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Speech by Minister of State Helen McEntee T.D. at NUI Maynooth

Thank you, Professor Nolan, for the warm welcome.

 

As you can see, the slogan we chose for the citizens’ dialogues is quite simple: “It’s your future; your Europe; get involved.”  I want to thank you, therefore, for taking the first step in this debate by getting involved.

 

Dominic has briefed you on careers in EU institutions and I really hope you take his advice on board.  The European Union offers a wide range of exciting careers and I would encourage all of you to think long and hard about a position with one of the institutions when you are weighing up your career options.

 

The future of Europe is too important to leave it to others.  As the Taoiseach has said: “The EU has always offered the promise of a better future.  It is not a future that will be handed to us.  We must work to create it.”

 

It has been a privilege for me to work with Nathalie Loiseau, France’s European Affairs Minister, on the future of Europe debate that is now underway.  Nathalie and I meet each month in Brussels at the General Affairs Council and we had in-depth discussions in Paris in November on the public engagement processes we are leading on in France and Ireland.

 

I think Member States can learn from each other and I am confident that joint initiatives like today’s dialogue will only enrich the debate and that the outcome we arrive at will be all the better for it.

 

Je tiens, donc, a souhaiter la bienvenue à Madame la Ministre, Nathalie Loiseau, à son équipe et à Monsieur Paul Molac, Deputé et Président du Groupe d’Amitié France-Irlande à l’Assemblée Nationale.

 

The European Union is 60 years old.  Ireland joined it 45 years ago.  It was founded after the Second World War and has been instrumental in keeping peace among its members.  It has played a significant part in bringing prosperity as well. 

 

In Ireland we can see how the common agricultural policy transformed farming communities here.  As everyone in this university knows, Ireland was smart in using cohesion funding from Europe to invest in our education system and the motorway network we now have is just one example of the infrastructure built with European structural funds.

 

The European Union also played a significant role in modernising social policies here by insisting, for example, on the protection of workers and equality for women. 

 

Over the course of its history, the European Union has taken a pragmatic approach to

the improvement of living and working conditions.

 

This work will never be complete and I hope that this afternoon we can get your views on how this 60 year old, imperfect institution can be updated to meet your needs.

 

One big difference between today and 1957 is that we now live in a globalised world.  We face growing competition from emerging economies such as China, India and Africa.  We are also challenged by new issues such as migration, climate change and international terrorism. These are issues that are too big to be dealt with by member States alone.  As the world becomes more crowded, Europe’s share of the global population is getting smaller, relatively speaking.  So too is Europe’s share of global wealth. So we are at a crossroads where, as one Foreign Minister has put it, we can try to shape the world or wait to be shaped by the rest of the world.

 

What, therefore, are the big issues we want the European Union to be ‘big’ on and what are the small issues we want it to be ‘small’ on?

 

There will be many questions today but, fundamentally, we want your views on the kind of European Union you want in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time.  Nathalie and I visited a primary school in Meath this morning and the stark reality is that children starting school today in Ireland and France will end up working in jobs and professions that do not exist yet.  So all of us need to focus now on how to help your generation and the next to cope with change in a rapidly changing world.

 

Nathalie and I have just had in-depth discussions on current issues of concern to both countries.  On Friday, the Taoiseach and President Macron will be at a summit in Brussels to discuss the budget that will take the EU into the mid-2020s and the type of institutional arrangements we need to bring the citizens closer to the institutions.  Our exchanges of views help ensure that Ireland and France understand one another as best as possible when our respective leaders meet at a bigger table in Brussels.

 

We discussed Brexit and Nathalie did me the honour of visiting the border this morning to see at first-hand how ridiculous it would be to return to the bad old days.  We have also been talking about the completion of the digital single market – which offers untold opportunities but needs to be managed in a way that ensures Irish, French and European SMEs have the edge in this complex and competitive sector.

 

This session is about listening to your views and concerns.  It is not about convincing anyone that the European Union is perfect and has all the answers. 

 

This debate is part of a wider debate taking place across Europe.  We hope that it will help us formulate Ireland’s contribution to the future of Europe ahead of the elections to the European Parliament next year.

 

I am keen to hear Nathalie’s perspective too.

 

But, fundamentally, it is about you.  It’s your future, your Europe.  Thank you for getting involved and many thanks in advance to Professor John O’Brennan for moderating the discussion.

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