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European Council Meetings

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 7 May 2013

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)

Gerry Adams

Question:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will circulate any papers and-or proposals for the European Council summit on 14 and 15 March 2013. [9920/13]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he will prioritise at the European Council meeting on the 14 and 15 March 2013 in Brussels. [9921/13]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise the issue of bank debt at the European Council summit on the 14 and 15 March 2013. [9922/13]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise the issue of the Middle East peace process at the European Council summit on the 14 and 15 March 2013. [9923/13]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will be distributing any documentation prior to the March EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12331/13]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

6. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the priorities he will set for the European Council meeting on 14 and 15 March. [12518/13]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he held any bilaterals when attending the EU Council meeting in March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14639/13]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to or held a bilateral meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15985/13]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the recent contacts he has had with the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. [15996/13]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the Cypriot crisis was discussed at the EU Council summit on 14 and 15 March 2013. [15997/13]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken or written to Mr Mario Monti since the recent election in Italy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16006/13]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to or had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18350/13]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he circulated any papers at the most recent EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18354/13]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meetings on 14 and 15 March 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18600/13]

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Dara Murphy

Question:

15. Deputy Dara Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will give an outline and update on EU Council meetings. [20183/13]

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Oral answers (27 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, together.

I attended the meeting of the European Council on 14 and 15 March in Brussels. As I have previously informed the House, the meeting was firmly focused on the key challenges facing Europe - those of generating growth and creating jobs. We brought the first phase of the European semester process to a conclusion. During Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union, we provided a report of deliberations in various Council formations, which informed the discussions. The European Council reiterated the priority areas for attention listed in the Commission's annual growth survey published in November of last year.

The European Council had a comprehensive discussion on the economic situation in the EU, including the competitiveness challenge, and agreed that the focus should remain on implementing decisions already taken, particularly with regard to the compact for growth and jobs and the completion of the Single Market. I briefed the meeting on the work we are doing in our Presidency and I thanked colleagues for their co-operation in areas in which we have already had good outcomes, such as the two-pack, the youth employment initiative and the youth guarantee. President Barroso gave a presentation entitled Growth, Competitiveness and Jobs: Priorities for the European Semester 2013. In the subsequent discussion, leaders focused on the continuing impact of the economic crisis and the steps required to move beyond it.

In our conclusions, we placed specific emphasis on addressing unemployment, especially among the young, the Single Market, and reducing unnecessary administrative burdens, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises. We also took stock of progress on the legislative proposals relating to the integrated financial framework, or banking union, as it is known. Leaders reiterated the imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns. I briefed the meeting about the progress we are making in our Presidency in regard to the single supervisory mechanism and the recovery and deposit guarantee, and stressed that we remain committed to delivering on the timetable set in December.

While the multi-annual financial framework, or budget, was not on the agenda for this meeting, President Schulz of the European Parliament, in his presentation at the beginning of the European Council meeting, informed the meeting about the outcome of the vote on the MFF in the Parliament, and I updated colleagues on the work we are doing in our Presidency. In this regard, I had a meeting with Presidents Barroso and Schulz in the margins of that meeting and we agreed to continue to work closely together for early agreement.

Later on the Thursday evening, I attended the Euro summit meeting. The president of the European Central Bank, Mr. Draghi, briefed leaders on the economic situation in the euro area, pointing to three vital requirements - confidence, credit and competitiveness. There was a shared view around the table that we need to maintain our efforts to achieve sustainable finances, but that we also must step up our efforts on growth. While we welcomed the new Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades, to the table, we did not discuss the situation in Cyprus in detail as it was to be discussed by the finance Ministers in the Eurogroup on the Friday afternoon.

On Friday morning, 15 March, the European Council had a useful, free-flowing discussion on the EU's relations with strategic partners, with a particular focus on Russia. Leaders also had a discussion on the evolving situation in Syria. It was agreed that EU foreign Ministers would be asked to consider this matter further at their informal ministerial meeting in Dublin on 22 and 23 March. The UK Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, updated leaders on preparations for the G8 summit, which will take place at Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, in June. We are co-operating closely with the British authorities with regard to this important event.

While I had no formal bilaterals with President Anastasiades or the then Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Monti, I had discussions with many of my colleagues in the margins of the meeting, including a bilateral meeting with Mr. Cameron. I also met with Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso ahead of the meeting of the European Council on 14 and 15 March, as is customary for the Presidency, and, as I have already stated, I had a separate meeting with Presidents Barroso and Schulz which focused on the MFF.

