number of initiatives that have become obsolete or watered down over the years or have no chance of being adopted.

It is imperative that we are honest about where we find ourselves today. The legacy of the economic crisis remains deep and lasting, the scale of the refugee crisis breath-taking and the threat of disintegration and disunity in Europe deeply worrying. The work programme is about facing up to these challenges and meeting them head on. When it comes to jobs, growth, investment, climate change, trade and sustainability, Europe can and must provide solutions to the problems faced by our citizens. The agenda that I have outlined is a concrete step towards making this conviction a reality.

I thank the Commissioner for outlining the work programme. I will start with two questions, the first of which is on the last issue that the Commissioner raised, namely, the potential exit of the UK. A proposal in the work programme on deeper and fairer economic and monetary union, EMU, relates to the development of a European pillar of social rights. Bearing in mind that this proposal seeks to address gaps in existing legislation on social rights, which is one of the areas in which the UK is interested in seeing changes, will this cause problems, what does the Commissioner envisage happening and how will that square with the UK's desires?

My second question is on the Commission's proposals on a deeper and fairer Internal Market. The Commissioner mentioned the withdrawal of some obsolete legislation, for example, the common consolidated corporate tax base, CCCTB. According to the Commissioner's communiqué, the Commission intends to withdraw this initiative and replace it with proposals for a staged approach, starting with the agreement of a mandatory tax base. How will this impact on Ireland? In particular, will it impact on our ability to compete for and attract foreign direct investment, FDI?

I welcome the Commissioner and thank him for addressing us. I congratulate him and his colleagues on their successful initiatives to date.

I will ask a number of questions on pressing economic issues. Is the Commission satisfied with the progress made in restoring economic activity throughout the EU? We in Ireland are happy to have a reasonable growth rate, but it is not replicated across the EU. To what extent is the Union addressing these issues? Is the work programme adequate to deal with them on a priority basis?

My next question is on climate change, in particular the extent to which climate change measures such as carbon reduction targets can be contained within the food-producing agricultural sector without one damaging the other. By this I mean achieving the targets while ensuring that the agrifood business is allowed to expand and progress, given the global need for food.

My final question is on youth unemployment or employment, which is the reverse side. Have adequate steps to address this issue been taken and responded to positively throughout the EU, in particular as regards long-term youth unemployment?

I thank the Commissioner for a comprehensive overview of the work programme, what has been done to date and where the Commission intends to go. I would like his views on a number of issues. Regarding migration and despite the volume of people involved, the Commission seems to suggest that 160,000 people will be dealt with through the relocation programme. That is small compared with the number of people who have crossed the outer border in the past year. I had an opportunity to visit Calais this summer to see the situation there. The problem is not going away and its scale is obvious. It will taper out over the winter but, with the expected continuation of hostilities, it is highly unlikely that it will not increase again as the weather changes. Is the 160,000 figure a starting point? Does the Commissioner expect the Commission to try to negotiate further? It is clear to us that this number does not match the demand.

The Commissioner rightly pointed out the importance of the agrifood sector to the economy. He referred to the necessity of retaining young people in the sector, in particular on the farming side. He has been involved in a programme that aims to achieve better lending arrangements for young farmers who want to invest in the farming sector. To that extent, discussions have been held with the European Central Bank, ECB. Will the Commissioner update us on this initiative's status?

I do not expect the Commissioner to have a crystal ball, but will he to some extent give us the Commission's view of where the market for beef and milk lies? Dairy farmers have suffered a significant drop in incomes this year. Most of them take the view that dairy must be approached on a five-year cycle. However, the elimination of the quota has encouraged new people into the sector. Will the Commissioner provide us with some visibility of the Commission's standpoint on this issue?

I should inform the committee that the Commissioner must leave at approximately 4.20 p.m. If we are as tight as possible with our questions, we should be able to get through them.

We will be very accommodating.

