Dia daoibh agus go raibh míle maith agaibh as an gcuireadh bheith anseo libh inniu. Is mór an onóir dom a bheith os bhur gcomhair. On my last visit to the Seanad, a decade ago, I was a Minister for State with responsibility for climate action. It is good to be back with you today and to see some familiar faces.
The European Parliament, as the Senators will know, is a co-legislating assembly. Unlike the Seanad, we do not have the power to initiate legislation. This is an important issue that informs our work. We share equal legislative and budgetary powers with the Council of the European Union. The European Commission initiates legislation in the form of proposed directives. These are then amended by the European Parliament and by the Council of the European Union. The Council’s discussions are led by the six-month rotating Presidency of the European Union. It is currently led by Slovenia. That will pass over to France at the end of December 2021.
In our day-to-day to work, we have 20 standing committees in the European Parliament, which examine and amend legislation. I serve on the transportation committee and on the industry, research, telecommunications and energy, ITRE, committee. That is where much of the climate action is happening at a European level. The final drafting of legislation is undertaken at trilogues, using a four-column document, with the text from the Parliament, from the Council and from the European Commission. Sometimes we burn the midnight oil to the fill the fourth column, to finally give birth to the legislation that is then put to the member states by way of directive. It is a fascinating process. We learn that we have to work with colleagues from the other 26 members states in order to progress things along. We tend to move big things slowly. I have served as a councillor, as a Deputy and as a Minister of State. These have different approaches and ways of making things happen. I certainly enjoy the activity at a European level. We also approve the nomination of Commissioners. Fairly recently, we had the rather unusual task of filling a vacancy in the European Commission. I am glad to say that our former colleague, Mairead McGuinness, was successfully nominated to her current job as a European Commissioner.
The current Parliament has many challenges, not least of which is the departure of our friends and colleagues from across the water as a result of Brexit. We have had to deal with the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the challenges to the rule of law in Poland and issues around migration. We also engage in discussions around the entry of new member states to the Union. Quite often in Ireland, we think that Brexit is the only game in town. However, it is important that we show a pathway forward to the western Balkans, to states such as Albania. In that region, there are tens of millions of people who want to be part and who want to share that European dream. With all the other rows going on, we have got to give a pathway forward to those states that want to be part of the European project.
In addition, the Conference of the Future of Europe is trying hard to enthuse the 450 million citizens of Europe over the future of governance and powers of European institutions. There is an online platform, futureu.europa.eu, which contains more information on this.
We have to ask ourselves the question: do we want more Europe or less Europe? At the outset of the pandemic, it became clear that our healthcare is managed at a regional and at a member state level. There is a compelling case for granting more powers to the European Union, certainly to co-ordinate the delivery of healthcare. Much more can continue to be achieved without treaty changes. There is certainly an appetite in Ireland for Europe to do more. We constantly rank among the most Europhilic nations on the continent and it is no wonder. The contribution of the European Union to Dublin alone has been remarkable. Access to the Single Market has driven the success of Europe as a financial centre but concrete investment has made a difference too. The extension of the Luas cross city received hundreds of millions of euro from the European Investment Bank, EIB. The national children’s hospital will receive at least that sum over the years ahead. Quite often, we say that we are not getting contributions from Europe any more but actually, the projects that have cranes over them in Dublin quite often have European money coming in. We should not forget about that and this investment is dispensable.
For many, the debate around the European Green Deal has been the main event in the current European Parliament. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, indicated that this would be a major focus of her presidency. As MEPs, we are now charged with progressing 16 separate items of legislation that comprise the Fit for 55 package, which is about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% between the years 1990 and 2030. That quite strongly mirrors the actions that we will follow here in Ireland under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, with the 7% reductions in greenhouse emissions per year.
While these measures are radical, they do not enough to address the climate crisis. We are on our way to a catastrophic 2.7°C of warming unless we increase our ambition and unless other countries do so as well. We will be busy with the updating of the renewable energy directive and the energy efficiency directive. We also will provide new laws, such as the carbon border adjustment mechanism.
Before I conclude, I want to say that the climate action will change the way we build, the way we travel, the energy we use and the way we farm. It can be a good news story. These measures can improve our air quality, make our streets safer, allow us to live healthier lives and live in warmer homes with lower fuel bills. It is crucial in Ireland that we prioritise the retrofitting or the energy upgrades of social housing, both public and voluntary, and start by protecting the vulnerable from energy poverty. This is achievable, it is doable, and the financial institutions are willing to provide that money.
In conclusion, it is worth remembering that there are many nations and tens of millions of people who want to share the European dream in the western Balkans and beyond. Accession states deserve a roadmap and a timetable for progress on that score. I come here from Glasgow yesterday, where I was at the opening of the Conference of the Parties, COP, that is, the UN climate conference. In Glasgow, I met Rahima Kazal from Bangladesh. She told me 20 million people will be displaced by climate change in Bangladesh by 2050. The EU and Ireland can and must increase our ambition to help her and her fellow citizens in the years ahead.