The agenda for this meeting of the European Council was prepared in the normal way. President Van Rompuy submitted an annotated draft agenda to the February meeting of the General Affairs Council. He then circulated draft conclusions of the European Council, which were discussed by ambassadors in Brussels and subsequently by Ministers meeting at the General Affairs Council, which the Tánaiste chaired. In the usual manner, at each step in the process, Ireland conveyed its comments on the draft conclusions, as appropriate.

The issue of the Middle East peace process did not arise as a separate item at this meeting.

On 28 and 29 April, in the course of a visit to Spain and Portugal, I had separate meetings with the Prime Ministers, Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Coelho, as well as with German finance Minister, Mr. Schäuble. We discussed a range of major EU and Presidency agenda items, including the MFF negotiations; economic and monetary union, including progress towards banking union; trade, particularly prospects for an EU-US trade agreement; progressing the Single Market agenda; and developments in the euro area. I also updated both Prime Ministers and Mr. Schäuble on progress made during the Irish Presidency and on ambitions for the rest of our term.

I am sure the Taoiseach appreciates the difficulty that arises from the fact that some of these questions were tabled prior to the European Council meeting on 14 and 15 March, in that we are now, almost two months later, trying to deal with them. I do not know how we can resolve that problem. However, the Taoiseach may recall that prior to that Council meeting he agreed in response to a question from me to raise the Jerusalem report, which was published by European diplomats. I was very pleased when the Taoiseach agreed to do that, yet in his reply he states that the Middle East peace process did not arise, which is another way of saying he did not put it on the agenda or he did not raise it. The Taoiseach may recall that these diplomats raised serious concerns about the actions of the Israeli Government in building settlements and excluding Palestinians from their land.

This has come from the heads of mission of the European Union, that the issue was not raised, contrary to the Taoiseach's commitment. My question was what actions had been taken on foot of the report, but if it was not even discussed, what is the point?
Has the Taoiseach raised within the European Council the recent Israeli attack in Syria? I am sure he agrees that this is a serious escalation of what is an increasingly dangerous, ongoing, deadly conflict in the region.
The meeting held six or seven weeks ago was about economic policy and dealt specifically with the issues of growth and job creation. There has been a reluctant acknowledgement that the policy of austerity is not working, but there is no evidence that this goes beyond the rhetoric and of any real change towards growth and job creation. Within the eurozone there are almost 20 million citizens out of work and 6 million young people across the European Union are out of work. Here, the level of youth unemployment is 30%, while it is 24% generally across the eurozone. Our 30% level of youth unemployment does not take account of the scores of thousands of young people who have had to leave for other parts of the world.
I have raised the issue several times with the Taoiseach that there are dire social consequences to the so-called austerity policy. This can be seen in the absence of young people from the kitchen table. In the Taoiseach's county it can be seen in the inability of senior teams to field a full panel. Travelling through rural Ireland, one sees how devastated communities are by the scourge of emigration. Was there an acknowledgement of any of this at the meeting? The sum of €6 billion allocated over six years to tackle youth unemployment is insulting. It is almost offensive and only a drop in the ocean compared to what is required. Last night the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were engaged in discussions on the EU budget or the multi-annual financial framework. Was there a focus on the issue of youth unemployment?

European Council meetings are structured in a way that allows the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, to give reports on issues such as the situation in Syria or other incidents and circumstances in that region. Therefore, it is not a case of having a specific debate at European Council level on the Jerusalem or any other report; rather, the structure of meetings is such that Catherine Ashton gives an updated report which has come through the various committees and the Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers with which she deals. I recall that she gave a detailed report on Syria and the considerations involved regarding the difficulty as to whether increased arms supplies should be given to rebel forces. I read reports on allegations of Sarin gas being used by elements in the rebel camp, but whether these are true I do not know. I will update the Deputy on the position in respect of the Jerusalem issue based on Ms Ashton's report.

Nobody in this House condones the use of the much abused term "austerity" which has crept in the same way as "the Celtic tiger", but it is not a term I tend to use. The answer to our problems is not just to sort out the public finances but also to get people working, as the Deputy knows. I was happy to meet him in Dundalk recently on the occasion of the announcement of the PayPal and eBay jobs. That announcement was great for young people who will have a whole new life created for them in that kind of company. The same is true of the announcement made by Glanbia of a major investment in the south east, with the capacity to create 1,500 farm jobs, from County Cork to County Louth, or of the 1,000 jobs that will be created when the contract is finally signed for the N7-N11 project southwards. These announcements are great news for people who will be able to find employment in these areas because it means they will have a life and the capacity to spend in the economy and build homes.

