Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Questions (18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

18. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Mr. Donald Tusk recently. [41939/19]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the European Council. [42160/19]

View answer

Brendan Howlin

Question:

20. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Council. [41980/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

21. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the agenda for the EU Council on 17 October 2019 and if he contributed on the discussion in regard to the multi-annual framework and EU reform items. [41958/19]

View answer

Brendan Howlin

Question:

22. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council on 17 and 18 October 2019. [43182/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

23. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he had bilateral meetings while attending the EU Council on 17 and 18 October 2019; and if so, the issues that were discussed. [43221/19]

View answer

Paul Murphy

Question:

24. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent contacts with the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission. [43230/19]

View answer

Eamon Ryan

Question:

25. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings at the European Council on 17 and 18 October 2019. [43262/19]

View answer

Joan Burton

Question:

26. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Council. [43263/19]

View answer

Joan Burton

Question:

27. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the EU Council meeting on 17 and 18 October 2019. [43265/19]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

28. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the President of the European Council. [43408/19]

View answer

Michael Moynihan

Question:

29. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if Turkey and Syria were discussed at the October 2019 EU Council meeting; and if so, the conclusions that were drawn. [43555/19]

View answer

Michael Moynihan

Question:

30. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the areas of EU reform that were discussed at the October 2019 EU Council meeting. [43556/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

31. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the European Council meeting in October 2019. [43600/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

32. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he held bilateral meetings at the October 2019 European Council meetings. [43601/19]

View answer

Oral answers (19 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 to 32, inclusive, together.

I attended the European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday, 17 October and Friday, 18 October. On Thursday, agreement was reached between the EU and UK negotiators on the terms of a proposed revised withdrawal agreement. The European Council, when it met, heard from Prime Minister Johnson. It considered the proposed agreement in a meeting in Article 50 formation, that is, as 27 member states. It agreed to endorse the revised withdrawal agreement, which allows the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion. The European Council also approved the political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and UK.

The withdrawal agreement fulfils the Government's negotiating objectives. I hope it will be approved by the UK Parliament and European Parliament, allowing it to enter into force. We had a substantial exchange on enlargement in which we considered opening accession negotiations with both North Macedonia and Albania. Many leaders acknowledged the significant steps both countries have taken but there was not unanimity on the matter so we agreed to consider it again in advance of the EU Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May.

We discussed the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, which is the Union's budget for the period 2021-28. Following presentations by the Finnish Presidency on its consultations with member states, we exchanged views on some of the main challenges for the EU budget. I stressed the Government's view that we need to maintain funding for long-standing and well-functioning programmes like CAP, but also including Horizon 2020, INTERREG and Erasmus+. I also expressed my support for continuing structural funds and cohesion. We agreed that the Presidency should produce a negotiating box with figures before our meeting in December. We also held a discussion with the incoming Commission President, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, who set out her priorities for the next five years. We formally appointed Ms Christine Lagarde as the new President of the European Central Bank.

On climate change, we welcomed the outcome of the UN climate action summit. We also recalled that we would finalise guidance on our long-term strategy on climate change at our meeting in December. It was agreed that, at this meeting, we set out a long-term European plan to achieve 2030 targets and meet our 2050 carbon-neutral target.

We discussed the situation in Syria and adopted conclusions condemning the actions of Turkey and noting that member states had decided to halt arms export licensing to Turkey. We expressed our full solidarity with Cyprus in respect of the illegal Turkish drilling in Cypriot waters. We stated our full support for all efforts to establish truth, justice and accountability for the victims of the downing of MH17 and their next of kin.

This was the final scheduled European Council for President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, the Commission President, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Ms Federica Mogherini. It was an opportunity to thank them for their outstanding work over the past five years.

Before the first working session on Thursday, I attended a meeting of the Nordic-Baltic group, where I updated my colleagues on Brexit. Earlier in the day, I had a bilateral meeting with the newly elected Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis. In addition to participating in the formal discussions over the course of two days, I engaged informally with many of my EU counterparts and with Presidents Tusk and Juncker on the margins of the meetings, using the opportunity, as I always do, to promote Irish interests.

