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Speech by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, TD, National Citizens’ Dialogue on the Future of Europe

Brexit, Diplomatic Relations, European Union, International Relations, Ireland, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Speech, Europe, Ireland, 2018

National Citizens’ Dialogue on the Future of Europe

Royal Hospital Kilmainham

Wednesday, 9 May 2018


Closing remarks by the Tánaiste



As we come close to concluding our proceedings, I would like to begin by thanking all those who have made today a success:


  • our speakers, panellists and moderators, who brought their insights and experience to the big issues under examination;
  • the Embassies that have worked with us on putting together the European voices panel;
  • Noelle (O’Connell) and her team at the European Movement who have travelled the length and breadth of the country in support of our Future of Europe project;

and especially,

  • my colleague, Helen McEntee, for her commitment to the project and for running with it from the moment we launched it back in November.


But most of all, I want to thank you for answering our call, for getting involved and for speaking out on shaping a Europe that will be fit for the future.


Thank you.


Helen gave you an account this morning of the history of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and how it took care of army pensioners after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.


We often see that battle as a local one between King James II and King William of Orange. In fact, it was part of a wider European war, the Nine Years’ War; a conflict between Louis the Fourteenth of France and a European coalition of Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Spain, England and Savoy.  There were almost 60,000 soldiers on the battlefield: English, French, Dutch, Scots, Danes and, of course, the Irish too.  About 2,000 soldiers died on the battlefield that day. 


There have been many wars in Europe since and each one was meant to be the one that ended all wars. We can only imagine the scepticism that greeted Robert Schuman when he put forward the idea of controlling iron and steel as a way of putting the materials of war out of reach.


He made that proposal on this date - 9 May - in 1950. We know now that what followed became one of the most successful peace projects ever.


Yet 60 years on from the Treaty of Rome it’s easy to take for granted the peace that followed, the recovery from the Second World War and the re-building of the continent from the ashes.


But we should never forget.  We should never forget the peace the European Union has brought us all.


This is what we need to remember on Europe Day.


The Royal Hospital Kilmainham, where many people whose lives were changed by war found care and respite, is a fitting place to remember that. 


The European Union is, like much of the world, facing the rise of populism, and strident political voices – both from inside and outside - that challenge the values that have shaped it.  For the first time, a Member State of the EU has decided to leave. But others are getting ready to join. In the face of these challenges, I believe it is crucial that we strongly support the European Union of today, with all its imperfections. At the same time, we must redouble our efforts to build a Europe that fulfils the aspirations of all its citizens. Our efforts must continue to go beyond economic prosperity and growth and offer also a vision of our values as Europeans, expressed in a generous engagement with the wider world.


Over the course of our citizens’ dialogues on the future of Europe, we asked you for your views and ideas on a prosperous and competitive Union, on a socially responsible Union and on a sustainable Union.  We asked you how Europe should try to shape globalisation before it shapes us and we asked for your views on a safe and secure Union.


Europe has much to offer in terms of rights and advantages.  But the Union's ability to deliver on its commitments is dependent on creating a safe and secure space for all its citizens.


I want today to focus on some of the international and security issues facing the Union – and Ireland as a member of it.


A key question posed at each of our regional sessions was: “How can we work best with our European partners to maintain peace, security and stability?”


We are still working through the responses.  But the general feedback was one of attachment to our traditional policy of military neutrality, on the one hand, and a recognition, on the other, that there are new, asymmetric threats that we cannot cope with alone.


We cannot face asymmetric threats, such as terrorism, extremism and cyber-attacks alone.  


The sad reality is that boundaries between internal and external security are becoming blurred. Cyber-crime and terrorist use of the internet are growing and, in fact, these issues were raised repeatedly at our regional sessions.  Climate change, demographics and fragility are also driving conflict and creating instability.


Co-operation with our EU partners will make us safer in the face of asymmetric threats such as terrorism, extremism and cyber-attacks.


In his declaration, Robert Schuman said “world peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”


The feedback we have is that you want us to be creative in our response to these new threats - just as Schuman himself was when he proposed controls on iron and steel - and that part of that response should involve working closely with our European partners.


As you will have seen earlier, a majority of respondents to the EMI/Red C poll agreed.


The European Union is a Union of small and medium-sized countries, like Ireland, and we have a shared European interest in facing the world together. As the Union’s Global Strategy points out, we can “through our combined weight ... promote agreed rules to contain power politics and contribute to a peaceful fair and prosperous world.”


This, I believe, is what you want when you tell us you want us to work more closely with our European partners for a safer and more secure Union.


The European Union is committed to promoting peace, prosperity, democracy and the rule of law.  It employs a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and resolution, drawing on an array of instruments – including political and diplomatic engagement; economic development assistance and trade measures; arms control and disarmament; peacekeeping and crisis management.


