I thank the Chairman for his comments. I am very pleased to be here among Deputies from across parties and those of an Independent hue. I am delighted that we have the opportunity so early in the year to deal with these important matters. I hope we can reach a conclusion today and send a positive message back to the plenary session of Dáil Éireann. I also welcome a number of ambassadors, some of whom are from countries that are the subject matter of our proceedings this afternoon, and wish them all the best for 2015. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the three motions which been proposed and referred to this committee for consideration.
The motions seek Dáil approval of the terms of EU association agreements with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, respectively. These countries are three of six members of the EU's Eastern Partnership which was launched in 2009. It is a joint initiative within the European neighbourhood policy to provide a coherent framework for EU co-operation with six countries of eastern Europe and the south Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. These three association agreements are a new generation of agreements offered in the framework of the Eastern Partnership. Up to now, relations between the EU and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have been based on partnership and co-operation agreements which entered into force over 15 years ago. The European Commission negotiated the association agreements on behalf of the EU and the member states, including Ireland, were kept fully informed of progress in the negotiations, particularly through the relevant EU Council working groups.
The conclusion of the agreements, which are ambitious in scope, is a milestone in the EU’s relationships with these countries.
The overall aims of the agreements are to accelerate the deepening of political and economic relations with these countries on the basis of common values. The agreements aim to strengthen the framework for enhanced political dialogue and promote peace and stability. They provide the conditions for enhanced economic and trade relations, which will lead towards the gradual economic integration of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine with the EU Internal Market in selected areas.
The agreements will enhance justice, freedom and security co-operation with the aim of reinforcing the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. These countries will benefit under the agreements from financial assistance through the appropriate EU funding mechanisms and instruments.
A key element of each agreement is enhanced co-operation with the EU in some 28 policy sectors focusing on core reforms. The sectors include, for example, energy, transport, management of public finances, agriculture and rural development. Key to the sectoral co-operation chapter is a comprehensive menu of regulatory approximation contained in annexes to the agreements, which set out the EU legislation to be adopted within a specified timeframe.
The three agreements provide for the creation of a deep and comprehensive free trade area. Through this, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will be gradually integrated into the EU’s Internal Market. The agreements not only offer improved trade and investment opportunities but also assistance with trade-related reforms. This has the aim of contributing to economic recovery and growth, and, for example, an improved and more predictable business environment, including for the small business sector.
The EU estimates that the deep and comprehensive free trade area, DCFTA, will boost substantially the GDP of the three countries and their exports to the EU, provided that reforms are completed.
The EU will provide assistance to the three countries with the implementation of the reform measures, from assistance with the modernisation of the agricultural sector to better regulating financial services. In terms of financial assistance, the EU made available €131 million each to Georgia and Moldova, and €365 million to Ukraine, in 2014 to support a programme of reform and modernisation efforts and the implementation of the DCFTA. The EU will continue to provide assistance in the current and future years. The Eastern Partnership summit in Riga in May will be a good opportunity to assess their progress in this regard.
The conclusion of these agreements responds to the desire of the peoples of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to come closer to the EU on the basis of our shared European values. The agreements will contribute to the promotion of stability and democratic values in the EU’s neighbourhood.
The agreements were signed last year at the March and June European Councils. Each EU member state is a party to these agreements because some aspects of the agreements remain in the competence of member states, such as in relation to justice and home affairs. The agreements can only enter into force after they have been ratified by all member states and the European Parliament has given its consent. In Ireland’s case, the approval of Dáil Éireann is required prior to the ratification of this type of agreement.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have already ratified the agreements. Ratification by the 28 member states is proceeding, and has been completed by ten EU states to date. In many other member states the process is at an advanced stage. The European Parliament has given its consent to all three agreements. As it may take some time before ratification procedures are fully complete, some aspects of the agreements, including the deep and comprehensive free trade area, DCFTA, are applied on a provisional basis, pending their formal entry into force at a later date.
However, in relation to Ukraine, following a trilateral meeting between the EU, Ukraine and Russia in September, the European Commission has agreed to suspend the provisional application of the trade part of the agreement, including the establishment of a free trade area, until 1 January 2016. In the meantime, Ukraine will continue to benefit from trade preferences for goods entering the EU. The delay in applying the trade provisions of the agreement with Ukraine was considered necessary as Ukraine feared that its threatened removal from the Russia-CIS free trade regime would have a serious impact on its already struggling economy. For its part, Russia confirmed that the CIS-FTA preferential regime with Ukraine will continue to apply.
The EU’s relationship with Ukraine has, despite the adversity of the ongoing crisis, developed and deepened substantially. The ratification of the EU-Ukraine association agreement not only strengthens the foundation of this relationship, but charts a course for much-needed political and economic reform programme as Ukraine seeks to become a modern, prosperous democracy. Both at Maidan Square and in the recent parliamentary election, the people of Ukraine have made their voices heard on the question of these reforms, and on the desire of the people of Ukraine for this association agreement to secure a firm and productive friendship between Ukraine and the European Union. Through Ireland’s ratification of this association agreement, we will show our own support for this process, and for a brighter future for the people of Ukraine.
It should be noted that Georgia is the only country of the Caucasus region which has concluded an association agreement with the EU and opinion polls show the people of Georgia are strongly supportive of this agreement. Moldova has recently held parliamentary elections, and is currently in the process of forming a new government. Following the elections, High Representative, Ms Federica Mogherini, stressed the EU’s intention to remain a reliable partner supporting the reform programme in Moldova and working towards unleashing the full benefits of the association agreement in the interest of all its citizens. In the course of the recent election, one of the members of the committee, Deputy Eric Byrne, in his capacity as a monitor, represented Ireland. I would be anxious to hear his views on the election and the electoral process in Moldova. The High Representative, Ms Mogherini, recently noted the preliminary findings of the International Election Observation Mission.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present these three motions which I hope will meet the committee’s approval. The association agreements will broaden and deepen the EU’s relationship with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine on the basis of shared values and interests. Closer economic integration with the EU will be a powerful stimulant for economic growth in these three countries. This, in turn, will open up opportunities for Ireland to forge stronger political and economic relations with these countries. I hope the committee will support the motions which I have proposed, and that Dáil Éireann will approve the terms of these three association agreements so that Ireland will proceed to ratify these agreements in the near future.
I am happy to take questions at this point. I thank the Chairman.