BaileNuachtPreaseisúntaí an Rialtais

Statement by the Taoiseach on the Meeting of the European Council, Brussels, 24-25 October 2013 Dáil Éireann, 23 October 2013


The European Council later this week is the first to take place since the end of Ireland's successful EU Presidency. It will consider the digital economy, innovation and services as well as social and economic issues and ongoing work on the economic and monetary union.

I have three clear equally important priorities at this summit:

First, to contribute to a productive discussion on the digital economy, innovation and services as vital sources of future growth for Ireland and Europe.

Second, to push for action on developing digital skills in order to combat youth unemployment.

Third, to urge partners to reach agreement on the final elements of banking union, which is the outstanding political and economic priority which Heads of State and Government must address.

This will also be the final summit before Ireland's planned exit from the EU/IMF bailout programme in December.

I believe that this will be an important achievement for both Ireland and Europe, demonstrating that solidarity between European partners, allied to strong implementation, can actually be successful.

It is essential that Ireland's return to the markets is sustained and durable and, as the House will be aware, the Minister for Finance is currently engaged in discussions with the Troika partners on how best this can be achieved. I have also written to President Von Rompuy and each member of the European Council in advance of the summit and I look forward to the opportunity of updating my colleagues on this issue tomorrow.

Overall, I am pleased that the focus on jobs and growth which was the defining feature of our Presidency is being continued. Jobs and growth - as I always emphasise - are priority issues for citizens in Ireland and across the continent. I will work to ensure that Europe does not lose sight of this. The Council must show that it can deliver where it matters.

It is fitting that the digital economy and innovation should be considered by Heads of State and Government on this occasion. The digital economy is a huge source of growth and we must maximise its contribution. Ireland is particularly well placed to contribute to this debate.

I am also convinced that the development of digital skills can make a tangible contribution to efforts to combat the dreadful blight of youth unemployment. I will be pushing for action on this at the Council.

Of course work on the stablisation of the euro area is still continuing. As we know all too well in Ireland, the relative calm of recent months does not mean that the task is finished. In Brussels, I will again push strongly for the completion of banking union. Good progress has been made but now we need to get the job done.

The Council agenda is extensive and in the course of our two day meeting, we will also look at helping SMEs obtain financing - a further priority for my Government - and at the question of European regulatory fitness as well as the single market in services.

In addition, on Friday morning, the Council is expected to deal with foreign policy issues. We will receive a briefing from the Lithuanian Presidency on preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of November. We will also discuss the recent deeply sad events which saw hundreds of migrants drown near the Italian island of Lampedusa. We were all, I believe, shocked by the television pictures showing the extent of the tragedy.

Before getting into more detail on the different items allow me to make a more general comment. I am struck that the agenda for the European Council tomorrow is almost exactly the same as the provisional agenda announced by President von Rompuy some time ago. This underlines the fact that, while there is still much to be done, Europe, has moved out of immediate crisis mode. European Councils are no longer being completely overtaken by the events of the day.
We have the time now to seriously consider economic and social challenges and to take long term decisions. This is a positive development for all of us. This is what the European Council should do.

Digital Economy

Ceann Comhairle,

Discussion tomorrow afternoon will open with a political debate on the digital economy, innovation and services. I greatly welcome this as a contribution to ongoing work on the jobs and growth agenda.

The discussion also aligns with our own strengthening domestic policy focus on entrepreneurship and skills development, including through the Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work strategies.
Entrepreneurship will be fostered further by measures announced in last week's budget: the "Start your own business scheme" and capital gains tax relief for entrepreneurs who reinvest the proceeds from the disposal of assets into new investment in productive enterprise.

As a major centre for both home-grown and foreign digital sector companies, Ireland is perfectly positioned to contribute to this debate on the digital sector, as we did when we hosted the successful Digital Assembly in June. The outcome from this summit, which I was very pleased to attend, has fed into the preparation of tomorrow's Council.