The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) enables the EU to contribute to international stability through peace-keeping in support of the United Nations.  But the EU has no assets of its own for these purposes; it relies on capabilities supplied by the Member States.  Permanent Structured Cooperation, known as PESCO, provides a mechanism for closer cooperation between partners to ensure the availability of the capabilities required for international peace support.

Ireland joined PESCO last December on the basis of a Government decision and with the approval of Dáil Éireann.  Membership is voluntary, is fully consistent with Ireland’s military neutrality and does not change in any way the triple-lock we have in place before sending troops abroad.  Participation in PESCO will help ensure that Irish Defence Personnel serving on future missions will be as well prepared and equipped as they should be.


This is an important development; one which will help us deal with the asymmetric threats I mentioned earlier.


The European Union and its Member States are also the largest providers of development co-operation and humanitarian assistance in the world.


Later this year the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will produce a new White Paper on international development. It will reflect your ambition to continue to lead and participate in global efforts to build a better world. The new White Paper will stress the urgent need to protect multilateralism and civil society space, to prevent the erosion of norms and principles and to use Ireland’s multilateral engagement to advance priority issues. Our new policy will be a tangible demonstration of Ireland’s strong commitment to global development.


It must be accompanied too by more frequent high level political dialogue between Europe and Africa. I am strongly of the view that the EU’s relations with the African Union must be made fit for purpose for the shared and urgent challenges we face. A more coherent international development cooperation effort to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals must be fed and fuelled by a political partnership of equals between continents dealing with common challenges in areas like climate change, migration and the eradication of poverty.


I want us to be at the forefront too in charting a new, more assertive role for the EU in the Middle East Peace Process. We need to build on shared principles and develop a plan of action that can increase EU leverage and pressure to move towards a peaceful and secure two-state solution.  This is a challenge I will be discussing in Dublin this coming weekend with the visiting French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.


On Iran, I share the disappointment of my EU colleagues at the US announcement that it is withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran, the JCPOA. We share many of the concerns which the US has expressed about other aspects of Iranian policy, but the way to address these is not to move away from the one area where significant positive progress has been made. That remains our view, and I hope that the United States will reconsider this decision. I hope that all other parties to the agreement will continue to implement it. The Middle East, and the world, are safer and more stable with this agreement in operation.


Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and the nerve agent attack in Salisbury are further reminders, if these were needed, of the threats we face from instability and fragility in Europe's neighbourhood.  The migrant crisis is another reminder.


The European Union is best placed to deal with these challenges by promoting prosperity and democracy to the east and to the south.


I want to commend Bulgaria for making the Western Balkans a priority for its Presidency of the European Union.


Trade between the EU and the six countries in the region has doubled in the last 10 years.  The EU is the region's top trading partner and EU companies are by far the largest investors there.


Next week the Taoiseach will attend the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia where, together with the other leaders, he will reiterate our unequivocal support for the European perspective of the countries of the region - Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia Hercegovina and Kosovo.


The emphasis at the summit will be on connectivity: connectivity within the region and between the region and the EU.  This is as much about people-to-people contact as it is about technology or roads or flights.  But the question of future accession is always there.


I hope and believe that it will eventually be possible for us to bring the six countries of the south-east into the EU as members.  The bar is high for applicant countries.  And rightly so.  They must meet the acquis and demonstrate that they share our European values.  This must be demonstrated in a sustained way. The process cannot be rushed. Even in the best of circumstances, it will take several years.


Enlargement must be credible and I support the European Commission's strategy in putting rule of law and governance issues at the core of the accession process.  The economic adjustments which have to be made are also demanding.


Achieving and maintaining good neighbourly relations is vital. Long-standing tensions cannot be imported into the Union and undermine the basic principle of loyal co-operation.  


We should support the people of the region throughout the preparatory phases and I am pleased, for example, to host the Albanian Foreign Minister in Dublin next week.


I spoke earlier about the need for the European Union to re-affirm its relevance to the day-to-day lives of its citizens.  In many respects, the choice the people of the Western Balkans are making - to choose Europe - is similar to the choice we are invited to make as part of this public engagement process.


In a moment we will close the day’s proceedings with a video prepared by the European Commission ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit.


I believe it is a fitting way to end the day because it reminds us of what we can achieve together when we have peace.  It shows us how we can be part of something global while enjoying being local. How we can have our say, be free and feel protected.


On Europe Day, we should remember where we have come from since 1950, since 1957, since 1973.  We should remember progress made, lives saved, societies healed and economies grown. And we should reiterate our conviction that by showing solidarity, sticking to our values and embracing innovation, the European Union will remain the best model we have for facing the challenges of the future together.


Thank you for welcoming me here this afternoon. And please, keep the conversation going.