I thank the Chairman and the members of the joint committee for inviting us to explore the issue of alliance building in the EU post Brexit. We are aware of the Chairman's deep interest in and commitment to European affairs. We would like to compliment him on his participation in the Europe Day debate with the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and others at the Royal Hospital on 9 May last.
It is an honour to be invited to address the members of this committee, some of whom I have had the privilege to meet over the years. In this short presentation, I will outline the context in which the IIEA's work on the future of the EU 27 project is situated. I will then briefly explore how the concept of alliances has changed, as a background to the work which the IIEA has conducted in mapping possible future alliances for Ireland in the EU. I will briefly refer to the country profiles which the institute developed for this purpose as part of a project on the EU 27 post Brexit and I will conclude with a few remarks on existing and potential alliances for Ireland. My colleague, Marie Cross, former ambassador and chair of our EU 27 project, will give an overview of how the institute engaged with Irish citizens in the course of the EU 27 project by hosting public events both at the IIEA in Dublin and in rural venues nationwide, and its online outreach strategy via podcasts and explainers, and by convening a group of young professionals, called "emerging voices", whose publication we have brought with us today.
Across all of these elements of the project, the institute has sought to amplify the voices and concerns of citizens young and old, urban and rural, and to bring European voices to both the institute and the regional venues in order to broaden citizens’ understanding of the priorities and concerns of other member states and to listen to their priorities. I acknowledge the key role played by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Mc Entee, in the citizens dialogue process, in which we and European Movement Ireland, EMI, were participants, and I thank the Deputies and MEPs who were very gracious when approached to participate at our regional events.
This is a strategic moment for the EU. Its institutions are in a period of transition and the five key appointments which will be decided at the European Council on 20 and 21 June next are eagerly awaited. We are on the cusp of the Finnish Presidency, which will have to oversee the Brexit process and the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, negotiations. However, the defining event in terms of the future of the EU was the UK referendum in 2016 that led to widespread reflection on the future of the EU 27 post Brexit. This commenced with discussions in Bratislava and Rome, came to fruition at the Sibiu summit in Romania on 9 May last and the culmination of this process will be the EU strategic agenda for the period 2019 to 2024, which will be decided at the summit in Brussels later this month. One overriding conclusion from this process was the need to create new alliances between member states post Brexit. This is particularly the case for smaller states like Ireland which, in the absence of the UK, will need the support of other smaller states, or alliances with larger member states, in order to exercise influence in the EU in the future and to have its voice heard at the EU table.
Although alliances are traditionally understood as fixed associations between countries with a common goal, a new interpretation of alliances envisages bilateral relationships that involve flexibility, as well as long-term co-operation towards common strategic goals. Alliances can also be used as a foreign policy tool to advance national interests towards a common goal. Ireland, like other member states, should seek to influence the EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years and to shape EU policy according to its policy preferences at an early stage. To achieve this it will have to turn its attention to a review of its already existing alliances, consolidating its partnership with like-minded member states, and exploring the possibility of creating new alliances with other members of the EU post Brexit, including countries with which we do not share the same perspective on every issue. In a speech to the IIEA in May, Mairead McGuinness, MEP, argued that it is not sufficient to put on the green jersey in the EP and promote one’s national interests in an overt manner. Instead, it is important to develop a broader understanding of the views and perspectives of others in order to proactively develop Ireland’s influence in the EU by offering genuine support for the priorities of other member states when required.
Developing connections with our partners in the EU 27 is not limited to official government relationships. It also involves engagement with civil society, think tanks and universities, to get a deeper and more informed understanding of local issues in other member states. To this end, the IIEA engaged in a mapping exercise to identify relevant ideas from think-tank analyses in other member states and speeches by Ministers and MEPs from partner countries for the purposes of better mutual understanding of policy positions across the EU 27.