I welcome the Commissioner, Ms Nolan and Mr. Keary to the meeting. The Commissioner mentioned roaming charges. If they were sorted by 2017 or sooner, it would be a positive indication of the role of the Commission and the European Parliament in changing something that directly affects many people.

I like the idea of the changes being "big", how they will be delivered and so on. All of that is important. In 2016, the Commission will examine a few selected sectors more closely in light of their growth potential or because they face specific challenges. That is akin to the Government's influence on the tourism sector, which was targeted early after the Government's formation as having growth potential. If this approach is replicated in the Union's policies, it will be effective.

I have a few questions. Deputy Durkan mentioned climate change, the Paris talks and the emissions trading scheme.

What role does the Commissioner envisage for forestry, particularly carbon capture and forestry? Does he see a role for this in the talks?

We signed off on a political contribution in this committee yesterday on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It has been widely speculated that there will be opportunities in the dairy sector but that there could be threats in the beef sector. Does the Commissioner have any concerns about this?

The common consolidated tax base is being withdrawn. The Commissioner has stated it will be replaced with a mandatory tax base. What is the difference? The 12.5% corporation tax rate has been sacrosanct in this country. The full or maximum collection of the tax is only right and proper.

The multi-annual financial framework and the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy are important in the context of direct transfers to the west, particularly for designated lands. It is necessary to protect those payments. Does the Commissioner have a view on the review?

The Commissioner is welcome. I am unsure whether it is coincidental or whether the Commissioner is aware of it, but we held a debate in the Dáil one or two hours ago which resulted in the ratification of two economic partnership agreements. One was an agreement with the CARIFORUM states and the other was with west African states. This leads me to a question on point 6 in the document, which argues for a reasonable and balanced free trade agreement with the United States.

Sorry to interrupt you, Deputy. Will you give the floor to the two Senators, please? A vote has been called in the Seanad. This would allow them to contribute. I will come straight back to you after both Senators have spoken.

Senator Leyden, you have approximately two minutes. Then Senator Burke will have two minutes.

I welcome the Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, Ms Barbara Nolan from the office in Dublin and Mr. Kevin Keary from the Commissioner's cabinet. Of course, we all have the same jumper as far as Ireland is concerned. Mr. Hogan is the European Commissioner but he is knowledgeable on the Irish situation.

The whole question of transatlantic trade was raised. The partnership agreement has major implications. I am delighted that Mr. Hogan is the Commissioner with responsibility for farming for all 28 European countries. I am confident that he will ensure Ireland is protected against the import of genetically modified cattle with hormones and so on.

The question of surveillance of farmers from the sky is important. Approximately 8,000 farmers are being controlled by a satellite assessment of their places. Is Ireland the only country in the European Union that operates such stringent control of farm grants? Are we the exception to the rule?

My final question relates to the transposition of European directives into Irish law through statutory instruments. We need more debate at a local level on this question. When the Commissioner was Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, many directives were not brought into Irish law. I recall him telling me that he had to clear up some cases when he took office in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It would be better if they came through primary legislation rather than statutory instrument. The process has caused untold difficulties, particularly with the bog situation and other issues that have arisen in the past. Some of these issues were not debated in the Houses.

I am delighted to see the Commissioner and Mr. Keary before the committee. I was involved in training the Commissioner when he was in UCC, and Mr. Keary worked as one of my research assistants when I was at the European Parliament. I am delighted to see both of them doing so well.

They are there and Senator Burke is gone.

In fairness, I trained them well. The programme includes an initiative on a new start for working parents. It relates to parents who are self-employed. Our system does not appear to assist people who are self-employed, including in the case of maternity benefit. This needs to be examined throughout Europe. For example, if a woman has a baby before 1 April, she is entitled to claim maternity benefit, but if it is after 1 April she has to wait until the following year to claim maternity benefit. We want people working; we want them to set up new companies and run good businesses. However, we put all manner of obstacles in their way, especially if they are self-employed. This needs to be looked at from a European point of view. A serious disadvantage is imposed on people, especially people who are self-employed. This is something that certainly should be taken up. It applies in cases involving farmers whose wives decide to start up a business. They are being seriously disadvantaged in this regard. That is one area we need to seriously consider. We need to have a broad policy throughout Europe for people who are self-employed to ensure they can stay in the workplace and keep their businesses going while they are on maternity leave.