At European level, the extension by an extra two years for France and other countries is a recognition of the particular circumstances these countries are facing in meeting the deficit reduction target of 2015. This is reflected in the warm decision made by the Bundestag to provide for an extension of loan maturities for both Portugal and Ireland, which helps us in having our debt profile flattened out. In the discussion Mr. Mario Draghi had at the European Council he continued to repeat - he has followed it up with action - that whatever it was necessary to do to protect the euro would be done. Obviously, the European Union makes its own decision on interest rates. Mr. Draghi's analysis was focused on competitiveness and he said countries that were prepared to make decisions to make themselves competitive would reap the benefits in terms of economic activity, exports, job creation and economic growth. He defined this by producing a series of relevant slides, showing the differences between countries that adhered to that discipline and those that did not. This was self evident.

As I said to Deputy Micheál Martin, it is critical that European leaders follow through on the decisions they make and these decisions are not made lightly. While it takes some time to deal with a question like banking union, it is something that must happen. I do not want to see a situation where we will get to June and the anniversary of the decision taken last year to break the link between sovereign and bank debt and all we will have in place is a single supervisory mechanism and its architecture. It is necessary to go beyond this. This is a credibility test for the European Union. Citizens want to see a follow-through on decisions made.

The unemployment factor is central to this issue. Who wants to be proclaiming that the unemployment rate is rising to the extent it is in some countries, with a 54% youth unemployment level? Deputy Gerry Adams says €6 billion is only a drop in the ocean, but it was not available before. Getting €6 billion from the paying countries is a recognition of the scale of the problem and the challenge faced. That is why our Presidency does not want to see this proposal drift or to see us end up with annualised budgeting because of the failure to get the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, through. We travelled to Brussels yesterday specifically to remove that road block and deal with a strategy to deal with the deficit for the Union for 2012-2013. Also, in parallel, we wanted to get discussions going on a timescale to conclude the MFF during Ireland's Presidency. This would hep to release the funds in question. While yesterday's meeting was not focused on this issue, countries being able to expedite the release of some of these funds to deal with particular circumstances was raised and is something we support strongly. As President, we will articulate this view today at the budgetary committee, tomorrow at COREPER and during Monday's meeting - the first formal discussion on the MFF. It will be conducted for us by the Tánaiste, with his counterpart, Mr. Lamassoure, from the European Parliament.

I think that is a recognition that there is a blockage that needs to be released so that things can get moving. It is clear that the challenges from the Iberian Peninsula to Cyprus will not sort themselves out. They require political courage. Bigger countries need to support smaller countries. While it has been very challenging for people here in Ireland, I am glad to see the private sector is beginning to move. Some 1,000 jobs a month are now being created there. All of that is to be welcomed; the more the merrier. These discussions are helpful. Obviously, everybody wants to see results. We will be judged on that basis.

Five or six questions have been tabled. Deputy Adams asked what could be done to get more timely answers to the questions that were tabled before the last summit. I suggest we go back to the two-day arrangement that prevailed in previous Dáileanna, when the Taoiseach of the day took questions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That might give us a bit more time.

It seems to me from what the Taoiseach has reported that the defining characteristic of the work of the European Council over the last six months is that things have slowed considerably and very little is being done. The Taoiseach hinted at that when he spoke about the failure to follow through on decisions that have been taken. There is no question that we are witnessing slow implementation of existing agreements. It can be argued that the banking union has been delayed and downscaled by comparison with what was originally envisaged. It is fair to say that trust in the European Union and its leaders is at its lowest ever level across Europe. Unfortunately, surveys and barometers of public opinion across Europe are illustrating this serious point. This brings into question the legitimacy of democracy across Europe and the sustainability of the democratic norms and values we cherish.

I will cut to the core point. It appears to me that Europe needs to support economic stimulus, strengthen the foundations of the financial system and introduce wider reforms of the structures and systems that contributed to the economic crisis. Any discussion of the wider reforms that have been mentioned has been postponed until the end of 2014. We are not getting an economic stimulus. That is why I asked the Taoiseach earlier whether it is time for him to speak up for more radical action, for a radical change of position and for a move away from the one-dimensional economic model that is being pursued to the exclusion of all other ideas. There is a need to consider alternative approaches in light of the unprecedented levels of wide-scale unemployment across Europe. In the last six months, I have not witnessed any significant new jobs initiative emanating from Europe to deal with what everybody agrees is a chronic unemployment problem across the EU.

