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In a keynote address to the EMI, Minister Flanagan says Ireland is firmly on “Team EU”

European Union, Ireland, Minister Charles Flanagan, Press Releases, Europe, Ireland, 2016

 

In a keynote address to the EMI, Minister Flanagan says Ireland is firmly on “Team EU”

- Ireland will enter the Brexit negotiations well prepared & with a clear understanding of its priorities
- Populism provides no answers to the problems of the EU & its Member States
- Wide ranging speech covers Syria, Ukraine & the Migration Crisis

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan TD, has said that once Article 50 is triggered, Ireland will enter the negotiations “on the EU side of the negotiating table, well-prepared, and with a clear understanding of what our priorities are”.

In a wide ranging keynote speech to the EMI, he discussed the challenges facing Europe, including the rise of populism, the migration crisis, the conflict in Syria and the situation in Ukraine and firmly reiterated Ireland’s commitment to the European project.

In regard to Ireland’s core priorities, Minister Flanagan stated:

“In my discussions with EU counterparts in the last six months in particular, there has been reflection on the consequences of a sense of disconnect between the EU institutions and the citizens of Europe. I, and many others, have emphasised the importance of a dialogue that reflects honestly on the EU’s successes and failures. The Irish Government is committed to safeguarding and promoting Ireland’s place at the heart of Europe. Some of the challenges presented by Brexit are unique to Ireland, particularly in relation to the Common Travel Area and Northern Ireland. The contribution of the EU to the success of peace in Northern Ireland is often unacknowledged as much of the EU’s work took place quietly behind the scenes – helping to achieve the Good Friday Agreement and underpinning peace. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, there can be no disruption to the stability and peace that has, happily, become a day-to-day feature of life in Northern Ireland. And I was pleased to see Michel Barnier acknowledge as much in his comments to the media last week.

“A key part of our preparations is to ensure that our priorities are heard and understood in the capitals of Europe. I’m satisfied from my own contacts with each and every Foreign Minister throughout Europe, that there is an appreciation that Ireland has a bigger stake in the outcome of the negotiations compared to other EU Member States. But I am confident that we in Ireland and in “Team EU” will be ready for the negotiations.”

On the current situation in Syria, he said:

“Last Monday, the EU Foreign Affairs Council had an extensive discussion on the crisis in Syria and the horrifying situation in Aleppo in particular. What we are witnessing is the extinction of an entire country to preserve the absolute rule of its tyrannical leader. We agreed that the EU must press Russia and Iran to use their influence on the Assad regime to ensure that the illegal siege of the civilian population in eastern Aleppo ends. The continued denial of essential food, shelter and medical supplies to a civilian population under military attack is intolerable. In this context, Ireland is again increasing our humanitarian support to the victims of the Syrian conflict, raising our support by a further €5M to €25M in 2016. ”

Referring to the rise of populism, Minister Flanagan said:

“We must be aware of and prepared to counteract the rise of populism across Europe. The reality is that governments are generally faced with difficult choices – there are no easy solutions to the complex problems we all face domestically or internationally. I believe it will become clear to electorates that populism is an empty formula. Those of us who are willing to make hard decisions must also be willing to explain clearly the basis for such decisions. My own party lost a number of seats in the last General Election, as did our former coalition partners. However, we retained a core of support and I believe that was a recognition that we did our best in very difficult circumstances to govern for the benefit of the people by addressing the huge economic catastrophe that had engulfed our country. I want to pay tribute to the people of Ireland for their resilience during very difficult times. I think we must acknowledge that while we did not always get it right as a government, we did succeed in delivering on our core aims – exiting the bailout, bringing the economy back from the brink, and creating jobs and opportunities for our people. There are many challenges ahead, but we are working hard to meet them.

“Many of the challenges we face are common challenges. And I am grateful for the forum of the EU to find some common solutions to these challenges. We know that the EU is not perfect: but from Ireland’s perspective the key point is that membership provides the opportunity to shape and influence the EU, to improve the way it does business and to get more done for each and every one of the Union’s 500 million citizens.

“We only need to look back to the Europe of over 60 years ago to see how far we’ve come as a continent in respect of peace, stability and prosperity.”