Thank you, Senator Burke. You may need to go to the vote. The bells are still going, so you are okay for time. Thank you for your contribution. Deputy Byrne, I apologise for interrupting you earlier.

You do not have to thank me. I will take it as given.

I will certainly thank you on behalf of the committee. Thank you for ceding.

I will go back to where I was, if I can remember. I was telling the Commissioner about a vote today in the Dáil. These economic partnership agreements are interesting. Previously, we have had Eastern Partnership agreements with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia.

There are dissenting voices in the national parliaments. There are eurosceptics in our national Parliament. Some people argue strongly against TTIP. Is the Commissioner satisfied that under the new regime the argument about more openness in the negotiations is being fulfilled? More important still is the timing. Will the Commissioner offer his opinion on when he believes the agreement will be completed? Does he believe the European project is doing enough to allow the citizenry to understand the nature of these trade agreements? Is enough money and propaganda being put into the positive nature of them? Many NGOs, ultra-leftists, Trotskyites, anarchists, communists and republicans are arguing against the role of Europe in expanding its trade links across various regions.

Let us consider the proposed programme from the Commission. The committee has already debated in great depth and detail a British exit from the EU. Can the Commissioner offer a view in the light of Mr. Cameron's letter? We have seen it spelt out clearly - we heard the points expanded upon clearly yesterday - what Britain is trying to achieve in negotiations with the European Commission. There is a logical position in all these programmes listed for us. Many of them are in conflict with the case the British are now arguing. For example, they argue a case on the basis of the euro region versus the sterling area and the other nine countries outside the euro currency. They maintain sovereignty is important to them. They make a case on the basis of defence and intelligence policy as well. They argue negatively about the free movement of people within Europe. Whatever about non-Europeans coming into Europe, they have an extraordinarily strong and possibly dangerous argument to the effect that they should be allowed to discriminate against Europeans. It seems the argument is that economic migrants from Europe should not be allowed in, but there is a different position for those providing potential jobs and skills that are in short supply.

In a nutshell, can the Commissioner explain to the committee how he believes the British position now being negotiated will conflict with how the Commission proposes to overcome the difficulties on the various issues, such as the completion of banking union?

I have a number of comments to which I ask the Commissioner to respond. He mentioned the ten political priorities and the corporate tax package. He might expand on that in the couple of minutes he has left. TTIP has also been mentioned. There are concerns about workers significantly losing out, in particular as key social contracts, which to date have provided some level of protection, are now under negotiation. The Commission talks in terms of plans to help workers displaced by TTIP or to adjust to change, as the Commission programme states. Could the Commissioner expand on how the Commission plans to help workers adjust to change?

The Commission programme refers to the EU becoming a stronger global actor, but does not mention the further militarisation of the EU. Some countries sought to create a standing European army. What are the plans of the Commission in that regard? Is it seeking to further develop the militarisation of Europe?

The last discussion we had was on the fallout from the Paris attacks. What is the potential impact on civil liberties across Europe? How does the Commission plan to reconcile security and privacy rights?

Migration was mentioned earlier. Southern European countries, specifically Greece and Italy, face a shocking lack of solidarity among EU member states. How does the Commission plan to tackle this lack of solidarity?

My last point is a follow-up on the last discussion. Some Schengen countries have enacted border controls. Does the Commissioner believe Schengen is in serious trouble? Yesterday, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, took questions and we discussed the situation in Libya. He said 800,000 people are on the beaches in Libya and 700,000 have already travelled to Europe. What is the situation regarding migration after the Paris attacks? What does the Commissioner believe Ireland and Europe can do better in terms of migration?

