As a member of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, I thank the Chairman for extending an invitation to me to attend this meeting and I thank Commissioner Oettinger for attending for this exchange of views. It is much appreciated. My understanding is that he is here to hear our thoughts on this process and the MFF. I will not comb over all the issues that have already been discussed but will briefly give my view of what has been discussed.
In respect of overall funding, the question for every member state is whether funding for key areas we care about will be cut and if it will be cut, by how much. The next question is whether our contributions will increase. Obviously, the two are connected. If we do not want to see a reduction in funding, we must increase our contributions. Overall, broadly speaking, there is broad support across our Parliament in most political parties and within Government for some increase because we recognise that there is a huge deficit to be met post-2020 and we must all meet that together as a team, as Commissioner Oettinger noted.
One of our biggest sectors is agriculture. The CAP is a more important issue for us than it will be for other member states. We are keenly aware that the three main member states who are supportive of CAP are France, Ireland and the UK so with the loss of the UK, the voice for CAP weakens. Again, we are aware of this. However, we would also make the argument that the money it generates within our economy allows us to pay our net contributions to the EU. When Commissioner Oettinger goes to the eight remaining member states he is visiting, could he try to impress upon them the importance of CAP for the entire EU and not just those member states that may rely on it more than others?
The Committee on Budgetary Oversight met with members of the EU budget committee two weeks ago and had a very in-depth discussion about Brexit. One of the interesting points that was made by the members of that committee was that as a Union, we need to respond more robustly to the refugee crisis and those countries that are dealing with that issue more than others and that we cannot allow those member states that are at the forefront and at the borders to shoulder all of those demands. I would make the same point with regard to Brexit. This is a huge crisis for us. It is very challenging and has the potential to be hugely detrimental to our country - more than other countries. I appreciate that every member state will be affected in some way. As a small country on the periphery of Europe beyond the UK, we need to see real and robust support from the EU and not just talking and supportive words. We need financial supports to deal with the possible fallout from this. It would be important for our citizens to see that the EU family is there to back us up when we need it. Equally, I accept that we have responsibilities in terms of the migration crisis and other crises that may come down the line in the future. We are all part of a Union and that should mean something.
Defence is my portfolio within my party. Unlike some of the other contributors earlier, I am very supportive of increasing our defence budget, which I think is far too low. However, efficiencies need to be made.
I think that is the same for the entire EU budget. If we are advocating for increased spending and increased contributions, we should also talk about the efficiencies we can make across the board in how we run our business. That will go some way towards convincing other member states that 1% is not enough and they need to come up towards 1.1%, 1.2% or maybe 1.3%.
Regarding defence, three or four weeks ago I attended a meeting in Brussels as part of the OSCE. The purpose of that meeting was to consider how Belgium dealt with the terrorists attacks in Brussels in 2016. We met the Belgian Minister for justice and the parliamentary committee which carried out a review on how the city and country reacted in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, how they dealt with victims and what they are doing now to deal with the threat of terrorism. I am sure the Commissioner will agree the threat is real for every member state. While it may be more prevalent in others than it is in Ireland, nobody is immune. From that brief visit I learned that the threat is becoming very sophisticated and more of a challenge, and therefore becoming more costly to deal with. Technology is advancing all the time and we need to be a step or two ahead, but at the moment we are always a step or two behind.
Regarding working together, the Commissioner made a very good point. Why have multiple member states developing or trying to develop the same technology? Working together makes perfect sense to me. Recently Ireland has committed to participate in two EU projects in the area of defence. One is in the Training Mission Competence Centre, which will train our personnel for future challenges that may come down the line. The second is in maritime surveillance. When we talk about defence spending, defence budget and working together, it is not all about arms, bombs and tanks. It is about working together to build the technologies and share the knowledge we have to gain efficiencies and, as the Commissioner said, present value to the taxpayer. It is not acceptable for some member states to sit back and say, "Well, this isn't really a problem for us now. We don't see a threat in our country, so we will leave you to deal with that on your own." It goes against what it means to be part of a union. From my perspective and that of my party, we see the value in sensible and reasonable defence spending to meet the challenges today and in the future.
I finish on a point mentioned by Deputy Burton. I welcome that youth participation is one of the key areas the Commission wants to focus on post-2020. For younger people we need to do more on communicating and showing the value of the European Union for younger people. The issues facing young people are the same in most countries. It is becoming increasingly difficult for them to purchase their first homes. People are having their families later. The cost of education is rising. All of these challenges mean it is a very difficult time for those in their 20s or 30s. The European Union has a role to play in that. What is the planned budget for youth participation? What initiatives is the Commission considering? We need to do our best to communicate those to our younger citizens across the EU to show the value of the Union into the future.