MoS McEntee remarks in advance of the European Council
Speech16 October 2019
A Cheann Comhairle,
This week’s meeting of the European Council comes at an important time as the institutions renew themselves. Leaders have an opportunity this week to set the direction of the EU for the years ahead. The Taoiseach has already outlined his expectations for the discussions on the implementation of the Strategic Agenda, the Multiannual Financial Framework, climate action, and Brexit. I will focus on foreign policy issues and enlargement.
Foreign Policy Issues
As the Taoiseach stated, Ireland stands in full solidarity with Cyprus in light of illegal Turkish drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and recent Turkish statements and actions on Varosha. We deeply regret that Turkey has failed to refrain from its illegal activities in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone. On Monday of this week, the Foreign Affairs Council agreed that a framework regime of restrictive measures targeting persons involved in illegal drilling activity be put in place.
The Foreign Affairs Council also unanimously condemned Turkey’s military action in North Eastern Syria and agreed to halt arms exports to Turkey. Turkey’s actions in Syria undermine the stability of the region. This will result in more civilian suffering and will make prospects for the UN-led peace process in Syria much more difficult. It also undermines progress made in the international fight against ISIS. Ireland stands united with our EU partners in urging Turkey to cease unilateral military action and withdraw its forces from Syria. Respect for international humanitarian law and unhindered humanitarian access are also vital.
Leaders will hold further discussions on Turkish activities at their meeting this week.
As Minister for European Affairs, I attended the yesterday’s meeting of the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg, where we discussed EU enlargement and the stabilisation and association process. The focus of our discussions was whether to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Last May, the European Commission published its Annual Enlargement Package and recommended opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. We discussed this matter at the meeting of the General Affairs Council in June, but in light of the limited time available to examine the country reports, and the importance of the matter, it was decided to delay a decision until no later than October. Our discussions at the General Affairs Council were inconclusive and Leaders will take up this matter at the European Council.
Ireland’s view has not changed since we discussed this in June. As I reported to the House in our debate following the European Council of 20-21 June, Ireland welcomes the Commission’s findings, including the recommendations to open accession negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania.
North Macedonia has made significant progress on key reforms. The progress of reforms combined with their signing and ratification of the Prespa Agreement, deserves to be recognised.
While the situation is more complex in Albania, it has made progress across all chapter areas, and the comprehensive justice reforms are a significant achievement. We believe that opening negotiations is the right thing to do.
We have concerns that if a decision is not taken to open negotiations, it could have negative political effects in the region
Looking towards tomorrow’s European Council meeting, we believe it is important that Leaders reach a ‘clear and substantive’ decision on the next stage of the process as promised in the June Conclusions.
A Cheann Comhairle,
I thank Deputies for their attention and look forward to discussing these and other issues further after the European Council.