It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Commissioner. I wish him continued success in his role and thank him for coming to the meeting. I also welcome Ms Nolan and Mr. Keary.

Given that the UK is our major training partner and we have many ties of kinship and a very particular and special relationship with it, the prospect of it exiting from the EU is of enormous significance to us. In that context, it would be good to hear a clear indication from the Commissioner that the Commission will bend over backwards and do everything possible to accommodate and work with the UK into the future and ensure it remains within the EU.

I do not have to tell the Commissioner what an important input it has at EU level and what a central part of it it is, apart from the domestic Irish interest. In that context, lessening bureaucracy, which seems to be one of the UK's demands, should not frighten any of us, and a strong role for a domestic parliament within a European context should not either. There are contentious issues around migration, but they could be dealt with. I am anxious to hear from the Commissioner that every effort will be made in that sphere.

My second point concerns TTIP. I am anxious, given the electorate in my constituency and the overall interests of our country, to get a clear indication from the Commissioner that the security of food supply within Europe will remain a top priority despite TTIP and that current veterinary and food standard would be in no way compromised by TTIP. Both issues involve vital Irish interests and there are many downstream jobs for agriculture. I ask for assurances in that area.

Mr. Phil Hogan

I thank everybody for their questions. On the Chairman's question on social rights vis-à-vis what was discussed yesterday with Jonathan Faull and the UK, my reply is also an answer for Deputy Byrne and others who raised the issue of the UK. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a commitment that he would hold a referendum and is entitled to put forward what he feels are the important issues he wishes to have considered. The European Union does not always have to agree with him and that is why a negotiation is taking place.

The free movement of people is a very important issue for the European Union and is one of its fundamental pillars. There will be a very intense negotiation on those matters, which, as we know, are quite dominant political issues in the UK. The free movement of people has been a considerable help to economies like the UK, Germany, France and other countries, in terms of the skills required for economic reasons. In the absence of having a definitive outcome of on any of the negotiations that are ongoing between the Commission and in the British Government, nobody who puts forward proposals expects to get everything for which he or she looks. The fundamental pillars of the European Union will be protected, in terms of issues raised by the Chairman and Deputy Byrne.

We recently put forward a new policy document on social rights. Commissioner Thyssen, who, I understand, was recently in Ireland, has given strong indications about the priorities of the Commission. The social dimension has now been put back into the narrative of the European Union, something that was absent for a number of years in terms of labour mobility, the rights of individuals in the workplace and the basic human rights of individuals as citizens of the European Union. We will see a stronger social dimension, in addition to the economic dimension that has been fostered by the current Commission, through Commissioner Thyssen.

Taxation issues were raised by a number of members. The European Commission has no proposals to force member states to change their corporate tax position. I remind members that it requires unanimity of member states before that can be done. I do not see any unanimity on this particular proposal in any part of the European Union at the moment, but reforms are needed in terms of the way in which we deal with the tax base, arising from recent high-profile decisions.

Ireland has been to the forefront in working with the OECD, through the BEPS project, to clarify and improve our tax situation at corporate level. We foresee a staging approach in order to get to the right place, which will involve openness and transparency in regard to the tax base, but that does not mean that we will ask the Irish Government or any subsequent government to change the 12.5% corporate tax base. This is about what does and does not count for calculable purposes for the tax rates to be applied. The OECD has worked with all member states, including Ireland, to provide clarity on that issue, and it is making substantial progress. This is why we are withdrawing the old proposal on corporate taxation, and not for any other reason. We want to work on the new opportunity the OECD work has given to us.

Deputy Durkan is correct when he says that the European economy is largely flat and needs a boost. That is why President Juncker developed his proposals on job growth and investment as one of the main priorities prior to the establishment of the Commission. One cannot do much without money. President Juncker has created a vehicle of €315 billion to try to put some kind of leverage in the financial system for every member state to be able to draw on for the more risky projects that would not otherwise go ahead.

