I thank the Vice Chairman, Deputies and Senators for the opportunity to present on the 2018 state of the Union address. I will also touch on the 2019 work programme.
President Juncker delivered his 2018 state of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in September. He presented his priorities for the year ahead and outlined his vision for how the European Union can continue to build a "more united, stronger and more democratic Union". In his speech he indicated that while, economically speaking, things are going well, much remains to be done. Europe's economy has grown for 21 consecutive quarters; 12 million new jobs have been created since 2014; more people are working in the EU today than ever before, which is also true in Ireland; and the European Fund for Strategic Investments, also known as the "Juncker fund", has triggered €336 billion worth of public and private investment. In fact, at this stage that figure is up to €400 billion. The EU has trade agreements with 70 countries around the world, covering 40% of the world's GDP. These agreements help us to export not alone our goods and services, but also Europe's high standards for food safety, workers' rights, the environment and consumer rights. The European Union accounts for one fifth of the world's economy. With regard to trade agreements, the European Commission yesterday presented a study showing that EU trade with third countries accounts for approximately 36 million jobs, 690,000 of which are in Ireland. It is more surprising that the 690,000 jobs in Ireland create another 390,000 jobs in other member states.
They are jobs created thanks to trade with third countries.
In his speech President Juncker stated, "United, as a Union, Europe is a force to be reckoned with." However, against the backdrop of an ever more uncertain world, while emphasising that he wanted to champion multilateralism, he also stressed the need for it to become more sovereign so as to be able to play a role in shaping global affairs. He said:
The geopolitical situation makes this Europe's hour: the time for European sovereignty has come. It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands.
This belief that "united we stand taller" is the very essence of what it means to be part of the European Union. Sharing sovereignty – when and where needed – makes each of our nation states stronger.
Regarding our proposals, President Juncker's speech was accompanied by the adoption of 18 concrete initiatives by the European Commission on migration and borders, security, free and secure elections, the European Union's partnership with Africa and the Union as a global actor.
On security, we proposed new rules to get terrorist content off the web; measures to secure free and fair European elections; a reinforced European public prosecutor's office to fight cross-border terrorism; and initiatives to invest in cybersecurity.
On migration and border reform, we proposed a reinforced European Union agency for asylum; a fully equipped European border and coast guard service; stronger rules for the return of illegal entrants; and a route towards legal migration.
Regarding Africa, we proposed a new Africa-Europe alliance for sustainable investment and jobs, with a focus on investment and business partnerships, rather than on aid, as would have been the case in the past.
Regarding Common Foreign and Security Policy, we proposed improving the efficiency of the decision-making process. The European Commission considers that it is no longer acceptable that we need unanimity merely to issue a statement on some foreign issues.
We also proposed putting an end to seasonal clock changes, basically taking away the decision and giving it back to member states.
We proposed stronger anti-money laundering supervision for a stable banking and financial sector.
These proposals are intended to help to deliver positive results for citizens by the time of the European Council's summit in Sibiu on 9 May 2019 and ahead of the 2019 European elections. Based on this, the European Commission will continue to work hard for the remainder for 2018 and throughout 2019. There are three goals on which we must focus: delivering what we have promised to deliver; overcoming the challenges that are holding us back; and giving the European Union a perspective for the future.
The European Commission has delivered all of the legislative proposals it committed to making in the ten priorities set out by President Juncker in 2014. Together with the European Parliament and the Council, it has found agreement on 50% of the proposals, while a further 20% are well advanced in the legislative process. However, 30% need a lot more work. It is essential that we deliver on our joint commitments by the time of the European elections in 2019. To ensure the European Parliament and the Council can focus fully on what is on the table, the Commission is only making a very limited number of new proposals.
We also need to face up to several important outstanding challenges with which we need to deal collectively and decisively. The challenges are in the field of migration, reinforcing EMU, tensions in the global trading system, the rule of law in some member states and, last but not least, finding agreement with the United Kingdom to ensure its orderly withdrawal from the European Union. Regarding the latter, President Juncker repeated the message that the European Commission, the European Parliament and all 26 member states would always show loyalty to, and solidarity with, Ireland when it came to the issue of the Irish Border. This message has been reiterated many times since, not least in the withdrawal agreement endorsed by the European Council on Sunday last. President Juncker also noted that the United Kingdom would always be a very close neighbour and partner and never an ordinary third country.
