I will attend a meeting of the European Council later this week on 24 and 25 June in Brussels. At this week’s meeting, we will, as has become usual, discuss Covid-19. This week, our focus will be on vaccination rates across the EU, including in the context of new variants, and on progress on the EU digital Covid certificate, as well as an initial exchange on lessons learnt from the pandemic. We will also discuss the EU’s economic recovery post-pandemic. We will discuss migration, in particular its external aspects, including our co-operation and support for countries of origin and transit. We will also return to discussions on relations with Russia, on Turkey and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean more generally, and on the worrying situation in Belarus. While not part of the formal agenda, the Presidents of the Council and the Commission will brief us on their discussions at the recent G7 meeting, as well as at recent European Union summits with NATO, the US and Canada. Our meeting will begin on 24 June with an exchange with United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who was recently re-elected to his post for a second term. On Friday, 25 June, we will also meet as the Euro Summit in inclusive format. The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, will provide more detail on Russia, Turkey and Belarus in his concluding remarks this afternoon. I will address all other agenda items.
Before turning to this week’s meeting, let me take the opportunity to report briefly on the special meeting of the European Council that was held on 24 and 25 May. At that meeting, we discussed Covid-19, including ongoing developments on vaccination across Europe, and the operationalisation of the EU digital Covid certificate this summer. As we had agreed to do when we met last December, we provided guidance to the European Commission on climate issues ahead of the expected publication of the "Fit for 55" package in July. We discussed Belarus and agreed additional sanctions should be imposed in response to the shocking forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May and the detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega. We held a strategic debate on Russia and restated our commitment to the five principles which have guided the EU’s policy towards Russia since 2016.
We had a short discussion on relations with the United Kingdom as they have developed since the end of the period of transition in January. In this, we reaffirmed that the trade and co-operation agreement, together with the withdrawal agreement and its protocols, provide the framework for EU-UK relations and should be fully and effectively implemented. I expressed my support for the approach being taken by the Commission and encouraged continued engagement in good faith with the UK.
EU leaders also welcomed the Israel-Palestine ceasefire, which had come into effect in the days before our meeting, following the devastating loss of lives over the preceding weeks. We reiterated our commitment to a two-state solution and agreed to continue to work with international partners to restart a political process.
We condemned the kidnapping of the transitional President of Mali and the Prime Minister, and called for their immediate release.
In preparation for this week’s meeting of the European Council, I met last week by video call, VC, with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the leaders of Estonia, Greece, Poland and Slovenia. President Michel regularly convenes such meetings with small groups of EU leaders to help prepare the agenda for European Council meetings. We had a good exchange on the agenda of this week’s meeting.
Our meeting this week with UN Secretary General Guterres is a timely opportunity as he starts his new term to exchange views on how the European Union and the United Nations can better work together. Our discussion will build on the assessment on co-operation between the EU and the UN given by EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, to the UN Security Council on 10 June. Engagement with the UN is always a vital part of Ireland’s foreign policy but, of course, it is particularly important at present due to our membership of the Security Council. Multilateral and UN-centred responses are essential for responding to complex global challenges in an interconnected and interdependent world. Since taking up our seat on the UN Security Council on 1 January, Ireland has taken an active role and engaged constructively in the Security Council’s work on a range of country situations and thematic issues. Ireland has also assumed a number of leadership roles on the Security Council, including as facilitator for Security Council activities under Resolution 2231 on the Iran nuclear issue, and as co-penholder, with Norway, on Syria humanitarian resolutions. I look forward to taking part next week in a debate at the UN Security Council, under the Presidency of my European Council colleague, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, on "Maintaining International Peace and Security in Cyberspace".
Ireland is currently one of three EU member states on the Security Council. It is important to maintain EU co-operation and ensure a clear European Union voice on the many issues of concern to both the EU and UN. The EU and UN are key components of a multilateral and international rules-based approach which provides the best protection and response to international peace and security issues, Covid-19 recovery, human rights, sustainable development and climate change.
On Covid-19, this month’s meeting will allow for further discussion on epidemiological developments, vaccination programmes and preparations for implementing the EU digital Covid certificate. The decision that the European Union should come together as one to order and distribute vaccines was the right one, and very much in Ireland's interests. It has given us access to a portfolio of billions of doses, and deliveries continue to increase. Well over 355 million doses have already been delivered across the EU and more than 55% of the adult population have received at least one dose.
The EU is the largest exporter of Covid-19 vaccines to the world and will continue its efforts to increase global vaccine production capacities in order to meet global needs. Hundreds of millions of doses have been exported from the EU around the world to over 90 countries. Universal and equitable access to safe, effective and affordable diagnostics, treatments and vaccines is crucial in the global fight against Covid-19. Accelerating work on vaccine sharing and production will be a focus of this week’s meeting, including the concrete aim agreed in May of donating at least 100 million doses by the end of the year. On 4 June, the EU, within the WTO, submitted a proposal to agree on a global trade initiative for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics. The three key components of this proposal are: ensuring vaccines, treatments and their essential ingredients can cross borders freely; concrete actions to expand production and ensure affordable supply; and clarification and facilitation of TRIPS agreement flexibilities relating to compulsory licenses. It is clear that production capacity is a key issue, and I welcome the European Commission’s announcement of €1 billion in funding to create long-term sustainable production capacity in Africa.