In Ireland and Northern Ireland, or between Ireland and the United Kingdom, there are opportunities to consider joint projects, apart from member state projects, under the European Fund for Strategic Investments, EFSI, which is the fund implementing the Juncker investment plan. This is with regard to energy and major infrastructural projects on which we could work closely together, where normally we would not be on top of the list because of the scale of the projects or the risks involved. This country should reflect on what type of projects could be put forward over the next five or six years that could draw down this fund, which is not available elsewhere. The standard funds are available through the rural development programme or the Social Fund, but this is quite different. The Government is considering some projects along these lines to give impetus to major projects that may not otherwise go ahead. It is very important that we are conscious of our competitiveness and deepen the Single Market and the EU, because this is how we will have much more economic activity at the level of the 28 member states and have the necessary fiscal discipline, through the European Semester, to keep people in check and learn the lessons of the past from the many member states where things have gone wrong.

A number of people asked about the youth employment agenda. It is very important because in various member states, such as Spain, 25% of those unemployed are young people. This is huge in terms of social cohesion. We have a particular targeted fund for youth unemployment, and 650,000 places will be made available in the coming years, with €1 billion targeted at youth employment initiatives for training, apprenticeships and continuous education throughout the European Union, and Ireland is participating in this.

Climate change has been mentioned, particularly by Deputy Kyne in the context of agriculture. We subscribe to the role of agriculture in job creation and I gave a figure for 2013. I do not believe the figure of 61,000 from 2013 has abated and I would say there were more jobs created in 2014. It shows it is hugely important to mobilise the indigenous sectors of our economy for job creation purposes, because we do not need the same level of importation of raw materials. Agriculture and tourism have made a major contribution to our economic recovery.

It is crucial that the accounting rules integrate forestry and agriculture as part of the climate change negotiations. All land use should be taken into account irrespective of what is grown on the particular land. I hope this is what will emerge from the climate change talks in Paris, and we must watch carefully the bilateral negotiations that will take place between member states and the Commission on the effort-sharing decision to implement the outcome of the agricultural dimension of these talks. If the overall European objective is to grow more and feed the larger population of the world, which will be 9 billion people by 2050 - 2 billion more than we have now - how will we do this if we do not produce more? However, we must do it in an environmentally sustainable way and in a way that meets the horizontal climate change measures of other Directorates General, including that with responsibility for the environment. All of these matters must be taken into account before we come to the types of outcome we all desire, allowing food to be produced sustainably and meeting our climate change objectives. It is a difficult balance and the first half of 2016 will be an intensive period when the Government and Parliament will have discussions with European Commission.

TTIP has been mentioned by a number of people. I am involved in the TTIP negotiations from an agricultural point of view, but the lead negotiator is the Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström. We want a comprehensive agreement and not just an agreement on tariff equalisation or market access. I think the priority for the US side will be trade liberalisation based on the reduction of tariffs. We want to see progress made on financial services, public procurement, and the regulatory issues which have been mentioned, such as sanitary and phytosanitary issues, the environment, labour rights and standards across the board. We want to see them protected in the chapters of the negotiations. We depend on the parliaments of the 28 member states and the European Parliament to approve the deals, so the committee members will have a say on whether they agree or disagree with the outcome of the TTIP negotiations. I keep telling the US negotiators that we must have a deal we can sell at home to 28 member states and the European Parliament. It only takes one member state to say "No" and the entire deal is off. This is not fully understood or recognised. The member state parliaments will have a major say in the final outcome of the negotiations. Committee members can take it that the issues of concern to them are well marked, noted and communicated.

It will definitely be a mixed agreement where national parliaments will have the right of approval.

Mr. Phil Hogan

Absolutely. The 28 member state parliaments and the European Parliament must approve it, which is a fair standard to live up to in terms of a balanced outcome to any negotiation, including TTIP. It is something we forcibly communicate to the US side, and therefore we must meet the requirements.

