It is good to be here and I thank the members for their invitation to join them. Armed as I am with the information that I am covered by the Defamation Act, I will give it a right lash. I want to make a presentation in two parts. As I was asked to talk about Brexit and the EU's future, I will focus on Brexit first and then switch to the future of the EU.
With the United Kingdom leaving, the EU will be losing a populous state of 65 million people, which represents 12% of the population and 16% of the GDP of the EU. It will also be losing a member state which is a member of NATO and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is deeply regrettable that this is happening, even if it is now to be respected as inevitable. The process of disengagement will happen under Article 50 and the negotiations are due to start in the next two weeks, assuming there is a clear outcome to the British general election. The negotiating positions of the European Union are openly available on the European Commission's website, issue by issue. Two working documents of Mr. Barnier's team are available for public scrutiny on the essential principles and citizens' rights. The EU negotiating position is clear on the essential principles, financial settlement and the exit bill . There is no money amount for the latter but the principled details are there. There is no equivalent at the moment in the United Kingdom. We have a White Paper and the Lancaster House speech of Mrs. May, but we also have more obscure comments like "Brexit means Brexit" and "No deal is better than a bad deal". There is no actual negotiating position of a parallel sort and that is awaited.
The negotiation process needs to be completed within two years from the date on which Article 50 was triggered, that is, by 23 March 2019. It will require a vote of assent in the European Parliament and that means that the negotiations will need to finish months in advance because the European Parliament's mandate expires in 2019, when it will close down and elections will be held for a new parliament. Beyond that, it is highly likely that there will be a transition period which may be one of the explanatory factors for the timing of the upcoming UK general election. That period will probably happen during the lifetime of the next government in the UK but it would have happened at the very beginning of an election campaign had the current government run its course.
How will the European Union trade with the United Kingdom in the future? Without going into details, it will do this under a separate article of the European Treaty, Article 218. That article requires the approval of any deal by the European Parliament and depending on its contents, particularly if it impinges on the competence of member states, it could also require a vote in national parliaments. That very much depends on the detail that emerges. In that context, the United Kingdom has to have left the EU for a deal to be done. Article 218 covers the making of trade deals with third countries; therefore, the UK must be a third country before any deal can be struck. What can help that to be quicker than some trade deals is that while the United Kingdom's great repeal Act, as it is called, will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, the bridge over which EU law was transposed into British law, none of the EU law will be repealed. In fact, it is more akin to a great retention Act, until the British get around to changing their minds on some matters. That means that Britain and Europe will start on the same regulatory page when Britain starts as a third country, if it does not change any of the rules. That should allow for a quicker conclusion of any trade deal but it could still be, with national ratifications, quite a slow process in the end.
Regarding the EU more generally, the shock of Brexit and of the election of President Trump in the United States, neither of which was generally anticipated, are likely to have the effect of energising rather than paralysing the European Union in terms of setting about refining and defining its own future. There was a fear that a populist wave which was in some way Anglo-Saxon, to use that European phrase, might sweep over the Continent. There were lots of players echoing the US presidential campaign and the British Brexit campaign.
On 15 March, we had the Dutch elections in which Mr. Geert Wilders who attracted enormous global attention and, like Mr. Trump, is blonde and was boisterous in his campaign did not succeed in creating momentum to be a player in government, although he secured some additional seats.
We also had the French election which presented France and the European Union with a stark choice and the French made a clear choice in President Macron. Based on the opinion polls in France, it is highly likely that La République En Marche, the centrist political movement of President Macron, will win a majority of seats in the Assemblée National. This represents a considerable potential change in France and also for Europe because part of President Macron's campaign was a pro-European agenda and he will want to see some of that through. Elections to the German Bundestag are due in September and whichever Chancellor candidate wins, whether Chancellor Merkel who looks more probable or Chancellor candidate Schulz, that he or she will maintain Germany's European vocation is not in doubt. Alternative für Deutschland, the party that has picked up the more populist tendency in German politics, may get to the Bundestag but it will not be decisive. Italy is due to hold an election not later than in spring 2018, although it is most likely to be held in autumn 2017. The return of Matteo Renzi as leader of the Partito Democratico has given the party a lift in the polls but one of the major parties in Italy, the Movimento 5 Stelle or Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, is neck and neck in the polls with the Partito Democratico. While it is most unlikely Mr. Grillo will form a government, there may be a difficulty in finding an appropriate coalition after an election. All of these issues play into the future of Europe and cannot be ignored. There is, however, a real drive.