The real issue with the multi-annual financial framework is not the question of a breakthrough in the normal negotiations between the European Parliament and the European Council but that it is the wrong budget for the times that are in it. We are witnessing a net cut in the European Union's budget. That is the opposite of stimulus. It is extraordinary that the impulse of European Union leaders is driven towards reducing the European budget at a time when unemployment is at its highest, youth unemployment is at its highest and up to 115 million people across the Union are at risk of poverty. In that context, the driving impulse of the European leaders beggars belief. Our leaders have conspired with that. In my view, they have not questioned it in a sufficiently radical way. The Common Agricultural Policy, which is one of the best instruments Europe has had since its foundation, could be used as a vehicle to significantly improve economic activity in parts of the Union. It is wrong that its budget is to be cut by 10% over the seven-year lifetime of the next plan. This is the opposite of what is actually needed.

The provision of €6 billion for the youth employment guarantee involves the shifting around of moneys. There is a net budget cut. Supports have always been provided under various headings. It is not enough to create a new pigeonhole, a new brand or a new heading and claim it represents the provision of additional money, because it does not. Money is being shifted around within the existing budget, which is being cut. There is no argument about this. It is being cut because, in the middle of the worst crisis Europe has experienced since the 1920s, the British and the Germans wanted it to be cut. Different approaches were taken when there were crises of this magnitude in the United States and in Europe after the Second World War. Dramatic and radical approaches were taken to stimulate the European economy after the war. Radical policy departures were taken after the financial collapse of the Great Depression. I think Europe is at that juncture now. It needs to fundamentally revisit its position.

The Taoiseach might indicate, with specific regard to Question No. 5, whether any documentation was circulated prior to the European Council meeting in March from the perspective of the Irish Presidency or the Irish Government. Would he accept that the budget being proposed is totally unsuited and ill-equipped to deal with the crisis Europe is currently facing?

I begin by responding to the Deputy's first point. I am doing some work at the moment on how effectively our time in this Legislature is actually used. The programme for Government commits us to having many more Dáil sitting days. While that has happened, the amount of time devoted to legislation is not as much as it used to be. We need to have a discussion about how we want to run this Chamber, how we take the Order of Business and how the week is structured. I am sure nobody wants to be here five days a week, and people do not want to be here until 12 o'clock every night. I do not want to be required to go back to guillotining business every so often because of backlogs with serious legislation. We have had to use the guillotine, which has been used extensively over the years. When I have done that work, the leaders of the various parties will need to discuss the matter seriously.

The Taoiseach might discuss it with us before it becomes a fait accompli. We have been here for two and a half years now but no one has discussed a thing with me.

I will not come up with a fait accompli before we discuss it. I would like to get the Deputy's views on how best we can do what we are supposed to do here. We should consider whether we should have a committee week, as was tried before, or whether we should adjust the structure that determines how the Dáil is run from Tuesday to Thursday or Friday. We need to do whatever will have the best effect on Committee Stage debates on Bills, which is the really important part of the legislative process. We will have a chat about the matter before we make it a fait accompli, if that is okay with Deputy Martin.

The Taoiseach wants to discuss it before he makes it a fait accompli.

I share the IMF's view that countries that can borrow more money should do so. We cannot do so because our debt-to-GDP ratio is very close to 120% at the moment. It is not possible for us to do that. Of course it would be great to have an economic stimulus and another €500 or €600 million, or €1 billion, to throw into these things, but it does not happen that way. Somebody has to pay for this. The Deputy is aware that the Netherlands, as a paying country, has had to make some serious changes recently to deal with banks, the retail sector, taxation policy, etc. The provision of €6 billion in recognition of the problem of youth unemployment is an example of a new initiative that was well supported by Europe. Europe said in a forthright manner that it was willing to open trade negotiations with the US.

This should be about jobs.

Europe and the US are the two greatest trading blocs in the world. There are differences of opinion in some countries in certain respects. The French have specific concerns that relate to their culture. There are issues relating to software and to the Common Agricultural Policy. Having said that, it is important to open the gates and see where the discussions go.

There was an expectation that the Common Agricultural Policy cut would be much bigger than the cut that actually occurred. It was very important for Ireland, as a food-producing nation, that the question of flat-rate payments was dealt with. There was a strong lobby in favour of doing this on a per-hectare basis across the board, which would have destroyed the principle of productivity in this country's case.

