BaileNuachtCartlann Aitheasc agus Preaseisiúintí

Statement by the Taoiseach on the Meeting of the European Council, Brussels, 23 October 2011


Dáil Éireann, 12 October 2011

I am pleased to have this opportunity to brief the House ahead of the next meeting of the European Council in Brussels.

As the House will be aware, this was to have taken place next Monday. However, on Monday, President Van Rompuy announced that he would convene the meeting of the European Council, and that of the Heads of State or Government of the euro area, a week later than originally planned. This is to allow us time to finalise a comprehensive strategy for the euro area. In a number of key areas, the extra time will mean that we have a fuller picture available to us when we meet to take the necessary decisions.

The report of the Troika mission to Greece will assist us in deciding what further elements may be necessary to address the situation there. This will have a read-across to what may be necessary in terms of bank recapitalisations and how we should achieve them. ECOFIN will have time to have a further meeting, which has now been convened by the Polish Presidency, and the Eurogroup will also meet.

When President Van Rompuy contacted me to alert me to the change, I told him that I had no difficulty with his suggestion if it was his assessment, as President, that further time is needed to get things right. In such a case we should take that time and use it to good effect. I also said to him that it was important that all Member States be involved in the discussions as we prepare for the European Council.

As the House will be aware, meetings of the European Council have, in recent times, been dominated by efforts to address the immediate challenges we face. By necessity, our work has been driven by crisis resolution and the needs of the immediate situation.

As a result, we are now better equipped than in the past to deal with problems when they arise.

But I am sure that the House will agree that it is also essential that leaders take the time to take a longer-term perspective to ensure that Europe has the right policies in place to generate growth and job creation and to deliver greater economic stability in the future. Next week's meeting will be important in that regard.
When we meet we will discuss economic policy, including growth enhancing measures, economic governance and the external aspects of our economic policies. We will also prepare the Union position for the meeting of the G20 which will take place in Cannes in early November. Finally, we will finalise an EU position ahead of the Durban Conference on climate change.

Economic Policy
It is, of course, entirely appropriate that economic issues should be the focus of our meeting. The challenges facing Europe are being felt around the world, including in the US and emerging economies.

While it is vitally important that Member States, including Ireland, continue their efforts towards consolidation and structural reform, we must also intensify our efforts to secure sustainable and job creating growth. This requires determined joint action.

I expect that our discussion will work towards identification of a number of priority areas for fast-tracked action. I hope that these will be as specific as possible, and that we will identify those measures most likely to have a significant impact on growth and jobs. The Commission, in particular, has been giving careful study to the matter.

The single market is one of the Union's greatest strengths - as an exporting country, it is of immense value to Ireland. Despite decades of work, however, it remains incomplete.

In April of this year the Commission brought forward what it called a 'Single Market Act' designed to fill in some of those gaps. In doing so, it identified twelve 'levers' that it believed could have real impact on our current situation.

These include measures that will have real resonance here, such as access to funding for SMEs and creating the right regulatory environment to allow business to thrive. They also include measures which can help exporters looking to develop markets in other Member States, including measures to boost consumer protection in a way that helps to build confidence in cross-border transactions, modernising the framework for public procurement, and plans for the digital single market, including the facilitation of ecommerce and cross-border use of online services.

All efforts should now be made to drive this work forward with real purpose.

Energy and innovation are also areas with enormous potential to contribute to growth. In February of this year the European Council offered concrete orientations on how work should be advanced. Although I do not expect a discussion of substance at next week's meeting, I do expect that we will agree to revisit our commitment to take stock of progress in December and March of next year respectively. In this regard, a particular priority should be given to putting in place an EU-wide venture capital scheme.

Of course, this work has to be accompanied by a genuine commitment by all Member States to creating stable and sustainable economies across the Union. As the House will be all too aware, Ireland's economic choices are, in large part, determined by the strictures of our Programme with the EU and IMF.

However, through the Europe2020 process, and under stability and growth rules, non-Programme Member States have also submitted National Reform Programmes and have had these scrutinised under a process of peer review. These plans were collectively assessed by the European Council in June, when we endorsed country-specific recommendations proposed by the Commission.

There is an urgent need for action at EU level. But we should not lose sight of the fact that much actual decision making in this area remains at national level. Our economies are highly interdependent and our fates hang closely together. To restore international confidence in Europe's economy, we need to ensure that commitments entered into at EU level are acted on swiftly and comprehensively by each Member State.

It is, therefore, vitally important that the recommendations made in June are now fully reflected in national decisions on budgetary policy and structural reforms.

There are other interesting possibilities on the table for the meeting of the European Council, including a temporary increase in co-financing rates for EU funds, accompanied by a prioritisation of projects focussing on growth, competitiveness and employment.

It is also proposed that the European Investment Bank be asked to examine the possibilities for further contributing to boosting investment in Europe, including through optimal use of structural funds in countries facing particular difficulties, the leveraging of EU budget resources, and the facilitation of SME access to finance.

I warmly welcome these proposals and hope that there will be agreement to take them forward as a matter of urgency.