Deputies Dooley and Byrne mentioned citizens getting more information and getting involved in the negotiations. Recently, with regard to the investor state dispute settlement, ISDS, arrangement, 150,000 people decided that they had a view. There was some duplication and we have reduced the figure from approximately 300,000 to 150,000. They felt they had concerns about the former proposal, and because of this Commissioner Malmström initiated a public consultation and changed the system, which is now much more reasonable in terms of meeting the public's concern. It does not in any way remove the courts from the system of adjudication but it is trying to make it less bureaucratic and less expensive in the first stage. Ultimately people will have a right to go to court, as they do with anything. The scheme was sought to speed up settlement procedures and get quicker decisions.

It is very important that we keep an eye on the cumulative effect of free trade agreements because they have economic and social impacts. In July we did a deal with Vietnam. Everybody realises the European Union went beyond what was initially expected in terms of meeting the requirements. A total of 60% of Vietnam's population works in agriculture, and it will get more access to the European market than it would have expected because of the poverty levels and the need to lift people out of poverty through free trade agreements. They are an excellent vehicle for dealing with global poverty. In this case, particularly with regard to rice, Vietnam is very satisfied with the deal and the European Union countries seem to be reasonably satisfied with the balanced outcome because we are getting free liberalisation for all of our other products going to Vietnam, which is a country of 90 million people and a growing economy, which is doing exceptionally well considering where it was 30 years ago.

They are very nice people.

Mr. Phil Hogan

Yes, they are.

Some of our members recently visited there.

An example of the difficulty with trade agreements is that one of the agreements the Parliament agreed today has been in operation for the past six years. We are only playing catch-up. This is a big concern.

Mr. Phil Hogan

Agreements must be approved by member states-----

Six years later.

Mr. Phil Hogan

That is not the fault of the Commission.

I know that. It is the fault of the Government.

Mr. Phil Hogan

I mentioned workers losing out through TTIP and I do not see environmental issues, labour mobility issues or standards with regard to food or workers' rights being in anyway diminished. We can say "No" if we are not satisfied with the fundamental rights we demand.

With regard to the issue of the European Union being a stronger global actor, later this year the Commission will present proposals for a European border and coast guard, which is effectively being put in place to strengthen Frontex, the organisation established to deal with the refugee and migration crisis.

This should, and will, occur in the context of the broader development of the European Union's capacity to be more united in relation to external action. It must be remembered that because Ireland is in Schengen, it can choose to opt in or not while other member states in the migration area of the European Union that are experiencing enormous turmoil, societally and economically because of what is happening, cannot do so. They are not able to cope. One example is Sweden, which I recently visited. There are 12,000 people per week coming through Denmark into Sweden. One can imagine the pressure this is placing on the local authorities there in the context of the speed with which they must provide housing and social services for those people and the expenditure required in that regard. It is a great challenge to us all.

Migration is the number one issue politically. When President Juncker included addressing the migration issue in his list of ten-point priorities last year people wondered why he did it. It appears he is a very far-seeing gentleman. Nobody could have foreseen the scale of this displacement of people. The migration issue and other economic and social issues will be discussed at the forthcoming summit next Sunday between the European Union and Turkey. The outcome of those discussions in terms of how it is proposed to manage the 3 million people that are displaced will be particularly important. There are a further 1 million people displaced in Lebanon and another 1 million people displaced in Jordan. As pointed out by many speakers today, these are issues that will be with us for many years to come. We will need a great deal of patience politically on this issue. We will also need a great deal of resources to deal with it effectively. Schengen is under pressure from that point of view. There will be a discussion in the future around a review of Schengen in the context of these issues. As mentioned by Deputy Dooley, the 160,000 people about whom we are speaking today are only the tip of the iceberg in the context of what Europe has to deal with.