As the committee is dealing with Brexit, it should pay attention to a number of other issues, which could, I guess, be work for a future committee. In March 2017, the European Commission published a White Paper on strategies for the future of the European Union. The White Paper sets out a number of scenarios and while I do not propose to discuss them in detail, I will provide some headlines, as it were, to give members a telegrammatic flavour of the options. One scenario is to carry on, in other words, it would be business as usual. A second is to have nothing but the Single Market, in other words, we would do the Single Market and forget the rest. A third scenario is where those member states that want to do more do so. Another is to do less but to do so more effectively. The final scenario is to do much more together. As members can see, these scenarios extend from fairly low levels of ambition or "low energy options", as a certain president might describe them, to very high energy options. They are not prescriptive and national parliaments, parliamentarians and members of the public are invited to have a view on them.
The second element is that the Commission has accompanied these scenarios with a series of reflection papers. It has published papers on the social dimension of Europe, deepening economic and monetary union and harnessing globalisation. Today, it will publish a paper on security and defence. These are additional reflections to accompany the White Paper.
The EU 27 states, absent Britain, made a declaration in Rome on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in which the Heads of State and Government committed to face the unprecedented global and domestic challenges. "Together", they said, the EU 27 were "determined to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world and to offer to our citizens both security and new opportunities". There is more detail in the declaration. I mention these matters because they provide important background on the future of the European Union.
Two further reports could be consulted by the secretariat and perhaps distributed. These have not been adopted but are draft reports of the European Parliament which explore two different avenues. They have been drawn up by the Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs. The first, which is jointly authored by Mrs. Mercedes Bresso and Mr. Elmar Brok, basically asks how we build on the Treaty of Lisbon to build the future of the European Union. A second report of the same committee, which was authored by Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, looks at changing the institutional set-up in the European Union and adopts a "doing much more together" kind of tone. Members would get a sense from the reports of that substance.
In respect to how we choose a point of departure, it seems there is still considerable underdeveloped capacity in the Lisbon treaty. It would be worth considering how to take some steps together within the existing treaty framework, although some specific steps could be required beyond that. These steps should be particular, focused and concrete, rather than a general, sweeping arrangement.
A second question is whether we want more Europe. In this respect, the word "we" means whatever inclusive way we wish to phrase it. If we are to distil the question, what we need is a more effective European Union. We need to look at what it delivers or fails to deliver and have a very pragmatic focus. We should look as much or more at instruments of policy and capacity to act as at institutions. Form - what one should do, how one should regulate and how one should give democratic accountability - should follow function. We must decide what we want this entity to do and then develop around it the appropriate responses.
The absence of the United Kingdom means that a country that spoke up for competitiveness, globalisation, innovation, and openness in trade will leave the EU. As Ireland also believes in many of these things, we need to find those voices and our own voice on those issues to do with our own interest and build alliances on that front. It is clearly important that we know what the larger states want to do. One of the major questions to which we do not yet know the answer is what the attitude of the larger states will be as the European Union shapes a new future, sets priorities and decides on instruments, capacities and budgets. The larger states will have to carry the larger burden, for example, in terms of payments into budgets and so on, not least after the departure of the United Kingdom in the medium term. In that context, we frequently observed in the past that larger states can wish to see Europe's future in their own likeness. We need to encourage larger states, in our dialogue as a smaller state, to release to the European Union powers to act effectively for Europeans where it is appropriate and necessary to do so and not to hold the European Union back in an intergovernmental logic where, frankly, the larger countries will always count for much more than they would in a community-based logic where the wider community interest comes into play.
Overall, the European Union faces many challenges. The economic and financial crisis and migration crisis have indicated that many of the existing structures and capacities are far from perfect. However, we can do more to perfect the Union. That should be a pragmatic focus that Ireland could bring to the issue. We know from European history that mutual problems do not yield to mutual suspicion. We know also that mutual problems cannot be answered by demutualised and separate solutions.
The cost of doing some things more effectively will be real and we will have to look at that. The cost of not doing them could be fatal and damaging. Brexit is merely a hint of the cost of disintegration should we fail to succeed. I thank members for their attention.