It is also noteworthy that the Council is meeting just ahead of the Dublin Web Summit next week. The web summit has grown into a global gathering of more than 10,000 of the world's brightest minds in technology representing not just tech companies and start ups but all types of business being affected by new technologies. That Dublin plays host to such a significant event underlines the extent to which Ireland has established itself as a digital hub.

With Europe facing unacceptably high levels of unemployment, the reality is that most new jobs are created by fast-growing young firms: generally taken to mean firms less than five years old. The key implication is that looking ahead five years, most of the new jobs created between now and then will be in firms that do not even exist today. Europe must ensure that it is creating the right conditions to support new growth areas.

We need to recognise the role of coherent market rules in supporting trust and confidence in digital growth areas. We must also be careful to avoid new administrative requirements that would impose disproportionate burdens on the job-creating engine of the economy

Digital Skills

Ceann Comhairle,

A central prerequisite for growth will be to ensure that our education and training systems are in line with the needs of the digital sector. The European Commission has estimated that by 2015 there could be up to 900,000 unfulfilled vacancies in the ICT sector. This skills mismatch is not only detrimental to our economies but at a time of mass youth unemployment it is frankly unacceptable.

I hope that the European Council will agree to concrete steps to address the skills shortage including using part of the European structural and investments funds for ICT education, support for retraining and vocational training in ICT. This would build on the work being done under the Commission's "Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs", launched during Ireland's EU presidency. Importantly, it would also be a concrete step towards combating unemployment and providing new prospects - and hope -for young Europeans.

Digital Single Market

The European Commission estimates that the digital economy is growing at seven times the rate of the rest of the economy, but its potential is currently held back by a patchy pan-European policy framework. This was why we placed such a strong emphasis on this area during our Presidency. I am proud that we were able to make important progress on dossiers such as Collective Rights Management, e-Identification, Data Protection, Cyber-security and Web Accessibility, as well as on completing the European Network and Information Security Agency and Public Sector Information legislation.

Discussions at this week's Council should be seen against the backdrop of the Compact for Growth and Jobs. Its goal is to achieve a well functioning Digital Single Market by 2015. There is much to be done to fulfill this objective including in the copyright and data protection areas.

A further focus here will be the 'Connected Continent' proposals for a Single Telecoms Market (STM). This was presented by the Commission last month as the most ambitious telecoms market reform in 26 years.

Ireland has conveyed its broad support for this important and ambitious project, while also highlighting some particular sensitivities for smaller and peripheral Member States, including in the spectrum management area.




Ceann Comhairle,

Innovation will also be the focus of a political discussion at the Council.

The most recent Competitiveness Council on 26-27 September highlighted a number of serious concerns. These include the fact that European business R&D continues to lag behind its main competitors and that the European Research Area (ERA) is still too fragmented. It is worrying that innovation and research performance across Member States is not converging and that new European companies are growing more slowly than in US and failing to join the ranks of the world's largest firms

Against this background the Commission has proposed a new Innovation Indicator that seeks to capture innovation outputs. Discussions are still at a relatively early stage but it is hoped that it will balance the existing emphasis on R&D intensity under the Europe 2020 Strategy.

I expect this week's European Council to provide political guidance for this work, which is of particular interest to Ireland. We secured political agreement on the new Horizon 2020 package, now one of the world's largest public research programmes, under our Presidency in June. Our shared challenge now is to maximise its impact.

There is an impressive level of research currently being carried out in Ireland. I was reminded of this last week when I launched a €52 million science and engineering initiative at the University of Limerick. Known as the Bernal project, this will make a significant contribution to our national research efforts in strategic areas such as pharmaceuticals, biomedical and energy.

While great strides have been made there is, however, absolutely no room for complacency at national or European level and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue with my European colleagues.