If a person with a very high level, productive farm of, say, 400 acres of intensive dairy production, were to be paid on the same basis per hectare as a farm of 400 acres of poor ground with relatively little activity, that would destroy the level of productivity. Some of the other countries in eastern Europe are of massive scale and size and they clearly have a great deal of potential up front. That is why what Glanbia did in its decision to invest very substantial moneys in the south east is a recognition of its confidence for the future, when quotas go, and its confidence on where future productivity can actually come from. The projection of 1,500 jobs on farms is exceptionally welcome.

Everybody would like to see a situation where economic stimulus is provided and jobs created. One could say that, five years ago, this country was certainly Europe's problem but it is important it is one of the few with a positive growth projection regime, which is expected to grow further, and where confidence is beginning to return to the private sector in particular. In response to questions in the last fortnight, I pointed to the presentation given recently by Mr. Alan Gray in respect of the international economy in Ireland, the multinationals, the growth in numbers and the growth in exports, which are very important in the context of the continued strong line of investment into Ireland. The challenge is to deal with the indigenous economy, part of which is to get our public finances right. We are borrowing just over €1 billion a month to pay for social protection, public services and public service salaries, which is unsustainable, so that has to be dealt with. It is not an easy challenge, as the Deputy is aware.

I cannot recall tabling specific documentation here but, clearly, there would have been correspondence between the Permanent Representation on behalf of Ireland and the different committees. Whatever is relevant there, I can supply to the Deputy.

Just to be helpful, austerity is widely understood as an economic policy where governments slash the living standards of ordinary people through income cuts and higher taxes to pay for the bailout of bankers and speculators when their casino-like money market system fails. People throughout Europe will find it amazing that the Taoiseach or Prime Minister of the country that holds the Presidency either denies that it exists or is not fully au fait with it, judging from the Taoiseach's earlier remarks.

Has the Taoiseach discussed this whole issue of austerity throughout Europe with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jose Manuel Barroso, since he made his recent remarks which raised serious reservations about austerity? Does the Taoiseach not feel that people like President Barroso should be called to explain, if he has these reservations, what is the alternative and what is the logic of having such reservations if he and the Commission continue, as part of the troika, to impose a savage regime of austerity on the people of Greece, Portugal, Ireland and other countries? Does the Taoiseach, who has the Presidency of the EU, have a particular responsibility to demand straight answers from those who wield enormous power within the European Union at present, or are words cheap and mean nothing, and people just sound off and feel no responsibility to honour what they say? This applies to the Minister for Social Protection. Should she not resign rather than implement any further savage austerity by the Government? If austerity is a deeply damaging and immoral hegemonic model, should there not be a refusal by the President to sign into law further tranches of that austerity from the Government, like the property tax, which is hugely damaging living standards and causing huge angst? Do words mean anything in this day and age if people feel they can just make speeches and try to enunciate the feelings of tens of millions of people throughout Europe, but then not stand behind them?

The Taoiseach has less than two months to the exit of Ireland from the EU Presidency. Will he not find it shameful if, even once, he does not stand and challenge this disastrous policy that is being inflicted on tens of millions of ordinary people throughout Europe, given he has not challenged it once? He should use his international platform to challenge it on behalf of the Irish people, who are victims of this austerity which he is implementing, as well as on behalf of tens of millions of people throughout the EU. Will he not have a sense of shame or failure that he is not in any way challenging these effects, which are now commonly accepted and understood, not just by the real left, which has exactly spelled out what the disastrous consequences would be, but even by right wing economists, who are now arriving at this conclusion as well? The effects of this policy are emblazoned on society and on the lives of our people to their great cost.

The Deputy will recall me saying on more than one occasion, as many members of the Government have pointed out for quite a long time, that we cannot tax our way back to prosperity and we cannot cut our way back to prosperity. We have a set of problems here that we have to deal with because nobody else is going to deal with them. As I have said on many occasions, from a point where we were losing 7,000 jobs a month in the private sector, it has now come to a point where 1,000 jobs are being created every month, which I believe everybody could welcome. While it is clearly not enough to do what we need to do and get where we want to be, it is a good start in the reversal of the direction we were headed in.

Let us be clear. In so far as my contributions at the European Council are concerned, with regard to this philosophy of saying we cannot and would never be able to either cut or tax our way back to prosperity, what we need to do is to set out a strategy for the development of the Union and the eurozone as we see it, and follow those things through. Yes, it would be lovely to have mountains of money to throw into stimulus of one sort or another, but let us consider the circumstances we found here, as well as the fact all of these facilities that are now becoming available were not available then. Our debt to GDP ratio would be below the European average had we not had to deal with the catastrophic position in regard to the banks and their recapitalisation.