Praising the work of the European Movement Ireland, he said:

“I have long admired the work of the organisation. Indeed, its founding members – Garret Fitzgerald, Declan Costello and Michael Sweetman – were all well known to me personally. I hold these three public servants in very high regard and I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their vision in identifying the value of an organisation like this and dedicating themselves to its success.”

ENDS
Press Office
15 December 2016

 

**Check against delivery**

Keynote Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at the European Movement Ireland Christmas Members Event 2016
Europe House, 12-14 Lower Mount Street,
Thursday 15 December

Chairman, Ambassadors, Heads of the European Commission and European Parliament Representations, Distinguished guests,

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening at Europe House and I am honoured to give the keynote address at European Movement Ireland’s Christmas Members Event.

I’d like to thank Noelle for the invitation and for her work and for the passion and enthusiasm she displays at all times for the European project. And I’d like to acknowledge the excellent work of EMI chairperson, Maurice Pratt, and the current Board, as well as Noelle’s hard working team.

This is my first opportunity to address EMI in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade but I have long admired the work of the organisation. Indeed, its founding members – Garret Fitzgerald, Declan Costello and Michael Sweetman – were all well known to me personally. I hold these three public servants in very high regard and I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their vision in identifying the value of an organisation like this and dedicating themselves to its success.

Indeed, in my discussions with EU counterparts in the last six months in particular, there has been much reflection on the consequences of a sense of disconnect between the EU institutionally and the citizens of Europe. I, and many others, have emphasised the importance of a civic space for a dialogue that reflects honestly on the EU’s successes and failures. The EMI, as Ireland’s only civil society organisation devoted to the consideration of EU matters, plays a really important role in this regard in Ireland and I am pleased to see that tonight’s audience includes academics, businesspeople, diplomats, and – as a lawyer myself, I have to acknowledge the presence of a number of legal professionals also!

I regret missing the European of the Year awards last Monday. I was in Brussels at the Foreign Affairs Council. But I know that the Taoiseach was delighted to be with you to acknowledge the exemplary service of our Naval Service and Defence Forces, particularly their work in the Mediterranean Sea where over 7,000 lives of vulnerable migrants have been saved thanks to their heroism.

My engagement with you here this evening, provides a welcome opportunity to run through some of the key issues and challenges facing us in the EU.

And the first of these – very obviously, has to be Brexit.

As 2016 dawned, we all hoped that by year end Brexit would be a word consigned to the history books. Instead, it was last month designated word of the year by Collins Dictionary.
This despite the fact that in substantive terms, we remain unclear as to what Brexit means. At its most reductive, it means an UK exit from the European Union. But it will take quite some time before we know the full extent of the implications of Brexit; these will depend on the nature of the exit and the nature of the post-exit relationship between the UK and the EU.

Critically, our response to Brexit is also about the work that we, the 27 Member States of the EU, will carry forward to shape and improve how our Union does business and delivers for our citizens.

At the outset, I mentioned the some of the founders of this organisation - Garret Fitzgerald, Declan Costello and Michael Sweetman – all political giants of my own political party, Fine Gael. My party is a staunchly pro-EU party and we are very active in Europe, in particular through our membership of the European People’s Party. Since my earliest days in active politics, I have been a committed European and I am passionate about protecting the core values of the EU and ensuring it is robust, that its work is understood, and that it is capable of meeting the challenges we face in this ever more complicated world.

Tthe Government is committed to safeguarding and promoting Ireland’s place at the heart of Europe, and playing a full part in the debate on its future, as an active and constructive EU member state.

But first, the Brexit negotiations themselves.

Ireland enters this phase, on the EU side of the negotiating table, well-prepared, and with a clear understanding of what our priorities are:

• Protecting our economy
• Safeguarding the Good Friday Agreement and North South cooperation
• Maintaining the advantages of the Common Travel Area
• And of course – setting a positive course for the future of the EU itself

Some of these priority issues are common to EU member states including the economic impact of Brexit and the future direction of the EU.

But some of the challenges presented by Brexit are unique to Ireland, particularly in relation to the Common Travel Area and of course, Northern Ireland.