As part of a three-year project on the future of EU 27 post Brexit, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the IIEA developed a series of country profiles on the 26 EU member states, set out in the form of a map of Europe that is accessible on the IIEA website. This interactive web tool, EU Explorer: Mapping the Future of Europe, allows the user to hover over a particular country and to search the overall profile of a given member state, or focus on a particular policy profile within a member state. Each country profile commences with a short overview of the political complexion of the member state and its vision for the future of the EU 27 post Brexit, and each one concludes with an exploration of pre-existing informal or formal alliances of that member state.
It was too large a task to look at all policy areas but as part of the initial pilot project programme, we investigated issues such as the budget, economic and monetary union, EMU, taxation, defence, digital policy, justice and home affairs, agriculture, social affairs and trade policy. The objective of developing the country profiles was to build an understanding of the wide variety of views and policy positions across the EU and to examine the potential for alliances with other member states based on convergent or divergent strategic goals. Using a traffic-light colour system, the explorer highlights areas of divergence from Irish policy positions in red, and areas of possible alignment or existing convergence between Ireland and a given member state in green. The country profiles can be found at https://www.iiea.com/eu-explorer/ and are updated at the end of each month.
One advantage of the explorer is that it provides information that has not previously been available to policy makers or the wider public in an accessible visual mode. A somewhat similar exercise was carried out by a sister think-tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations, ECFR, and its EU Coalition Explorer, which adopted a different methodology from that of the IIEA to identify the preferences, influence, partners and policies of member states and their potential for future coalition building in the EU. One of the important conclusions of that study was that Ireland needs to select its strategic partners with care, prioritising those who already offer a broad network of contacts and relationships. While the ECFR explorer seems to imply that countries on the periphery, such as Finland, Portugal or Ireland, have more difficulty in engaging in successful networking, I contend that Ireland’s position as a psychological insider in the core of the EU since its accession, coupled with the practice of diplomacy and networking by the Irish foreign service and by Irish business, citizens and officials, as well as parliamentarians in COSAC, is second to none.
It is interesting that the Government's approach to alliances seems to have moved from ad hoc, issue-based alliances to strategic partnerships with like-minded countries. An example of such a new alliance is the so-called Hansa group, which includes the Nordic Baltic states plus two, that is, Ireland and the Netherlands. This group shares a liberal economic view of trade and financial matters with a focus on growth and innovation. In the absence of the UK, such a coalition of states is necessary in order to have a voice at negotiations. The IIEA, by the way, is organising a public seminar in the autumn of 2019 in tandem with all the ambassadors of the Nordic and Baltic countries and with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to develop a broader understanding of our mutual interests.
Portugal is another small member state which, like Ireland, has a long-established relationship with the UK and is seeking to realign itself post Brexit. As an Atlantic country, Portugal shares Ireland’s interest in maritime issues and transatlantic relations, and has a common interest in Africa. Similarly, Ireland is actively involved the wider group of 17 on Single Market issues. Traditional alliances such as the Franco-German alliance will, however, continue to play a significant role in determining the future of the EU. It is important for Ireland to continue to maintain a strong link to both France and Germany and to invest in deepening these relationships.
Traditionally, the relationship with France has been based on a common interest in the CAP, while the relationship with Germany focused mainly on financial services matters. Nowadays, there is an appetite to take co-operation to new fields, such as digital co-operation where France, for example, is playing a leading role in artificial intelligence and where Ireland is establishing its digital credentials as part of the digital forerunners group. The institute is working closely with the French and German embassies in Dublin and the German ambassador in Dublin, H.E. Deike Potzel, has invited some of our emerging voices and our young professionals network to visit Berlin on a study trip in the autumn. We have also organised a conference with the French Embassy on climate change to explore commonalities of interest in that area.
The IIEA’s motto is "sharing ideas, shaping policy". The institute is grateful to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its support for this EU 27 project which, among other things, examines how Ireland can play a leading role in certain policy portfolios, forming new alliances and aligning itself with like-minded countries, and shaping the future of the EU for the next five years. The EU strategic agenda will provide the outline and framework, but the challenge will be to fill it with ideas that will represent the vision and voices of our Government, our Parliament and our citizens.