I will now try to address some of the other points raised. On the point regarding young farmers, we are working with the European Investment Bank to secure more longer-term loans at reasonable rates of interest. The situation in this country in relation to the cost to people of borrowing money is uncompetitive. A similar situation applies across many member states. We are working with the European Investment Bank, on which Ireland is represented, on the creation of an agricultural fund which would provide competition and options for people. It is proposed not to create further financial bureaucracy but to utilise existing financial institutions to channel that money to the people who need it. We are prioritising restructuring of the dairy sector post-milk quota and young people who want to get into farming and forestry.

I do not propose to engage in crystal ball gazing in relation to market developments in regard to agricultural commodities as to do so would mean us being here for a long time. Suffice it to say that the difficulties being experienced in the dairy sector are likely to continue into 2016. It is my job to secure new markets in this regard. We are doing everything possible to get new markets for our dairy producers. Having lost €5.2 billion owing to the Russian ban last year, our exports in this area increased by €8.6 billion this year. We have turned the corner in relation to exports but we are not getting the same value as before.

President Juncker wrote to President Putin this week in relation to how trade relations with Russia can be normalised again. Obviously, there is a political dimension to that in terms of the sanctions having to be taken into account. Nevertheless, people in Russia, as well as in the European Union, have to be fed. The Russian people are experiencing problems because of the lack of opportunities in this area.

Are we easing off on the sanctions?

Mr. Phil Hogan

No, I did not say that. I said there was a political dimension to this issue. I am sure people in the foreign affairs arena would be able to update the committee on it. I am only stating the facts, namely, that President Juncker has tried in recent days, through correspondence, to open up dialogue with Russia in regard to trading opportunities. I am sure if that were to arise there would be trade-offs in relation to economic sanctions. There is a window of opportunity opening up because of matters in the Middle East.

On civil liberties, security and migration, in the context of the problems being experienced across the European Union, because of the actions of terrorists we will enjoy a little less privacy but more security in relation to the legal situation in member states. That is not the fault of the citizens who are law abiding rather it is the fault of the people who wish to engage in this type of irresponsible action and terrorist activity. What happened in Paris has changed everything. In my view, it is effectively the 9-11 of the European Union. We should remember that people in Belgium and other member states across the European Union are living in fear of what may happen in the future. The legal situation in every member state in terms of the power of the legal authorities therein to deal with these matters is, I expect, under review. It is a fact of life that when people take the law into their own hands and as a result of their actions 129 people are killed, changes to the legal systems and legislation to deal with that activity must be expected.

On the point made by Senator Colm Burke in regard to maternity benefit and the self-employed, there is no agreement in the European Union on these matters.

That is a national competence.

Mr. Phil Hogan

It is a member state competence. I am aware of the Senator's representations on the issue to the European Union. I know he has a lot of experience in relation to dealing with these matters and so on and I am sure he will find another way of securing traction on them. I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before it today.

What about satellite surveillance of farmers?

Mr. Phil Hogan

There are 13 member states involved in the satellite oversight system mentioned. We are not on our own in that regard. A watchful eye is maintained on people to ensure they remain honest.

Farmers are honest.

Mr. Phil Hogan

I never said they were dishonest. It is important in the context of the €56 billion we get through the Common Agricultural Policy that we keep them honest.

I thank the Commissioner for attending today's meeting. I agree with him that under Vice President Timmermans there has been a greater level of engagement between the Commission and the national parliaments. We appreciate that. I thank the Commissioner for his forthright comments in relation to the committee's annual work programme. Also, it has been reassuring for members of the committee to hear that TTIP, on which issue we have had lengthy discussions over the past month, will be voted on by national parliaments across the Union.

In regard to our proposed meeting the week after next with the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, unfortunately he is unable to make that meeting. As many of us will be attending COSAC next week, the next meeting of this committee will be at 1.30 p.m. on 16 December 2015.

Mr. Phil Hogan

Before the meeting concludes, I congratulate Deputy Dooley on his recent election as vice president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, ALDE, Group in the European Union. It is nice to see a Clare man doing well in Europe.

I thank the Commissioner for his remarks, which I am sure all members of the committee share.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.30 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 16 December 2015.