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Minister Flanagan’s Speech to EU Heads of Mission Meeting

European Union, Minister Charles Flanagan, Diplomatic Relations, International Relations, Ireland, Speech, Europe, 2015


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you to Ambassador Apals and the Latvian EU Presidency for the kind invitation extended to me to join you here today.

At the outset, I wish to express my appreciation for the many kind messages of sympathy and solidarity that have been conveyed by the diplomatic community in Dublin in respect of the recent tragedy in Berkeley, California.

Providing consular support to our respective citizens is one of the vital duties that all of us here today discharge. I know therefore that you fully empathise with the numbing sadness that we in Ireland are experiencing following the loss of these six young lives and the serious injuries of seven others. The dead, the injured, the traumatised students and all of their grieving and anxious families remain in our thoughts and prayers.

Also in our thoughts today are those nine people who lost their lives yesterday in Charleston, South Carolina following an appalling crime perpetrated in a place of peace that was defiled by hate. I have spoken this morning to our colleague Ambassador O’Malley and asked that he convey the condolences of the Irish Government to the US Administration.

As we meet, a wide range of issues and crises demand the attention of European Union Foreign Ministers. These include the situation in Ukraine, the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, the questions of Libya, Syria and Iraq, and the Middle East Peace Process.

We will address a number of these important issues next week at the Foreign Affairs Council, while others will be discussed at the European Council.

Amid the clamour of our busy agenda, we must take time to reflect in a considered and strategic way on our foreign policy priorities. I welcome the emphasis the High Representative is placing on the need for strategic consideration of the EU’s longer-term foreign policy approach.

Our strategic discussion on Latin America at the April FAC, and our forthcoming discussion on Asia at our Foreign Ministers meeting next week, provide valuable opportunities to consider the EU’s longer-term policy goals in these areas.

The Government has also been conscious of the need for strategic reflection on Ireland’s foreign policy.

This is our first meeting together in this format since the Taoiseach and I launched The Global Island, the outcome of Ireland’s foreign policy review, in January.

The review allowed us to take a fresh look at the challenges ahead and to develop a clear vision for our foreign policy for the coming years. The resulting document examines future challenges within the evolving context for our international engagement. It offers a progressive and forward-looking vision of Ireland’s foreign policy and our place in the world.

The Global Island identifies the priorities for Irish foreign policy under five broad themes: our people, our values, our prosperity, our place in Europe and our influence.

Today, I will talk about some of the strategic issues on my agenda across those thematic areas.

Our People

When considering how our foreign policy serves our people, the drive for peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland is of fundamental importance. I am proud of our contribution to the establishment and consolidation of peace, which has helped to transform lives throughout Ireland.

Europe has played a vital part in this process, providing staunch support for our efforts to consolidate peace and advance reconciliation. Your political solidarity, in the form of the PEACE programme, funded through the European Regional Development Fund, has helped to repair the damage of conflict and to advance the goal of building a shared society.

We know however that much remains to be done to realise the social and economic potential of a reconciled society.

The effective functioning of the power-sharing political institutions in Belfast is indispensable to this collective endeavour.

It is clear that the institutions now face their most serious impasse since the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive in 2007.

The British and Irish Governments are working with all parties in Northern Ireland to implement the Stormont House Agreement, and to ensure that the current political and governance difficulties in relation to budgetary and financial matters are resolved without lasting damage to the political institutions.

Decisions to be made in the coming days and weeks by the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly may have serious consequences for the future of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The Government wants to see an early resolution to this impasse. We are committed to the integrity of the Stormont House Agreement and to its full implementation, not least its provisions on dealing with the legacy of the past.

We are equally determined that the foundational Good Friday Agreement of 1998, approved by the people in both parts of the island, remains the foundational template for stability and progress.

The strong, shared political engagement of the British and Irish Governments, with the continued support of our European Partners, will help to drive further progress towards our fundamental goals.

Our Values

The impact of our engagement in promoting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland on the interests of Irish citizens is visible to all.

But the impact of our engagement farther afield can sometimes be less evident to our citizens. For all of us, it is a challenge to ensure that the importance of our global diplomatic engagement is understood at home. We achieve this when we ensure that our foreign policy clearly articulates the core values of our people.

The values reflected in Ireland’s foreign policy are both national and European. As Europeans, our values and interests are interlinked and the EU leads in promoting these values globally, and in safeguarding our collective interests.

The strategic context for EU foreign and security policy has changed enormously since the adoption of the European Security Strategy in 2003. We face new challenges and opportunities, while new political, economic and security realities have emerged.

We have seen systematic violations of human rights, fresh assaults on the principles of international law in our own neighbourhood and beyond, and threats to the effectiveness of the global structures which defend and vindicate those principles.

It is timely therefore that the High Representative has undertaken an assessment of the impact of these changes in the global environment and the challenges and opportunities arising for the EU.

We had a positive discussion of the Strategic Review at last month’s meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, and the matter will be considered by Heads of State and Government at next week’s meeting of the European Council.

The next phase of this strategic reflection will lead to the preparation under the High Representative’s responsibility of a new strategy for the EU’s foreign and security policy.

It will be important that all Member States participate fully in this process and that the foreign and security policy concerns of each Member State are adequately reflected.

The broad strategic challenge is to ensure that all areas of EU external action operate in a coherent and comprehensive way to achieve the Union’s external relations objectives.

The new Strategy should therefore be tailored to support the EU’s engagement as a global actor. It should pay due attention to the complex challenges in our neighbourhood, but must also underpin relationships and engagement further afield.

It must underscore our commitment to effective multilateralism to tackle global challenges.

And it will be vital to ensure that the EU’s external action continues to be based on a strong articulation of Europe’s values – especially the promotion of human rights and the primacy of the rule of law.

Our appreciation of these values is bolstered by the lessons of our own experience. The painstaking process of building peace in Northern Ireland demonstrated the importance of parity of esteem between divided communities: of respect for different cultures, traditions and opinions among people who aspired to live together in peace and security.

These lessons are relevant elsewhere, too.

Looking at the Middle East peace process, we see that prospects for long overdue progress towards a two-state solution are being corroded by the absence of this parity of esteem between the cultures, traditions and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians and undermined by intermittent violent attack and counter attack.

Progress towards a just and sustainable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be founded on the mutual respect necessary to build a peaceful future for both communities.

The EU must stand up for our shared values and press strongly for compromise and accommodation on both sides, to restart the difficult journey towards a peaceful settlement.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Global Island reaffirms Ireland’s commitment to the rules-based international system and to effective multilateralism.

This year, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of our accession to UN membership, which we have always seen as a cornerstone of our international engagement.

Today, Ireland remains an active and committed UN member state. At the end of 2015, we will conclude a three-year term as a member of the Human Rights Council. We will seek election to the Security Council for the period 2021-2022.

We continue to seek opportunities for leadership at the UN. Our Permanent Representative in New York, Ambassador David Donoghue, serves as co-facilitator of the vital inter-governmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, alongside his Kenyan counterpart.

They are leading the work to agree new global development goals for the period 2015–2030 for adoption at September’s UN Summit.

I believe that these negotiations will be – must be - crowned by success.

The prize could not be higher – a chance to secure a global commitment to end extreme poverty and hunger by 2030, and set the world on the path to sustainable development.

This outcome will make a real difference to the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Our Prosperity

The Global Island emphasises the importance to Ireland of the Government’s economic diplomacy work. Ireland has one of the most open economies in the world, and our overseas economic engagement is fundamental to our prosperity.

The progress made in repairing the Irish economy has been remarkable, and our economic recovery has gained strong momentum in the past twelve months, based on solid growth and job creation.

Our public finances are on a stable and sustainable footing, and the budget deficit continues to fall.

Debt levels, while high, have peaked and are on a downward trajectory, and borrowing rates are close to record lows.

Unemployment continues to fall, and is now below 10 per cent.

Export levels are higher than before the economic crisis.

We had the fastest growing economy in the EU in 2014, with GDP growth of almost 5 per cent, and we expect to retain this position in 2015.

Consumers, businesses, investors and global markets have renewed confidence in our economic future.

The Government’s objective is to secure the recovery, and to build on the progress of recent years. Looking to 2020, we have set clear goals for the economy, employment and the public finances, and we are implementing the policies necessary to achieve them.

My Department, and our Embassy network, is making a strong contribution to the achievement of those goals.

We are continuing our engagement in economic diplomacy and building on our linkages to the private sector. Private sector participants already make a vital contribution to the work of our Export Trade Council.

We are now engaging in a new scheme of staff exchange arrangements between my Department and Irish companies that do business abroad.

We are continuing to sharpen our focus on emerging markets. Ireland has developed strong links with China in recent years, in particular through an extensive programme of bilateral visits which has included a State Visit by President Higgins and a visit by the Taoiseach, as well as the recent visit to Ireland by Premier Li.

We are carefully calibrating our approach to identify and capitalise on the economic opportunities that new and emerging markets present.

We are also ensuring the full engagement of our Embassies across the globe with the EU’s trade and economic agenda, helping to pursue strategies that promise economic benefits for our citizens across the continent, to help consolidate Europe’s economic recovery and drive growth.

Our Europe

The support of our European partners as we faced major economic challenges in recent years was immensely important to us. But the significance of our EU membership goes far beyond our economic engagement or our foreign policy.

It touches all areas of Government and has transformed Irish life. In discussing our place in Europe, The Global Island explains how our EU membership is fundamental to our interests, our security and prosperity, and the well-being of the Irish people.

In short, it is integral to Ireland’s identity as a modern European country.

The debate in the United Kingdom on the future direction of its relationship with the European Union is clearly a matter of great interest to us.

The position of the Irish Government on this question is clear. We want the UK, as our friend and closest neighbour, to remain a member of the EU.

This is in Ireland’s national interest and the broader European interest. We respect the democratic debate in Britain and the prerogative of the British people to make their own decision on their future relationship with the EU in the upcoming referendum. But we cannot shy away from this debate.

We recognise that in the UK, at public and political level, there are serious reservations about the direction and focus of the EU.

We understand many of Britain’s concerns. And we share the desire to make the European Union work more effectively and deliver for its citizens.

We have engaged closely and constructively with our British counterparts. The Taoiseach is meeting today with Prime Minister Cameron to discuss this question.

Like other partners, we are very open to reasonable proposals on how we can make the EU work better. We will give Britain’s proposals a sympathetic hearing and do our best to address its concerns.

But, like any good friend, we will be candid, too. We will judge all proposals on their merits. We will do so conscious that Ireland’s future is as a fully engaged member of the European Union founded on principles which bind us all, and we are committed to defend the long-term interests of that Union.

And we will seek to ensure that whatever steps we take in reforming how the Union works do not undermine those principles or call the core objectives of the Union into question.

I am confident that a way can be found to address the UK’s concerns and achieve the basic objectives of all those who wish to see an effective European Union, delivering for all its citizens, with the UK remaining an integral part.

The Irish Government is committed to working with the UK and all of our European partners to achieve this objective.

Our Influence

The concluding section of The Global Island discusses the practical challenges which face the diplomatic profession and the 21st century foreign ministry, charged with promoting our values and protecting our national interests.

I know that many of you face similar challenges, in deciding how to allocate scarce resources to best effect to deliver on your strategic objectives.

My Department is reflecting on how we organise ourselves – at home and abroad – to ensure that we are equipped to seize the opportunities of the future.

Diplomacy confronts a rapidly changing environment, with shifts in political and economic power, technological and societal change, and a revolution in media which require us to fundamentally rethink our approach to diplomatic communication.

In a time of dizzying change, we need to show how an adequately resourced embassy can contribute in a unique way to the development of political and economic relationships with another country. And we must demonstrate that a modern Foreign Ministry can bring coherence to a country’s complex external engagement, by helping to integrate the externally-facing strands of government at home.

As Foreign Ministries, these are common challenges for us in serving our citizens and promoting our national interests. Dialogue and the sharing of insights and experiences can assist us all to work better and deliver a more effective service to our citizens.

I look forward to hearing your views on these and the other issues that I have addressed today.

Thank you for your attention.