We want to give a perspective for the future and, therefore, need to prepare for the Sibiu summit in May 2019. The summit will take place six weeks after Brexit and two weeks before the European elections. It will be a crucial moment for EU leaders to provide renewed confidence in the future of the Union of 27. The summit in Sibiu will be the moment when we will have to offer all Europeans a strong perspective for the future.
We have tabled a proposal for the Multi-annual Financial Framework for the period 2021 to 2027, but we also have proposals for strengthening the international role of the euro and the decision-making tools for Common Foreign and Security Policy. President Juncker has called on the European Parliament and the Council to adopt the proposals presented by the European Commission in the past four years in the light of the European elections that will be taking place in six months' time, but he has also said we are all responsible for the Europe of today and, therefore, must all take responsibility for the Europe of tomorrow. He has stressed that Europe must be an active player and an architect of tomorrow's world.
In line with the direction set out in the state of the Union speech of September and the letter of intent sent to the European Parliament and the Council, the European Commission adopted its work programme for 2019 on 23 October. As the committee will be aware, every year the Commission adopts a work programme in which it sets out the list of actions it will take in the year ahead. The work programme informs the public and co-legislators of the Commission's political commitments to present new initiatives, withdraw pending proposals and review existing EU legislation. In its work programme for 2019 the Commission follows the three main priorities to which I have alluded. They are: reaching swift agreement on the legislative proposals presented; adopting a limited number of new initiatives to address outstanding challenges; and presenting several initiatives with a future perspective for a Union of 27. The 2019 work programme focuses on only 15 new initiatives and an additional ten new REFIT evaluations to review existing legislation and ensure it is still fit for purpose. To ensure a focus on delivery, the Commission's work programme also lists 45 pending priority proposals for adoption by the Parliament and the Council before the European elections. The Commission also suggests withdrawing or repealing 17 pending proposals or existing laws.
Our priority in the year ahead will be to get the green light on as many outstanding proposals as possible. Most of them are of importance to Ireland such as those in the field of trade. For instance, we want to ratify the EU-Japan partnership agreement. We want to conclude the agreements with Singapore and Vietnam and modernise the agreement with Mexico. We want to make rapid progress in negotiations with New Zealand and Australia and champion the multilateral trading system. Others which, equally, are of great importance to Ireland are more in the field of completing the digital Single Market which is considered to be of importance here, adopting the circular economy package or addressing the social dimension of the European Union and even adopting the proposals on fair taxation in the digital economy.
On the next steps to be taken, the European Commission's work programme was adopted in October. It will be our agenda for the next 12 months. The December European Council should discuss the Commission's proposals for the Multi-annual Financial Framework. The March 2019 European Council should discuss EMU issues and trade. I always use the word "should" because foreseen agendas tend to be hijacked by events, but this is the plan. The European Parliament and the Council should decide on as many legislative proposals as possible before the Parliament's term comes to an end in advance of the European elections in May 2019. This should be followed by the informal European Council on 9 May in Sibiu in Romania where the EU Heads of State and Government will gather for the first time after the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union and also for the last time before the European elections of 2019. As said, it will be the moment to offer all Europeans a strong perspective for the future. The European Parliament elections will take place from 23 to 26 May. Following the elections, at the June European Council, the 27 member states should adopt a new strategic agenda for the period 2019 to 2024 which will guide the work of the European Union for the next five years. The June European Council should also decide on a number of high level appointments following the European Parliament elections, including the next European Commission President, the next European Council President and the next High Representative and Vice President for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Clearly, 2019 will be a year of change. However, it will also be the year when the Juncker Commission will come to the end of its five-year mandate and hopes to show that it has focused consistently on the challenges which can only be addressed by collective European action.
Our 2019 work programme contains no surprises. We have made all the proposals needed but now they must be agreed by the co-legislators and their benefits implemented in practice by the member states. We will look to the future with initiatives to ensure that tomorrow's Union of 27 has an optimistic vision for a fair and sustainable future for all Europeans.