President Barroso understands very well what is going on around Europe - he is a former Prime Minister of Portugal. As I said to the Deputy in my reply, President Barroso gave a presentation to the European Council meeting on growth, competitiveness and jobs, and the priorities for the European semester for 2013. If the Deputy does not have it, I will forward him a copy of that presentation as it may contain some paragraphs of interest to him. It points out the opportunities for competitiveness and, arising from competitiveness, for growth and jobs, which are the fundamental issue here.

It is not true to say we live in some kind of pretend world. Rather, we live in the world of reality which walks in the door to everybody in government every day, with unemployment, lack of economic activity and, as a consequence, lack of hope - I am sure the same applies across Europe.

The Deputy asks why I would not stand up and defend the position he articulated here even once. It is not just about doing so on one occasion. It is pointing out on a consistent basis what Europe needs to do to rectify its problems. The first thing it must do is follow through on its own decisions. If there are additional proposals that are of benefit to the European economies and can create jobs and stimulate growth, I can assure the Deputy that the European Council is more than amenable to working with any such suggestions. All the think tanks in the world will not be able to sort this out unless countries themselves take the actions that are necessary at national level and work as a unit to grow the Union. Clearly, there are serious challenges ahead and the situation in many countries is fragile but it must be dealt with. If someone says we can suddenly arrive at billions of a stimulus, that would be great but the real world does not work that way. While Mr. Draghi has pointed out that he will do whatever is necessary at European Central Bank level to protect the euro and is doing so, governments individually and collectively as a eurozone and Union need to follow through on decisions. We have been and will continue to be very strong and vociferous on that because that is where the future growth and benefit will come from for, as the Deputy pointed out, millions of people.

Those of us on the Left who have criticised the strategy pursued by the Government and European leaders have repeatedly pointed to an alternative strategy. When somebody talks about alternatives, the Taoiseach is obviously not interested. He denounces us for never having alternatives but when we try to talk about them, he does not listen. Our alternative strategy, which has been repeated endlessly and which people like the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources would probably have supported in opposition, is for a radical redistribution of wealth and capital away from the private financial sector and multinationals towards public enterprise and public investment to create jobs. That is the alternative solution that was attempted even by non-socialist governments in the 1930s and 1940s and which in some way began to chart a way out of the crisis of that period.

Instead of that, the Taoiseach continues to peddle myths and pursue a failed strategy. Will he stop repeating the untruth that we are borrowing €1 million every month to pay social welfare? Will he please correct that?

The figure is €1 billion.

I appeal to the media to scrutinise that statement. We are borrowing €12 billion or so every year and €8 billion of that goes towards interest on debt. Will the Taoiseach please acknowledge that fact? It would be helpful in having a serious debate. A total of €8 billion, which is two thirds of what we are borrowing, is being used to pay interest on debts. That is a fact. Please admit it.

Is the Taoiseach not living in a dream world when he says confidence is returning to the private sector? Is he not aware that the purchasing managers' index in the past week or so has reported the largest fall in employment in the manufacturing sector in four years in this economy and that manufacturing overall has, for the past four years, fallen at the fastest pace in recent times? The export and manufacturing sectors, on which the Taoiseach has placed so much emphasis in pointing to the so-called successes of our economy, is seeing an unprecedented decline. It is just about balanced by some expansion in the service sector but I put it to the Taoiseach that when manufacturing is in trouble, the economy as a whole is in very serious trouble.

Is it not a fact that Ireland was the guinea pig? We were the laboratory experiment for an austerity policy that has devastated our economy. As that experiment is being applied to the rest of Europe, just as we predicted would happen, it is devastating the rest of the European economy to the point that even the think tank, Bruegel, which presented a report at the recent European Council, the European Commission, the OECD and, most recently, the Italian Prime Minister all say the austerity strategy has failed and something must be done about it. The Taoiseach says he is not a fan of austerity and that what we need is competitiveness and structural reform but this same argument is being made in Europe. Again, this is an Orwellian playing with words. Austerity involves competitiveness measures and so-called structural reform. Competitiveness is a code word for attacking pay and conditions. Structural reform is a code word for privatisation. So when the Taoiseach says that we are in favour of alternatives to austerity, what he is really saying is that the alternative to austerity is more austerity but with different names.

