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Speech to EU Heads of Mission, Dublin


I was delighted to accept the invitation to speak with you as we approach Christmas and the New Year. 

Looking back on the year, it is fair to say that 2005 has not been the European Union’s finest year.  It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that the Union is in crisis. However, it would be foolish not to recognise that we are facing some tough challenges which, if not resolved, will put the EU into very serious difficulties.

It is not all doom and gloom however.  Enlargement has been a success.  Since the 1st of May 2004, I have travelled to a number of the new Member States and Accession States. Ireland’s relationship with our new EU partners is developing well – economically, culturally and politically.

Ireland opened its labour market and there are now around 140,000 workers from the new Member States working in Ireland.  Such large-scale immigration is a very new experience for us.  It is one of the most dramatic indications of how far our economy and society have developed over the past decade.  The workers from the new Member States are generally well educated, highly productive and are making a very important contribution to our economy. 

On the basis of our national experience, I would encourage those Member States that have not opened their labour markets to do so.

I would not wish the dispute in Irish Ferries to cast a shadow over this positive experience.  This dispute is a very particular situation. It is by no means typical of the very broad and positive experience we have had in receiving workers from the new Member States.  I have already said strongly and publicly that Irish Ferries have handled the situation badly and I do not agree with their approach.

On the broader EU agenda, I continue to regret the failure to have the European Constitution ratified by the deadline of November 2005. I fully accept the decisions of the French and the Dutch people.  Having experienced the referendum campaigns in Ireland on the Nice Treaty, it was no great surprise to me that many voters in our EU partners now feel disenchanted, disconnected and even alienated from the Union. 

The pause in the referendum process has in turn provoked a debate in each country about Europe. This is healthy and provides an opportunity for Governments to enter into a dialogue with their citizens about their concerns.   

Over the past few months, the Government and the National Forum on Europe have promoted our national debate on Europe.  Our message to the people has highlighted the broad benefits of our EU membership, the importance of the EU to our national effort to confront globalisation and the success of enlargement.

Personally, I strongly believe that the EU will return to the European Constitution in the not too distant future.  Ireland does not agree with proposals that envisage the cherry-picking of such a balanced and carefully constructed document. We do not believe that any efforts to introduce elements of the European Constitution by the back door would be productive.  I also believe that any renegotiation of the European Constitution would essentially result in the same document.

While progress on the Constitutional issue has stalled, it is essential that we show people that the European Union is working for them.  We have to create jobs, increase growth, fight crime and deal with issues that are of daily concern.  I very much agree with Chancellor Merkel’s recent observation that what the EU badly needs is some successes.

I enjoyed the informal meeting of Heads of State or Government at Hampton Court in October.  There we had a good opportunity to talk frankly about the key issues confronting all of us. 

But, of course, it is easy to talk, what we really need to do is deliver.  If there has been a constant theme to the speeches I have made on Europe over the past few months, it is that we need to raise our eyes from our internal debates and look out more at a world which is greatly changing.

I have urged that in developing and implementing our internal EU policy, we should take the external competitive challenge more into account. 

We need a coherent EU strategy to deal with globalisation.  Internal policy instruments, such as competition policy, State aids, regional policy, research and development should be coherent with external policies, including trade and development policy.  They also should support our common effort to deal with the global competitive challenge.  We cannot act as if the policies we implement inside the EU are divorced from the pressures we face in the outside world. 

In the coming years, one of the positive messages we can convey to our citizens about the EU should focus on the role of the Union in helping all of our countries deal with globalisation.  It is quite clear that none of us, from the smallest to the largest, could easily promote our national values and interests on our own outside of the EU. It is only through acting together in the Union that we can face up to the competitive challenges from China, India and other emerging economies.       

As I meet my colleagues around the EU, I am struck by the fact that there is far more that unites us than divides us.  In the coming year, we need to focus strongly on those areas where we all agree on the benefits of working together.  We have to get away from the public picture of the EU as a series of negotiating battles with winners and losers.  The message has to be that the EU is our common home, a space where we work together to promote Europe’s interests and common values in a rapidly changing world. If the EU falters, we will all be the losers. 

We need to show that the EU of twenty-five is capable of taking hard decisions.  The longer the state of uncertainty about the European Constitution and about the Financial Perspectives continues, the more people will assume that the enlarged EU is not working. 

We need to have an agreement on the Financial Perspectives at the European Council in December.  I will meet with Prime Minister Blair in London tomorrow for a bilateral discussion on the Presidency’s proposals.

We are examining the detailed proposals from the UK Presidency very carefully.  We are doing so on the same basis as we have proceeded from the beginning of the current negotiations – that is, with a view to ensuring that the Union is equipped to meet the legitimate expectations of its citizens as well as the challenges of the years ahead.

Clearly, there will be a number of issues to resolve.  Throughout the Financial Perspectives negotiations, I have consistently stressed that cohesion funding and the Common Agricultural Policy are two fundamental pillars of the European Union.

As regards cohesion, we are concerned at the reductions now envisaged for cohesion in the new Member States, compared to the Luxembourg final package.  Ireland understands the value of cohesion funding very well, having benefited under cohesion and structural funds for many years ourselves. 

I appreciate the difficulties the Presidency proposals will pose for the new Member States and I hope that their needs can be provided for adequately in any final negotiated solution.

On Agriculture, the European Council’s agreement in October 2002 on the future funding of the CAP must be fully respected.  That agreement did not include the additional funding which will be necessary to provide for Bulgaria and Romania.  It remains our position that this funding must be additional to the current provision.  Agriculture remains an area of great importance here in Ireland and indeed throughout the EU.  It is essential that we ensure that all our farmers will have stability and predictability until 2013 in accordance with the 2002 agreement and the 2003 reforms.

In addition, in relation to rural development, we need to ensure that the funding provided in any new package will allow us to continue to support important rural development schemes.  The cuts proposed to rural development in the current UK Presidency proposal have rightly been widely criticised and will have to be reviewed.  

As regards the proposed review of the financial framework, while we are happy to go along with the review clause, any application of the review cannot take effect in advance of 2013.

Finally, the UK Rebate is still an issue of importance for all of us.  In the interests of fairness, we need an equitable agreement that, while recognising the validity of the original principle, would adapt the rebate to the changed circumstance of today.  The current proposals will need to be analysed and negotiated with a view to having the costs shared equitably among all Member States.

I remain hopeful that we can agree a deal at the European Council next week.  It is extremely important for this enlarged Union that agreement be reached if at all possible and I am committed to playing my part in a positive frame of mind.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you once gain for today’s invitation.  As we approach the Christmas season, I would like to wish you and your families a Happy Christmas and New Year.

Thank you.