On Northern Ireland, I might just say a few words, with specific reference to the EU:

The contribution of the EU to the success of peace in Northern Ireland is often unacknowledged as much of the EU’s work took place quietly behind the scenes. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of joint UK and Irish membership of the EU was the forums provided in Brussels, in Strasbourg and elsewhere for politicians and officials from these islands to work together positively in common cause. I would not underestimate the contribution that engagement and backdrop made to achieving the Good Friday Agreement and underpinning peace.

The great John Hume was very effective in placing Northern Ireland on the agenda of the European Parliament. And in my discussions with other Foreign Ministers, I have been heartened by their awareness of our Peace Process and their acknowledgement of the need to protect the gains of peace.

On a more prosaic level, the EU and its member states have been generous in the financial support that has enabled Northern Ireland to continue its journey from a post-conflict society to a reconciled society and the PEACE and INTERREG funding has been very significant in this regard.

Clearly, it is an absolute imperative that whatever the outcome of the negotiations, there is no disruption to the stability and peace that has, happily, become a day-to-day feature of life in Northern Ireland. And I was pleased to see Michel Barnier acknowledge as much in his comments to the media last week.

Our early and clear understanding of priority issues allowed us to make inroads on contingency planning before most, and indeed, we published a first iteration of our contingency work on the morning of 24 June.

In the intervening weeks and months these efforts have intensified across the system to deepen the analysis of the key risks and - on the upside - the opportunities presented by the UK's departure from the European Union.

As you know, the Taoiseach is leading the Irish response to Brexit nationally and internationally.

At home he is directing the whole of Government response through the newly-established Cabinet Committee on Brexit, which he chairs.

At EU level, he is a strong voice at the table at the European Council and is engaged in regular bilateral discussions with his fellow Heads of Government.

Indeed, today, he is in Brussels where Brexit is being discussed by the 27 EU leaders.

A key part of our preparations is to ensure that our priorities are heard and understood in the capitals of Europe.

Consequently, we in Government are availing of every opportunity to emphasise to our EU partners the unique challenges posed by Brexit for Ireland.

And although these points will need repeating many times between now and the end of March, I’m satisfied from my own contacts with each and every Foreign Minister throughout Europe, most recently at last Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, that there is an appreciation at EU level, that Ireland has a bigger stake in the outcome of the negotiations compared to other EU Member States.

Let me be clear, I fully appreciate the complexity of the process that lies ahead.

And it is worth bearing in mind that there are many details which remain to be clarified from the UK perspective, not least in terms the type of new relationship that they would like to have with the EU post departure.

But I am confident that we in Ireland and in “Team EU” will be ready for the negotiations.

Many details in terms of approach and timelines have already taken shape.

There has been a unified adherence to the principles agreed by EU leaders in June: that there could be no negotiation before Article 50 was triggered and that the four freedoms are pillars of the EU acquis, and must be protected.

We are also broadly clear on the timeline. Or at least the initial one. We know that the UK PM, Theresa May, intends to trigger Article 50 no later than the end of March next year.

We know that the proscribed period under the Article 50 framework is 2 years, although the negotiations to determine the UK's future relationship with the EU may possibly take longer than that.

We should not be under any illusions of how difficult and complex these negotiations will be: both the UK and the EU will be working within their own political constraints and therefore an amount of understanding will be required on both sides.

I mentioned today’s European Council earlier and I should mention the main issues being considered by Heads of State and Government in Brussels today –

There are currently four principal items on the agenda:
Migration;
Security;
Economic and social development, and Youth;
External relations, specifically Russia and Ukraine.

Migration remains a priority issue for the European Union and the Council will again consider the issue and the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement of March, which has led to a significant drop in those trying to enter the EU from Turkey.

It will also be briefed by High Representative Federica Mogherini on progress being made on Migration Compacts with five African countries.

With regard to Security, the implementation of the EU Global Strategy in the area of Security and Defence is for consideration.

EU leaders will discuss the appalling situation in Syria and will also consider the renewal of EU sanctions against Russia which are due to expire on 31 January 2017. The sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and have been in place since 2014. The duration of the restrictive measures are linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk peace agreements.

Ireland strongly believes that any relaxation of the measures can only be considered when there is clear evidence of concrete progress on the ground in eastern Ukraine. So far, there are few signs of encouragement, with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reporting a dramatic upsurge in ceasefire violations along the contact line in recent weeks.