We on this side of the House are asking the Taoiseach to genuinely consider alternatives given the mounting evidence that policy that has been pursued and that has focused on propping up private banks, imposing cuts in pay and conditions and privatising sectors of the economy, has demonstrably failed; that European economies are like lemmings following each other over the cliff into economic depression; and that we need to seriously debate and scrutinise alternatives and consider the alternative proposed by those on the Left not just in this country but across Europe. Such an alternative focuses on redistribution through taxes on wealth and capital and redirecting those moneys into public investment and enterprise, employment and infrastructure projects that would put people back to work and facilitate growth. I put it to the Taoiseach that if we do not go down that road, we are stumbling from a recession into an economic depression. Is that not what all the evidence is mounting up to say? Is that not clearly apparent when even those in the middle and on the right of the economic and political spectrum accept that the strategy is failing and that we need to move beyond political point scoring, look at the facts and look at alternative ways of dealing with the crisis?

I never thought I would hear Deputy Boyd Barrett appealing to the media for help. He was always able to generate a bit of heat and coverage. The fact of the matter is that we are borrowing €12 billion every year - €1 billion per month - and this figure goes to pay public salaries and social protection payments whether the Deputy likes it or not.

The Deputy should appreciate that the structure of economies is changing very rapidly. I had the privilege of opening a unit in Parkwest in Dublin last week. It has a very simple name for the Deputy to remember - MicksGarage.com. I did not hear its story on the radio but the company was founded by two brothers, one of whom was unemployed. Due to their capacity to use their various talents, they are now one of the leading enterprises in Europe for supplying car parts online, employ more than 60 people and have a design capacity to inform people and supply. It is an exceptional operation.

Fair play to MicksGarage.com.

One does not hear as much of that story as one should. A person was unemployed, said they were going to do something about it and over a couple of years, has grown an enterprise that is outstanding in its effectiveness, efficiency and ability to supply internationally and is one of the leading players in Europe.

I spoke to Prime Minister Letta in Italy the other day. In the past week I have spoken about European matters to Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Barroso, President Schulz, Prime Minister Rajoy and Prime Minister Coelho. I also spoke to them about the necessity for Europe to drive on with the creation of jobs and growth. I refer to my reply to Deputy Joe Higgins that President Barroso produced a report on competitiveness, growth and jobs. Our competitiveness has improved, not because of any external facility but because the Government made decisions that impact on our competitiveness, with the result that Ireland is an attractive location for investment. The need for flexibility for investment is very important and needs to be followed through. As I said in reply to Deputy Martin, the IMF has decided that countries that can borrow, should borrow. This would help our exports, our jobs and help the IMF economies to develop in a fashion. Competitiveness has improved by over 20% as a consequence. This provides the opportunity for job creation.

If 50 more industries were brought into the country next week, we are still faced with the situation that more than 400,000 people are on the live register, 90,000 of whom are working a three-day week or other form of part-time work. We have a challenge to use that live register as a resource containing people with experience, talent and ambition. These are people who want to be employed. The live register should not be regarded - as it was for years - as some kind of an off-limits list of people who simply went to a social welfare office to sign on and draw their free money. The vast majority of these people want to work. We do not want a situation in which sons and daughters in families become serially unemployed and unemployment becomes part of a social stratum. We do not want that and neither do they.

I commend the Minister, Deputy Burton, on her work in changing the structure of the social protection system. The new Intreo facilities have taken the place of the social welfare offices. They include community welfare and HSE staff as well as social protection staff. This resource will identify and interview people, encourage talent and provide opportunities. The indigenous economy will be created as a result.

For example, Deputy Boyd Barrett may wish to employ five people. They may have been out of work for two years, they have had nothing doing and their confidence and hope is gone. One of the five may say: "For the past two years I have been giving a voluntary commitment to my community." That spark of initiative is out there and we need Deputy Boyd Barrett's encouragement to get people to involve themselves so that they leave the live register and long-term unemployment. Such involvement will create a new energy and dynamism. The same applies in other countries. We have to be creative and imaginative in how we go about it.

I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Burton, at a recent briefing meeting on this issue. I do not agree with a system where people participate in education and training courses year after year but there is no employment at the end of it. That is not the way to do the business. People with that experience and talent want to be employed and to make a contribution. I agree that upskilling and retraining is important but it should not be carried on for a lifetime. The same applies to those in the social protection system who see no hope other than the next scheme or the schemes after that. I also commend the Minister, Deputy Burton, on dealing with professional, serial fraudsters, many of whom have had the opportunity to fly in and out of here and sign on once in a while with others filling in for them. That is not the kind of system we want. I know Deputy Boyd Barrett does not support such a system.