The European Council will also consider the external aspects of the Union's economic policy - Europe needs to ensure that it is in a position to promote and defend its interests in the wider world. There are things we can do to contribute to our growth potential, both in the short and longer terms. As an exporting country, Ireland has a very strong interest in this debate.

While concluding the Doha round must remain a priority, a realistic assessment must conclude that agreement is not on the immediate horizon. We therefore need to attach renewed priority to bilateral and regional agreements, particularly with strategic partners and those whose markets are expanding at significant pace.

This work should focus on lowering trade barriers, opening market access and ensuring the appropriate environment for investment and the protection of intellectual property. Public procurement is also an area of key importance.

Economic Governance and Reform
As the House will be aware, after protracted discussions, difficulties between the Council and the Parliament on the technical details of the six legislative measures to strengthen economic governance in the Union have recently been resolved, and the legislation is now being finalised. This will allow a much higher degree of surveillance and coordination, contributing towards sustainable public finances and greater economic stability across the Union.

In addition, we are moving towards completion of the first Europe2020 cycle. We have adopted the 'Euro Plus Pact', to which the European Council will return in December.

Taken together, this is a significant and tangible policy response to the crisis Europe is facing. Unfortunately, it is too often dismissed or underestimated by those who may not appreciate the extent of what has been achieved, or the speed with which it has been put in place.

Of course, there is always scope for more to be done.

We need to see the changes to the EFSF, introducing greater flexibility, take effect. As the House will be aware, Ireland completed its process of adoption in good time before the end of last month. Ratification and entry into force of what has been agreed will bring important new possibilities into place, including enabling the EFSF to intervene in secondary markets, to undertake precautionary lending, and to contribute to bank recapitalisation through loans to governments in non-Programme countries.

Meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the Euro Area
In July, the Heads of State or Government of the Euro Area asked President Van Rompuy, in close consultation with the Presidents of the Commission and of the Eurogroup, to come forward with concrete proposals on how to improve working methods and enhance management in the euro area.

Following bilateral consultation of all interested parties, I expect President Van Rompuy to report to the meeting of euro area Heads following the meeting of the European Council.

Although he has yet to make his proposals known, I expect that they will focus on what can and should be done in the short term and what is for more medium to long term action. I also expect that he will seek to balance the need for tighter coordination and discipline among countries in the euro area with greater commitment to mutual support.

It will take fine judgement on his part to come up with balanced and acceptable proposals.

As the House will be aware, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, following their meeting at the weekend, have also said that they will be coming forward with proposals, some of which may require Treaty change. Again, we do not yet know what they have in mind. I await their suggestions with interest.

However, I would make two observations. Firstly, any suggested Treaty change, even if only intended to enhance the operation of the euro area, is a matter for 27 Member States, not just the 17 that are currently part of the euro area.

We are all of us a part of the Union, and I would not like to see a situation evolve where there are two categories of membership.

Secondly, as I have already made very clear, while I am open to giving any suggestions serious and detailed study, Treaty change is not something that should be approached lightly.

We have taken a great many steps to ensure greater coordination within the euro area, some of which are only now beginning to take effect. We need to give them a chance to work, to take stock, and to see what further steps need to be taken. We need to explore what is already possible under the existing Treaties, pushing right up to their limits if need be.

The question we ask ourselves what measures we need to put in place. Only then should we consider how to do so.

Other matters
There are a number of other items on the agenda for next week's meeting of the European Council which are worth mentioning here.

The Council will discuss preparations for the G20 meeting in Cannes on 3-4 November, and will confirm policy orientations for the Union.

The Union wants to see the G20, which is meeting under its French Presidency, send a strong growth-oriented message aimed at restoring global economic confidence. We are looking to see an outcome that is concrete, with targeted specific actions, to respond to the serious challenge of the global economic downturn.

It is also an occasion to place the European response to the related problems of sovereign debt and difficulties in the banking sector in a global context. This alone marks the meeting out as an important occasion in the calendar ahead.

In addition to placing growth at the top of the agenda, the Union is looking for continuing reform of the international monetary system; a strengthening of regulation of markets and financial services; measures to counter the excessive volatility of commodity prices; and to deliver global recovery and sustainable growth.

The European Council will also prepare the Union's position ahead of the Conference on Climate Change that will take place in Durban from 28 November to 9 December.

Meeting with President Barroso
The House may also be interested to know that, ahead of the meeting of the European Council, I will be meeting with the President of the Commission in Brussels tomorrow morning.

I will be seeking to convey to him our support in two vitally important areas:

Firstly, we need the community method, the traditional way of doing business within the Union, to remain our touchstone into the future. That gives the Commission a key role as the guarantor of the Treaties and the initiator of policy proposals.

This is not some academic point - it is a matter of real importance for a small Member State like Ireland. We do not want to see a Union where the largest Member States dominate the agenda by dint of their size or economic importance.

That is not a balanced or durable arrangement. We need a Union where the equality of all Member States is fully respected, in reality as well as on paper.

The second message will be my strong and determined support for the Commission's efforts to focus energies on jobs and growth. In this, the Commission's agenda is Ireland's agenda, and I will commit my team to working hand-in-hand with his.

These will also be touchstone issues for me approaching the important meetings that will take place in Brussels, and I look forward to briefing the House again on my return.


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