The EU has also played a role in responding to the immediate health crisis in a number of countries. In April, Ireland contributed to EU efforts in providing life-saving equipment to India and, last week, we responded to Nepal’s request for assistance from EU member states with donations of medical equipment and PPE. This material was donated by a number of organisations, including the HSE, and will support front-line workers delivering essential care.
Next week, we will have a first discussion of the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic, drawing on an initial report presented by the Commission last week. We must ensure that we enhance the EU’s preparedness, response capability and resilience to future crises.
While the European Union and its member states have accomplished much during the pandemic, it is clear that the European Union must be better equipped to support our collective efforts in the sphere of public health, while acknowledging areas of national competences. There is scope to reduce unnecessary duplication of effort across member states, to improve co-ordination, and to harness our collective strengths as we address common challenges. The success of the vaccination programme shows us what can be achieved when we work together as a Union.
The Conference on the Future of Europe, which met on Saturday for the first time in plenary session, will no doubt also reflect upon the impact of the pandemic and our collective response during its work.
On travel, we should acknowledge that the agreement reached on an EU digital Covid certificate is a significant achievement in a short timeframe. The Government's advice is still to avoid non-essential travel. Subject to the prevailing public health situation, Ireland will operate the new digital certificate from 19 July for travel originating within the European Union and the EEA. Ireland will broadly align itself to the European Union approach to non-essential travel into the European Union from third countries, including Great Britain and the United States of America. This will facilitate the safe return of international travel underpinned by clear safety and public health protocols, including an emergency brake mechanism coordinated at European Union level to react swiftly to epidemiological developments of particular concern. The Government agreed last week to enhanced quarantine arrangements for passengers arriving from Great Britain.
This month's European Council will be an important opportunity to take stock of economic developments as we look ahead to the next phase of post-pandemic recovery. The European Commission presented its European semester spring package on 2 June, with a focus this year on implementation of the €750 billion NextGenerationEU. Formal ratification of the own resources decision by all member states has cleared the way for European Commission borrowing on the markets to fund the NextGenerationEU package, with an initial €20 billion raised last week. The Commission has indicated that it will issue approximately €80 billion of long-term bonds this year in addition to significant issuance of shorter-term bonds.
Most member states have now submitted their national recovery and resilience plans with a view to accessing funding under the recovery and resilience facility, which is the centrepiece of the NextGenerationEU package. Ireland submitted its draft plan to the European Commission on 28 May. This has been developed by the Government over recent months, guided by the requirement for a minimum of 37% of expenditure on climate, 20% expenditure on digital investments and reforms, investment and reform challenges identified in relevant country-specific recommendations to Ireland in recent years, and ensuring alignment with national economic and investment plans, particularly the national economic recovery plan. Ireland is expected to receive €915 million in grants in 2021 and 2022, which will be used to support investments between now and mid-2026. Further grants will be allocated in 2023, taking into account economic developments.
Ireland’s national recovery and resilience plan proposes investments and reform commitments in three priority areas, which are advancing the green transition; accelerating and expanding digital reforms and transformation; and social and economic recovery and job creation. The Commission has two months to assess the plan, followed by up to four weeks for member states to consider and approve it following the Commission's assessment. An initial summary of our draft plan was published earlier this month in conjunction with the Government's economic recovery plan.
Leaders will meet next Friday for a euro summit, where we will hear from the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, and from the President of Eurogroup, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. We agreed in March that the focus of this month's discussion would be on post-pandemic economic challenges for the euro area, as well as reviewing progress under the banking union and capital markets union. The continued activation of the Stability and Growth Pact’s general escape clause, this year and next, provides an important window of opportunity for ensuring we continue to have the right mix of monetary, fiscal and structural policies for the period ahead. This includes a stronger focus on unlocking the full potential of our Single Market, including for next-generation digital services. I look forward to constructive discussions with leaders to this end.
Discussion next week will also return to the issue of migration. Our focus will be mostly on the external aspects of migration. We will take stock of the migration situation on different routes and will discuss how best to co-operate with third countries to manage this. In 2019, the number of irregular crossings into the European Union was at its lowest level in six years and this fell further in 2020, largely as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. However, the number of irregular border crossings at Europe's external borders in the first four months of 2021 reached 36,100, about a third higher than last year, and this is expected to rise further throughout the summer.
This has, regrettably, brought with it an increase in the number of people who have lost their lives while trying to reach Europe. Ireland has consistently supported European Union efforts to deal with migration in a comprehensive manner. This includes the need to make sustainable progress on the challenges posed by irregular and forced migration. To achieve this, we need to establish and strengthen mutually beneficial partnerships with key third countries. We recognise the importance of development co-operation in helping to create the conditions in which people do not feel that migration is their only option. We need to keep a focus on tackling the root causes of forced migration such as conflict and climate change. However, it is important that we do not let migration define the European Union's relationship with third countries. It should be only one part of a wider partnership. In this context, the entry into force of the new neighbourhood, development and international co-operation instrument, known as NDICI-Global Europe, is welcome. An indicative 10% of the NDICI-Global Europe financial envelope of almost €80 billion for 2021 to 2027 is to be used for migration-related activities. Ireland looks forward to continued work together as team Europe on this issue.
I look forward to the opportunity this week of engaging collectively and bilaterally with my European counterparts. In advance of the formal meeting, I will meet informally with leaders from the six Nordic-Baltic European Union member states, a group with which Ireland shares many policy priorities. I will report to the House on our discussions next week.