These are all aspects of dealing with the live register which is a resource, as I see it, and not just a list of persons who merely sign on and who, in years gone by, were regarded as being somewhere "over there". Let us bring them out front. I can testify that a number of recently established companies have been astounded at the quality of people on the live register who are based locally, who are willing and happy to work but have never had that opportunity. A little retraining or upskilling can result in the live register providing the most magnificent workforce. I am sure the Deputy supports the Government in this regard.

I refer to a table outlining the attendance of Irish Ministers at European Union meetings. I congratulate the Taoiseach because Ireland is ranked second out of the 27 member states for the attendance of Ministers and the Taoiseach at these meetings. I urge the Taoiseach to continue this process because there is no doubt that this attendance is vital in the pursuance of our national interest. Speaking to other European politicians and Irish people working in Europe, there is no doubt that significant damage was done to our reputation by the very poor attendance by Ministers in the previous Government-----

That is not true.

I urge the Taoiseach to continue that policy because-----

The Deputy does not have the statistics. The opposite is true.

-----it is clearly reaping benefits.

Sixty-three years ago, Schuman spoke of a community of nations and 40 years ago, Ireland joined the EEC, as it was at the time. We are now in our seventh Presidency. President van Rompuy referred to the four critical components of the European Union with banking union, fiscal union and economic union being the first three. I welcome the Taoiseach's comments about agreements to date being honoured. Deputy Eric Byrne and I attended this afternoon's meeting of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs at which the fourth component was discussed, which is democratic legitimacy and accountability. I refer to one of the conclusions of the meeting of October 2012. Contrary to public opinion about national parliaments losing power to the European Union, the conclusion stated that one of the guiding principles in this context is to ensure that democratic control and accountability take place at the level at which decisions are taken and implemented. It concluded that in this spirit, ways to ensure a debate in the context of the European semester, both within the European Parliament and in national parliaments, should be explored.

I have two questions for the Taoiseach. Is the issue of democratic legitimacy and accountability still being discussed at European level? I know that our party - the EPP, for example, is suggesting a directly-elected President of the Commission. How does the Taoiseach envisage our Parliament developing further scrutiny and oversight of European decisions?

I thank Deputy Dara Murphy for his comments about the attendance of Ministers at EU meetings. They prepared well for the Presidency. It is their obligation and responsibility to attend those meetings. I think two meetings were not attended by Ministers, one of which was held on 16 March when people were away.

The issue of democratic legitimacy and accountability is central to the whole business now. When President Schulz spoke in this Chamber on behalf of the European Parliament he made this point very strongly.

Following the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, one cannot have a European budget without the approval, imprimatur and consent of the European Parliament. As the elections will be held next year, this is clearly an issue for sectors, groups and individuals who want to make their cases. That is why it is important to get the MFF through during the current Presidency. If the matter is left outstanding into the post-summer period, people will begin to focus on the European elections next year. People sometimes play games with issues involving these serious matters. We made the point at the meeting in Brussels last night that the democratic legitimacy and accountability that Deputies Dara Murphy and Eric Byrne heard about today are crucial. That is what the people decided in respect of the Lisbon treaty. The European Council can no longer make its own decision on the budget. It must rightly be the subject of consent by the elected representatives of the peoples of Europe, which means there is room for discussion on own resources and flexibility and a review period between 2014 and 2020. While no one knows in what shape the economies will be in 2017 or 2018, there is room for discussion about it. We hope during our Presidency to reflect what the European Parliament is saying, which is that there should be some scope for analysis.

There was a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas previously which dealt with European decisions. It was a small sub-committee of what was then the Joint Committee on European Affairs, and it was required to deal with a flood of decisions, directives and regulations every week. They became a torrent and the sub-committee was in a position to scrutinise only small numbers of serious decisions. It had to hope for the best in terms of covering the issues of real importance and hope that the process undertaken by our permanent representation in Brussels and by negotiating Ministers and Ministers of State ensured everything else was in order. Deputy Dara Murphy will be only too aware that in times gone by Ireland tended to implement regulations and directives to the nth degree in their first year while other countries took their time to see what effect they might have over a period. We seemed to do it all in one, which sometimes caused problems, including with the soil directive. These things work themselves out over a period.

In the coming period, democratic legitimacy and accountability will be critical both here and from a European point of view. In the course of discussions about where we are headed, the views of Members will be more than welcome in committees or here in the House.

The time for Taoiseach's questions has expired.

It has been filibustered.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
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