Speech to the European Institute, Washington D.C.12 July 2013
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you for your invitation to speak today on the outcomes of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. An EU Presidency, while many years in the planning, lasts only a short six months. It is an intense six months, six months where the administration and Ministers are at the top table, are leading negotiations, are in the full glare of the media. Then no sooner than it ends, the attention, the spotlight shifts to the next Presidency, in our case our Trio partner Lithuania.
Last month in Ireland we took time out to remember the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's visit to Ireland in 1963. The President arrived in Ireland from Berlin, where he made that famous speech in front of the Brandenberg gate. Last month President Obama made a similar journey, visiting Ireland for the G8 and then going on to Berlin where he recalled that famous moment, 50 years before, when President Kennedy spoke to the people of Berlin. The contrast between those two moments is striking. In the 1960s, Berlin was the symbol of a divided continent. For Americans, Europe was itself a symbol of a world divided, and at risk of self destruction. Today, The contrast could not be more stark. Europe is more united than at any other time, and indeed on June 30th, the European Union admitted Crotia as its 28th member state. With that peace has come a new relationship, between Europe and the US.
I welcome this opportunity to look back and to reflect on the challenges overcome and the goals achieved. For this Presidency, Ireland’s seventh in our forty years of EU membership, does deserve reflection. I will focus my remarks on three of the important areas in which we delivered: restoring stability through breakthroughs in the creation of a Banking Union; securing much needed investment for Europeans and European economies through successful completion of the €960 billion ($1.2 trillion) EU budget; and a major achievement of our Presidency, forging agreement on the mandate for the world’s largest and most ambitious trade agreement, the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the first round of which has taken place only this week.
To put our Presidency in context, It came at a pivotal time not just for Ireland, but for the EU. Europe, as you know, has been through a tempest in recent years, with the economic crisis triggering sovereign debt crises which have called into question the future of the euro and the very nature of the European project itself. More than most EU countries, Ireland was battered by the winds of this storm. For this reason it was our most challenging Presidency to date.
We entered the Presidency needing to prove that a small member state that had suffered a severe banking and economic crisis had the capacity to navigate the Union through the choppy waters ahead, showing concrete and meaningful results for our citizens and for those across Europe, showing that the EU Member States could work together to address the challenges that we all face: instability in the markets, unacceptably high levels of unemployment and sluggish growth. To put it simply we needed a win: Europe needed a win.
Since taking office in March 2011, I’m proud of the strong leadership of my Government, our clear vision and a plan to address the economic and social problems that we face. We applied this same commitment and resolve to our Presidency responsibilities, to address the core challenges faced by the EU, the need to restore stability in our economic system. But stability, while it is important, is not enough. Stability must be the foundation for the growth that Europe so badly needs and the jobs that Europeans, particularly young Europeans, so badly need. To capture the challenge of this moment we chose Stability, Jobs and Growth as our key Presidency themes and we built our Programme around them.
A stable, well-regulated and robust banking sector is an essential foundation to promote security, confidence and growth in the European economy. We worked tirelessly on legislation to prevent a repeat of the mistakes made in the past, to better protect small savers and taxpayers and to ensure that Europe’s banks can support SMEs and businesses to drive the EU’s economic recovery.
In our short six months we took great strides towards reforming Europe’s banking system, most importantly agreeing on mechanisms to break the toxic link between banks and sovereigns, which had been so damaging for Ireland, in particular.
We reached agreement to allow the European Central Bank (ECB) to act as supervisor for banks throughout the Union. We worked with the European Parliament to forge agreement on the Capital Requirements IV Directive (CRD IV) which will require banks to hold more, better quality capital. This is an important success not just at European level but also globally as it implements the Basel III agreement within the EU.
In the final days of our Presidency in June we agreed key elements of Bank Resolution and Recovery legislation, which aims to avoid future bank bail-outs by European taxpayers and will ensure that regulatory authorities can intervene at an early stage if problems arise in financial institutions. If a bank does fail, the framework ensures that the cost of restructuring and resolving the bank will fall to the bank’s owners and creditors and not the taxpayer.
The progress made by the Irish Presidency in this area mark an important step in restoring the stability of the European economy, but this alone would not address the concerns of Europeans struggling with sluggish economies and unacceptably high levels of unemployment. It is for this reason that the Irish Presidency prioritised the finalisation of the of the EU’s €960 billion ($1.2 trillion) budget for 2014 to 2020. This Multiannual Financial Framework is in effect Europe’s biggest single tool to invest in competitiveness, jobs and growth, with funds for infrastructure, education, research & innovation, agriculture and environmental protection.
