I propose to take Questions Nos. 38, 39, 48 to 50, inclusive, and 54 together.
Since the onset of the current economic crisis in Europe, European leaders have been seized of the need to find a lasting resolution that allows us to put the crisis behind us and to focus on generating growth and jobs as a means of underpinning recovery.
Significant steps have been taken in this regard, including in strengthening budgetary discipline and in constructing stabilisation facilities and firewalls. Important progress on these elements, both of which are of importance to Ireland, was made at the meeting of the European Council last month. In particular, leaders agreed to further strengthen economic policy coordination within the euro area, by way of an intergovernmental agreement, to construct a new ‘fiscal compact'.
Negotiations are on-going on a draft Treaty to give legal effect to this agreement. A first draft text was circulated before Christmas and it is hoped that significant progress towards agreement will have been made before an informal meeting of the European Council scheduled for 30 January. Once agreement is reached, the text will then be prepared for signature and subsequent ratification by each of the participants according to their respective constitutional requirements.
The Government has been clear that we would have wished to proceed at the level of all 27 EU Member States. That would have facilitated inclusion of the new arrangements within the EU Treaties. Unfortunately it was not possible on this occasion. That in no way changes the reality that the UK is and will continue to be an active and important Member State of the European Union, with whom we cooperate very closely across a very wide range of policy issues. This will not change in any way in the wake of the decisions taken by leaders last month.
All Member States are represented at the ongoing negotiations, with the UK attending as observers. This is most welcome and work is being undertaken in a spirit of cooperation and compromise, while respecting vital national interests, as has been the guiding approach to previous European negotiations. I had a useful meeting with British Deputy Prime Minister Clegg in Dublin on Friday last, 13 January, at which we took stock of current developments in the EU, including progress in the negotiations on the intergovernmental agreement. The Deputy will also be aware that the Taoiseach also met with Prime Minister Cameron in London last week during which they agreed to pursue together cooperation with regard to the completion of the EU's Single Market.
The Government has been working intensively, at the negotiating table, in Brussels and in capitals, to make sure that our key points are understood and addressed appropriately. To that end we have offered our views both orally and in writing, including on the detailed elements of the text. Senior Irish officials have been very active in meeting their counterparts, and we have sought to secure the support of all potential allies on issues of importance to us. We will continue to do this as the process evolves.
In taking forward the work mandated in December, there has been no discussion of Ireland's Corporate Tax rate. What was agreed at last month's European Council does not open the question concerning our 12.5% corporation tax rate. As far as the Government is concerned the corporation tax rate issue is closed.
Only when a final text is available will it be possible to reach a view on what will be required by way of ratification in Ireland. The test will be whether the proposed Treaty is compatible with the Constitution. As the Government has confirmed previously, the Attorney General will study the legal implications carefully, and will advise on what steps will be necessary to enable Ireland to ratify. Until then it is simply not possible to be definitive. As the Government has made clear many times, if a referendum is required, one will be held.
Communications is and will continue to be an important aspect of any and all significant initiatives to be taken at European level. Effective communications with our respective publics, so as to ensure the broadest possible understanding of key issues and developments, is an important issue for all Member States. Lessons are leant and shared among partners in this regard, when appropriate. This is to be welcomed. However, this work is best led at the national level — in the first instance, by the elected representatives of the people — in the case of Ireland, by Members of the Oireachtas. The Government will continue the practice, initiated for the first time by this Government, of also having statements in this House ahead of each European Council meeting, as well as following such meetings, as was the practice previously. In addition, the Programme for Government commits Ministers to appear before the relevant Oireachtas Committees prior to travelling to Brussels for meetings of the Council where decisions are made.
In this context, I look forward to meeting at the end of this week with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs to brief Members on developments in the on-going negotiations on the intergovernmental Treaty and to engage with them on related issues.