I reiterate the Taoiseach's remarks about Presidents Tusk and Juncker and the High Representative, Ms Mogherini, and thank them for their work.

I wish to raise a couple of points about the budget discussions. Ireland was reported as blocking the development of an EU rainy day fund for countries in crisis. Were there discussions about such a fund and what is the Irish position on it? Should such a fund not be made available?

As we prepare for the budget, everyone supports the Government's objectives to maintain CAP, Horizon 2020 and cohesion funding. Will the shape of the new programmes be linked to the December meeting and the Union's climate change priorities? Should the priorities decided in the 2030 strategy feed into the shape of the programmes with a view to meeting the targets in a meaningful way while also bringing communities with us and ensuring they are funded towards a just transition under the programmes?

I agree with the Taoiseach concerning the agreement that was reached last week, in that the best is often the enemy of the good. Most of us would acknowledge that the agreed deal is a poorer one than what was offered in Prime Minister Theresa May's deal. As others have pointed out, the clear signal from Prime Minister Boris Johnson - the Taoiseach might not have picked up on it, but it is self-evident - is that he wants to move Britain into a competitive space where the depression of environmental and work standards forms part of his strategy. That is why they are not included in the binding treaty element of the deal. It is also why the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, TUC, in Britain and all other trade unions in Britain have voiced concerns about the deal. In terms of our narrow Irish focus and ensuring the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and a frictionless border, though, it is better than no deal. That is the best that can be said of it.

Has the Government had any contact with the DUP since last week? The Tánaiste acknowledged that the relationship had worsened, but it is an important relationship to maintain. It would be interesting to know whether the Government reached out.

The last time the MFF was negotiated, Ireland had to be the advocate for a new PEACE programme. It was PEACE IV at the time. Britain was not going to advocate for it. Following the withdrawal of Britain from the EU, will there be a PEACE V? Has that been discussed and agreed?

Whatever it will be called, I am referring to a new funded PEACE arrangement that will finance activities on both sides of the Border.

Does Deputy Paul Murphy wish to ask a supplementary question?

Has much work been done on evaluating what the lost income from British contributions to the European budget will be in the years to come? How is it proposed to make up the shortfall? Due to Ireland's growth in income and its recovery from the 2008 crash, our contributions are steadily increasing. Has there been a conversation, be it directly with the European Council President or at the Council meeting, of what the implications of the British leaving will be, be that in a couple of years or in four or five years? We all hope that there will be a reversal of the departure, but if it happens, what will be the impact on the budget? The Taoiseach cited countries such as Romania and Bulgaria as being poorer than Britain economically and in terms of, for example, workers' rights. That is true, and it is one of the reasons we regret the UK deciding to leave the EU. Those countries have received large development packages as part of their joining the EU. The loss of funds that might now occur will have to be made up by all member states, including Ireland. It would be helpful if the Taoiseach could provide the House with an approximate evaluation of what those figures are likely to be so that we could have a realistic understanding of part of the economic effects of the UK's withdrawal.

Last week when I raised with the Taoiseach the events in Catalonia, he reiterated his view that the imprisonment of Catalonian leaders was an internal matter for Spain. He went on to say that his Government respected the constitutional integrity of Spain, but that he firmly believed these matters should be dealt with through dialogue. He told me that he had spoken previously to the Spanish Prime Minister, Dr. Pedro Sánchez, about these matters and that he intended to do so again.

Let me restate my position, which I believe is widely held. The suppression of democracy and the internationally recognised right to self-determination by a very aggressive Spanish state is not simply an internal matter. If claims that the EU is a group of institutions based on the rule of law that puts democracy and the democratic rights and entitlements of citizens front and centre are to be in any way credible, the Taoiseach cannot persist in saying that this is an internal matter and not comment on it. Did he use the occasion of the Council meeting to raise the lengthy sentences handed down to the leaders? Did he speak to Dr. Sánchez on these matters? Has the Taoiseach ascertained what role EU leaders intend to take in advancing the dialogue between Madrid and the Catalans?

I have to check up on Deputy Calleary's question regarding an EU rainy day fund. There has not been any discussion of that at European Council level yet. It might be something that is being discussed at ECOFIN, so I would have to double-check with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, about that. Lots of different instruments, which we will all be aware of from our period in the bailout, exist, for example, the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, and the European system of financial supervision, ESFS, I think it is called.

Yes, the funds that Klaus Regling runs are the ones that the Fianna Fáil spokesperson was inquiring about They talked about a very significant potential fund for Ireland.

Joan should be Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I am sorry, but I was at a conference recently where he spoke about it.

Deputy Burton is probably correct. In fact, I am sure she is correct. I thank her.

Regarding the Common Agricultural Policy, my assessment is that it is possible to ensure that it is fully funded for the next period. The Commission is proposing a 5% cut. Our objective is to get that cut reversed. I am not sure we can achieve that but that is going to be our negotiating objective for the next couple of years as we negotiate the next six-year budget for the EU. Our best chance of getting CAP fully funded is to reform it, because ultimately this is taxpayers' money. It is voters' money and it is consumers' money. I think what they would like to see is farmers, rural development and the regions supported but they would also like to see it connected in some way towards a more green Common Agricultural Policy, one that incentivises farmers and the food industry to reduce emissions, do the right things in terms of biodiversity and other such changes. I think they are up for it if they are properly remunerated. The best way of protecting the budget is not to ask for the same amount of money for the same policy but to ask for the same amount, or perhaps even more, for a reformed policy that is greener and more climate-friendly.

In terms of the UK, off the top of my head I think the loss of the budget is about €12 billion a year, which is significant, but that will be somewhat offset by the financial settlement which is €30-something billion paid in over a long period. Ireland will see a considerable increase in our contributions. It is linked to GNI and because our economy has grown so much our contributions will grow by a lot, by about 45% in fact, between 2021 and 2027. That is a big increase in our contributions between 2021 and 2027. We are going from a country that was a so-called net beneficiary a few years ago to probably the third biggest net contributor per capita by the end of that period. We will start to see that politics seep into Irish debate about how much we are sending to the EU every week. I hope none of us engage in that nonsense because that never takes account of the benefits of being a member of the EU, which are enormous; having access to a market of 450 million people and so many other things.

One thing we will have to consider in putting together the new multi-annual financial framework, MFF, the new six-year budget for the EU, is the issue of the rebate. That is something the UK demanded and got back in the 1980s.

That was due to Mrs. Thatcher's handbag.

It was. She was successful in getting a rebate but she got it for other countries too. Now that the UK is gone the question is if the rebate should continue. Then there is the whole issue around own resources; 80% of customs duties go straight to the EU budget. There are suggestions about a plastic tax or perhaps some other EU-wide taxes that could fill the hole in the budget, which we need to consider but be careful about as well.

In terms of the difference between the revised withdrawal agreement and the revised political declaration, it is worth pointing out that the revised withdrawal agreement is legally binding. It is an international agreement. The revised political declaration is a statement of intent, which is not legally binding.

That is the point I was making.

Deputy Howlin is correct; that did change, but it is not part of the withdrawal agreement, and it can change again depending on the composition of the UK Government. That was always the case. The Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, is taking a different approach to the future relationship to the previous Prime Minister, Mrs. May, and a future Government may take a different approach to the relationship again. That is not our business. We just have to deal with whatever the UK Government decides.

On Catalonia, I met briefly with Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Casado, the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition, respectively. I did not have the chance to raise Catalonia on this occasion but I will again. Most likely, we will see them again after their elections. I have not had any direct contact with the DUP in the past week or so. It has been keen to engage with the UK Government rather than with us on these matters but my people are in touch with their people and the door is always open.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.