As an observer of US politics, I know the US has difficult budget wrangles every year, but as the Presidency’s lead negotiator with the European Parliament on the EU budget, I can assure you that with 27 countries, a 7 year multiannual budget cycle, three institutions, one of which is the newly empowered European Parliament, I would long for the simplicity of the American budgetary cycle!
Ultimately, the negotiations produced a fair compromise and a budget which will drive the Union to stronger growth and sustainable job creation. I won’t go into great detail on all aspects of the budget but I am proud that because of the tireless efforts of the Irish Presidency that from January 2014, investment will start flowing, including
• €373 billion ($480 billion) to be invested in Europe’s valuable natural resources, including agriculture and rural development
• €325 billion ($420 billion) for building cohesion among Europe’s regions through structural funds
• €70 billion ($90 billion) in research and innovation grants for researchers throughout Europe
• €30 billion ($38 billion) for improving European transport, energy and digital networks
• €19 billion ($25 billion) for study exchanges for students and educators
• Up to €8 billion ($10 billion) specifically for tackling youth unemployment, underpinning a ‘Youth Guarantee’ agreed under the Presidency which will ensure that that young people, up to the age of 25, who are not working or studying, receive an offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or completing their studies
The EU jobs and growth budget is a joint investment by the EU’s member states in our shared economy, but there is another driver of growth that was prioritised by the Presidency, trade. As a small open economy, Ireland has long recognised the vital role of exports in driving growth. We have placed fair and open trade at the core of our own recovery model, for this reason it was also a natural pillar of our Presidency.
It is no secret that Ireland prioritised the EU-US trade relationship; it has always been the big prize, the most ambitious trade agreement in the world. But it was not to garner praise that we made launching an EU-US trade agreement a core goal of our Presidency. We chose it because we believe it’s achievable and that it will positively impact on people in Detroit as much as Dusseldorf, in York as much as New York.
Europe and the US have both been working hard to tackle the ongoing economic downturn; to ensure that we can repair our economies and put them back on the path of sustainable growth and job creation. Working together to enhance our trade partnership is an obvious step to strengthen our economies, and to boost GDP and to create jobs for our citizens. Today, the EU and US economies account for almost half of the world’s economic output and a third of all global trade. Fifteen million jobs depend on EU-US trade. That is fifteen million people either employed by European companies in the US or by American companies in the EU.
The successful negotiation of an EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will release the untapped potential of the EU-US trade relationship and will provide jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
We know and understand what can be gained from signing an agreement. It is these considerations which I know will remain to the fore as both the EU and the US will have to make difficult choices in the negotiating rounds in the months ahead.
As average tariffs between our two trading blocs are already at a low level, the key to unlocking the potential of our trade relationship lies in the tackling of non-tariff barriers such as customs procedures and diverging regulatory systems. I do not underestimate the difficulties or the real concerns that exist on both sides of the Atlantic but we will also need to resolve differences in health and safety standards, public procurement and agriculture.
But I am convinced that if both sides keep their eyes fixed on the benefits which can be reaped from a successful outcome, we will be able to agreement– effectively setting a new standard for world trade.
Agreement on the mandate for the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was one of the key defining achievements of the Irish Presidency, but while our Presidency may be over Ireland’s work to ensure the successful outcome of the TTIP talks has only just begun. I am encouraged by the positive reports of the first negotiating round, which took place this week. Ireland will continue to play a positive role, will continue to push for the best outcome for businesses and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.
When Ireland took over the Presidency on New Year’s Day 2013, we set out to achieve a win for Ireland, a win Europe and a win for the transatlantic relationship; and with much preparation and not a few sleepless nights that is what we did.
There is much I haven’t spoken of, but which was achieved through the hard work of the Presidency and our partners. I haven’t spoken about the approval of Latvia’s adoption of the euro agreed under the Irish Presidency; or the progress made on EU enlargement, with the first chapter in three years opened in Turkey’s accession process, and the breakthrough in negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo. The progress and achievements of the Irish Presidency have showed that the EU is capable of creating solutions, that our model is still relevant, providing peace, prosperity and security across the European continent.
While the Presidency of the Council has passed to the able stewardship of Lithuania, I want to assure you that my Government and I will continue to work for a stronger fairer Europe and for a closer, deeper, more fruitful transatlantic relationship.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh