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Remarks by Minister McEntee at the Investing in the Future of Europe conference

Draft Remarks for Minister McEntee at the

Investing in the Future of Europe conference

30 November 2017

 

I would like to thank the European Movement and the European Investment Bank for organising this conference on Investing in the Future of Europe. The contributions I have heard this morning have been informative and stimulating. It is heartening to see the level of interest and engagement that is building around the Future of Europe debate and I fully expect this to grow in the coming months.

The title of our conference is “Investing in the Future of Europe”. Sound investments are based first and foremost on up-to-date accurate information where fact is distinguished from fiction, or hearsay. This facilitates sound decisions which should reap a worthwhile reward down the line.

And indeed this approach is in line with the approach the Irish Government has been taking in the Future of Europe debate: establishing the facts so that the Irish people can make the best decisions on the kind of future Europe they want to see evolving.

Earlier this month the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney and I joined the Taoiseach in Trinity College for the formal launch of Ireland’s Citizens’ Dialogue on the Future of Europe. This marked the formal start of a process designed to engage the Irish public directly in a debate on the kind of Europe they want to see evolve. Our aim is to raise awareness of the issues involved; to encourage participation in the debate; and to use this engagement process to formulate Ireland’s contribution to the wider European debate.

And the future of Europe debate is now being conducted across the continent.  It is being inspired by a White Paper and Reflection Papers and is now being channelled through the ‘Leaders’ Agenda’ led by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

But it is essentially an opportunity for the citizens of Europe to have their say on the future they want.

Europe is best placed to serve our needs and project our values in an increasingly competitive and multi-polar world. But if Europe is to have an authentic voice in the world, we must ensure that that voice is representative of the many strands that make up our continent and that includes the voices of small and geographically peripheral states like Ireland.

As we are all too aware, a myriad of challenges face us today ranging from threats to our way of life from violent extremism to threats to the future of the Planet from the effects of climate change. We have a migration crisis on our southern border that has many complex drivers demanding our urgent attention. And while Europe’s economy has been expanding in recent months we remain conscious of the factors which could negatively impact this.

Faced with this array of challenges, if anyone thinks that we are stronger facing these alone, then they have clearly not heeded the lessons of the past.

Today, across all the EU institutions, we see representatives of countries that went to war with each other twice in the past 100 years, sitting side by side. At the European Council, 28 Prime Ministers and Presidents sit together sharing sovereignty, creating prosperity and co-operating to overcome the challenges we face.

The EU is one of the most successful political projects in human history. It has brought an end to war in Europe, by creating a dynamic for peace and co-operation. The Customs Union and Single Market brought about tariff free trade, fair competition and removed regulatory barriers.

The euro has eliminated currency fluctuations within the eurozone, reduced interest rates and kept inflation low. Enlargement secured democracy and human rights in Central and Eastern Europe and then helped drive economic growth there.

Our European Citizenship allows us to travel, work, trade or study without any need for visas or work permits. And we can access each other’s health services.

EU social rights have ensured greater equality between men and women, safer workplaces, better pay, sick leave, parental leave, holidays and workers’ rights.

Far from being a fortress, Europe has shown itself able to be open to the world through its neighbourhood policy – the Eastern Partnership and EuroMed.

Whatever happens in the next few years, one thing is certain. Ireland will remain at the heart of the common European home we helped to build.

So, that’s why, it’s so important that we invest in our future and actively engage in shaping and influencing the debate on the future of Europe.

The formal launch of the Citizens’ Dialogue by the Taoiseach on the 15th of this month marked the beginning of that process. The Government is now planning a series of regional meetings and opportunities to engage with key stakeholders from now until Europe Day on 9 May next year.

I was at a citizens’ dialogue in UCD last week and I will be at similar events in Maynooth, Cork, Galway and Limerick in the coming months.

Details of these events will be posted on our ‘Future of Europe’ website.  Some are already posted on the site.  Others will appear when the details are firmed up.

We hope that as many people as possible can attend these events.  But, if it is not possible to come in person, the website includes a facility which allows you to leave your contribution to the discussion.

We are also keen to generate a discussion on social media using our twitter handle #future of Europe.

These dialogues and contributions will provide valuable input into Ireland’s contribution to the future of Europe debate.

In parallel, we have asked the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin to conduct research on the five Reflection Papers published by the European Commission.  You can access the Commission’s papers on our website.  They cover:

  • the completion of economic and monetary union;
  • the social dimension;
  • harnessing globalisation;
  • defence; and
  • the future of the EU’s finances.

To touch very briefly on just two of the Reflection Papers; the Paper on the Social Dimension invites us to consider how we as a country should respond to a world where the nature of work will have changed radically through digitization, artificial intelligence and globalisation.  It describes a more collaborative economy, where new problems will emerge but where classical issues of equality, prosperity for all and a quality of life based on common values will still appertain.

On harnessing Globalisation, the Paper acknowledges the many benefits to Europe and its citizens that have come from globalisation including the job-creating benefits of exporting to foreign markets and the benefits to consumers of importing goods and services from producers who enjoy competitive advantages.

In planning our outreach programme the Government wants to ensure as broad a debate as possible and we are reluctant to set limits that might inhibit discussion at this early stage. Instead, we would prefer to focus on outcomes that meet citizens’ expectations.  From our perspective, our priorities include:

  • the completion of the internal market
  • the reduction of administrative burdens on companies;
  • combating unemployment;
  • boosting investment
  • the negotiation of trade agreements;
  • tackling climate change; and
  • preventing international crime and terrorism

The EU has always offered the promise of a better future, but it is a future that will not be handed to us. We have to work to create it.

By sharing our hopes, by seeking advice about our anxieties, and by searching for a better way of doing things, we can achieve a more perfect union.

We can create the European future that we want.

 

Thank You

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