Check Against Delivery
It is always important that we have this exchange prior to a European Council. As the Taoiseach outlined, this Council is perhaps even more important than usual as it concerns the leadership of the Commission for the next five years. Even more important still, it is about setting the strategic priorities for that new leadership’s term in office.
I represented the government at the General Affairs Council yesterday (Tuesday) in preparing this week’s European Council, which I will also be attending. I would like to take a moment to outline some of the external relations issues to be covered by leaders, as well as the issue of energy security.
Signature of Association Agreements – Ukraine, Moldova & Georgia:
Deputies will be aware that Georgia and Moldova concluded negotiations on Association Agreements last year, which were initialed at the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November. These Agreements promote convergence with EU standards and foreign policy and incorporate benchmarks for tailored domestic reform. A Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, (DCFTA) covering all goods and services forms part of the Association Agreement with each country. Signature of these Agreements will take place in the margins of this European Council.
The House will recall that following the political crisis in Ukraine earlier this year and in the face of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, the EU proceeded, at the March European Council, with signature of the political parts of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, as a sign of our political support. The remaining provisions of the Agreement, covering justice, freedom and security and trade issues, will now be signed along with the other Agreements, again, in the margin of this European Council.
I welcome the signature of these Agreements, which reflect the choice freely made by these Eastern partner countries to develop a closer relationship with the European Union. Our partners know they can rely on the EU’s support in meeting the challenges of implementing the Agreements.
Specifically in relation to Ukraine, I would like to welcome the election of Petro Poroshenko following Presidential elections on 25th May. Ireland was represented at his inauguration ceremony on 7th June in Kiev by Minister Phil Hogan TD. President Poroshenko has a strong mandate to advance on the path of reforms and turn Ukraine into a modern and democratic country in which different identities and minorities will be acknowledged and respected. We look forward to meeting the President in Brussels at the signing ceremony on Friday and to hearing his assessment of the current situation and prospects for a peaceful settlement.
As this House knows, the security situation in eastern Ukraine remains exceptionally serious. The violence has, if anything, intensified in recent days despite potentially positive developments on the political track.
We should offer our strong support to the President’s 14-Point Peace Plan which may provide an exit from the crisis. He has spoken to President Putin about the urgent need for a ceasefire. We want to see early and tangible results from these contacts, and call on Russia to work with the President and use its influence on the separatists to end the violence. It is absolutely right that we reiterate our call on the Russian Federation to halt the flow of weapons and illegal fighters across the Russian-Ukrainian border.
We expect that Heads of State and Government may also examine the worrying developments in Iraq. Ireland along with all EU partners is greatly concerned about the rapid deterioration in the situation on the ground. The activities of ISIS forces are a significant threat to stability not only in Iraq but in the wider region.
While the focus in recent weeks has of course been on military developments, Ireland has consistently emphasised the need for political inclusiveness in Iraq that would provide a genuine role for the large Sunni minority in the governance of the country. It remains critical that all Iraqi political leaders come together in a more constructive way to overcome this crisis, to reject sectarianism and promote national unity for all Iraqis.
The European Council will also be asked to endorse a decision to grant EU candidate status to Albania. The Tánaiste joined fifteen other EU Ministers in setting out our position in a letter ahead of yesterday’s General Affairs Council decision on the issue. We supported this positive move given the clear progress the country has made in undertaking the necessary reforms.
I visited Albania earlier his year and witnessed the level of determination that exists among the people of Albania, particularly among the young people, to advance on the path towards eventual EU membership. Clearly, the country faces many challenges. Fighting corruption and organised crime are significant issues. A lot more needs to be done before Albania can move to the opening of accession negotiations, which is the next stage in the enlargement process.
However, the positive decision on candidate status should act as encouragement to the Government and people of Albania to continue the reform momentum, as well as to the broader region.
Finally let me turn to the vital issue of energy security. The March European Council tasked the European Commission with preparing a detailed analysis and a comprehensive plan to reduce energy dependence. The Commission issued its Strategy on 28th May.
As well as addressing possible short-term challenges of interruption of supply next winter, the Strategy also proposes medium to long-term approaches on energy efficiency; increasing energy production; greater diversity of supply; completing the internal energy market; improving infrastructure and interconnections; speaking with one voice in external energy policy; strengthening emergency and solidarity mechanisms; and protecting critical infrastructure.
The Commission is looking to prioritise the needs of Member States most likely to be affected by a possible supply disruption, which is understandable. We must not, however lose sight of the Union’s internal, as well as external, energy security or of the link between energy security and the more intermediate goal of a climate and energy framework for 2030.
Let me conclude here. Once again, I thank Deputies for contributions. We will be back to report on the outcome of the Council following its conclusion at the end of the week.
25 June 2014