Single Market in Services

The European Council will also discuss the single market in service, particularly in terms of improving implementation of the Services Directive. The Commission has recently completed the first phase of a peer review process that points to evidence of wide variations in professional regulation, legal form and shareholding practices across Member States. It has also adopted a Communication at the beginning of this month announcing the start of an evaluation of national regulations on access to professions.

I support the work of the Commission here and will be pressing for a high level of ambition in our agreement on next steps.

Social and Economic Issues - Youth Unemployment/ REFIT/ SMEs

Turning to social and economic issues, the European Council will review progress implementing the Investment Plan agreed in June and towards having the Youth Employment Initiative fully operational from the beginning of 2014. Significant progress was made in this area under the Irish Presidency. As mentioned earlier, I will also be pushing for recognition of the concrete role which the development of digital skills can play in combating youth unemployment.

I am glad that the issue of SME financing is on the Council agenda again. This is a key national issue for Ireland and indeed for all our economies.
There is an undeniable need for early and tangible progress and Ireland has taken a very proactive role in this discussion at European level. It is clear that the European Investment Bank (EIB) has a crucial role to play, particularly in supporting recovery in economies hit hardest by crisis.

Looking beyond the role of the EIB, it is clear that the whole area of non-bank financing for SMEs requires further attention. Ireland is now actively involved in the work being taken forward by Finance Ministers on foot of the Commission's Green Paper on Long Term Financing of the European Economy. I look forward to early, concrete proposals here.

There will also be initial political reactions to the Commission's REFIT (Regulatory Fitness) proposals as presented at the beginning of this month. I believe we should see our digital and smart regulation agendas as entirely interdependent.
The increasing complexity of the digital era places a new premium on making things as simple as possible, removing unnecessary barriers, and minimising transaction costs for the job-creating sectors.

I will be pressing for clear objectives and timelines for specific measures in terms of simplifying existing rules, withdrawing proposals that are not needed, and repealing legislation that is out of date. This includes building on the Commission's earlier Communication in March that has already identified the top ten most burdensome pieces of EU legislation for SMEs.


Banking Union

Ceann Comhairle,

The discussion on economic and monetary union is expected to take place over dinner tomorrow evening.

My clear priority in this discussion will be to press for the swift completion of banking union. The issues involved are complex and sensitive but it is time now to move forward and finish the job. We need to make good on the agreement to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns.

As I have consistently said, it is vital to the Unions credibility that decisions taken by leaders are implemented in full.

Like other EU partners Ireland relies on the stability of our Union, and of the euro area, to copperfasten our fragile recovery. The recent stabilisation of sovereign borrowing rates in the Union is a product of hard-earned trust - trust and confidence that that the Banking Union will be completed on time, and confidence that momentum will be maintained on our shared jobs and growth agenda.

These political commitments must be implemented. No time should be lost in building on the decisions reached in 2012 and earlier this year on Banking Union legislation. I hope that this Council will point the way forward on this.

Foreign Policy

Turning to the foreign policy elements of the agenda, I am expecting a briefing by the Lithuanian President on the state of play of preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit, to take place in Vilnius on 28- 29 November. The main business of the Summit will be the initialing of Association Agreements with Moldova and Georgia and potentially the signing of the Association Agreement with Ukraine.

I am also expecting a discussion on migration issues following the tragic drownings near Lamepdusa. There is no easy solution to this complex problem but the human cost is horrifying. It is right and proper that the Council should seize itself of the issue and express support for the establishment of a commission led taskforce to identify in the short term concrete action to allow for more efficient use of existing policies and tools.


Ceann Comhairle,

I hope that this provides a good overview of the important issues to be addressed over the next two days in Brussels. Maximising the potential of the digital economy, promoting innovative research, combating youth unemployment and completing banking union: these are all important national priorities central to the work of my Government. I look forward to discussing them with European colleagues.

Building on the strong relationships fostered during our Presidency I will actively participate in this Council. As always my aim is to advance both our own national interests and the long term interests of Europe.

I will, as is our practice, report back to the House following this meeting of the European Council.