Ireland’s approach to these discussions is framed within the scope of the EU Treaties, and of the Lisbon Protocol which protects Ireland’s military neutrality. We support the comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and resolution. We will continue to work closely and constructively with other EU Member States to achieve the goals established in this area by Heads of State and Government at successive European Councils.

The review of the Economic and Social Development and Youth areas will include a number of headings including the European Fund for Strategic Investment and the principal Single Market Strategies (Digital Single Market, Capital Markets Union, Energy Union and the Single Market), as well as the Youth Employment Initiative and upcoming Commission proposals dedicated to youth.

The Renewal of EU sanctions against Russia is being discussed as well as the situation in Syria. Ukraine has also been on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council in the last year.

Last Monday I was in Brussels for the Foreign Affairs Council where we had an extensive discussion on the crisis in Syria and the horrifying situation in Aleppo in particular.

What we are witnessing is the extinction of an entire country to preserve the absolute rule of its tyrannical leader.

There was a clear consensus that the EU must press Russia and Iran to use their influence on the Assad regime to ensure that the illegal siege of the civilian population in eastern Aleppo ends. The continued denial of essential food, shelter and medical supplies to a civilian population under military attack is intolerable.

Ireland is working to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria and we are again increasing our humanitarian support to the victims of the Syrian conflict, raising our support by a further €5M to €25M in 2016.

If I might turn to the fall-out from the recent Italian Referendum for a moment.

It is important to note that this referendum was about internal constitutional reform in Italy and should not be presented as a rejection of the EU. In that sense, it is entirely different from the UK referendum in June.

Prime Minister Gentiloni, whom I know from his time as Foreign Minister, acted quickly in announcing his new Government and is representing Italy at today’s European Council.
And of course it is not just referenda which can cause citizens to question the political status-quo. We must also be aware of and prepared to counteract the rise of populism across Europe.

The reality is that governments are generally faced with difficult choices – there are no easy solutions to the complex problems we all face domestically or internationally. I believe it will become clear to electorates that populism is an empty formula. Those of us who are willing to make hard decisions must also be willing to explain clearly the basis for such decisions. My own party lost a number of seats in the last General Election, as did our former coalition partners. However, we retained a core of support and I believe that was a recognition that we did our best in very difficult circumstances to govern for the benefit of the people by addressing the huge economic catastrophe that had engulfed our country. I want to pay tribute to the people of Ireland for their resilience during very difficult times. I think we must acknowledge that while we did not always get it right as a government, we did succeed in delivering on our core aims – exiting the bailout, bringing the economy back from the brink, and creating jobs and opportunities for our people. There are many challenges ahead, but we are working hard to meet them.

The challenges we face here are common challenges. And I am grateful for the forum of the EU to find some common solutions to these challenges.

We know that the EU is not perfect: but from Ireland’s perspective the key point is that membership provides the opportunity to shape and influence the EU, to improve the way it does business and to get more done for each and every one of the Union’s 500 million citizens.

We only need to look back to the Europe of over 60 years ago to see how far we’ve come as a continent in respect of peace, stability and prosperity.

And in all of this, let’s not lose sight of a critically important part of this process. We must improve how we communicate with our fellow citizens about the EU and the overwhelmingly positive benefits which our membership brings.
And I look forward to European Movement Ireland assisting in these endeavours, as you already do, and well into the future.

And beyond?

Next March, we will mark the 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

As a committed member of the European Union, we should seek to ensure that this anniversary will serve to re-inspire and re-dedicate our Union to serve the interests and provide for the future prosperity of all of our citizens.

There are many voices of doubt, of criticism, of populism, intent on sowing division within and between Member States.

Now is a time for renewed leadership. We must preserve our European values and ensure that our European Union remains the guarantor of our peace and prosperity for the century ahead.

The European Movement Ireland has a critical role to play in this endeavour and I know you will rise to the challenge.

Finally, it would in this context be remiss of me here not to acknowledge the special effort the EMI made to inform and contribute to the debate both here on the ground in Ireland and in the UK, including as a member of the ‘EU UK Relations Stakeholders Group’, an active participant in the All-Island Civic Dialogue and through its #PhoneAFriend campaign.

Your efforts were greatly appreciated by the Irish Government.

Thank you all for this opportunity to address EMI’s Christmas Event and I look forward to any questions.

ENDS