MoS McEntee Speech at Launch of the Report on the Citizens’ Dialogues on the future of Europe
Speech12 October 2018
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us for the launch of our narrative report on the Citizens’ Dialogues on the future of Europe.
I am very pleased to welcome my colleague, the Austrian Federal Minister for the European Union, Gernot Blümel here this afternoon. I am delighted to have the opportunity to launch this report, not just with the EU Presidency, but with a close partner in the EU.
Austria and Ireland already have an excellent bilateral relationship.
In July, at the start of Austria’s six-month Presidency of the European Council, Chancellor Kurz came to Ireland and visited the border. We greatly appreciate the symbolism of this visit and the strong support which Austria has shown to Ireland during the Brexit negotiations.
As I learned when I participated in a public debate on the future of Europe in Vienna earlier this year, Ireland and Austria have much in common not least our strong commitment to our EU membership and the future development of the Union.
We are both focussed on ensuring that the Union addresses the concerns of our citizens such as: jobs, growth, competitiveness and security. It is this practical and pragmatic approach that characterises our approach to the debate on the future of Europe.
The Irish Government’s starting point has been to focus on the needs and concerns of our citizens.
We launched our Citizens’ Dialogues on the future of Europe last November. Since then I have travelled across Ireland – some 2,000 kilometres - listening to our citizens. Listening to their ideas, their concerns and their priorities. We wanted to reach out to our own citizens to learn from them without being prescriptive.
We have had lively conversations about what Europe means to our citizens, about our economy, security, social responsibility and globalisation.
I was very impressed by the level of participation at each session. There was a real focus on the future and engagement on the issues. The overriding message that I have heard is that people want to live in a European Union that is fair – fair to its citizens, fair to the environment and fair in its dealings with the rest of the world.
One of the striking things about the dialogues was how much our citizens see our membership of the European Union through the prism of values. Words like peace, community, solidarity, cooperation, unity, security, rights, protection, support, education and diversity were repeated throughout the country. It is clear to me that these values must be at the heart of the decisions we take about the future of our Union.
This report offers a snapshot of what we have heard over the last number of months. At each Dialogue, we encouraged participants to give their concerns. It would be impossible to capture everything that we have heard, but, as the Tánaiste says in his foreword, our hope is that the people who came along will recognise something of themselves or of the events they attended in the report.
The Citizens’ Dialogues are part of wider citizens’ consultations taking place across the European Union; both in Member States and at a pan-European level. In December, Member States will present a summary of the outcomes of their consultations to the European Council. Our contribution will include what we have heard in the Dialogues, but also in other conversations happening in Ireland about the future of Europe. We have touched on these in the report.
Europe’s leaders are committed to listening and to responding to the concerns of their citizens. We all want to offer our citizens a vision of Europe that they can trust and support.
The future of Europe debate is expected to culminate in a meeting of EU Heads of State and Government in Romania next May during which they will prepare the Strategic Agenda to guide the EU over the next five years. We want to be among the architects of those plans in a way that reflects the ambitions of our citizens.
The Citizens’ Dialogues will help to guide our contribution to that debate.
I am grateful to all of our partners on this journey, but, in particular, to Noelle and her team at European Movement Ireland, to the Wheel, to the IIEA and to Maynooth University and, of course, to everyone who participated.
I will be very happy to take any questions you may have later, but first I would like to invite Minister Blümel to say a few words.