Minister Coveney addresses Dublin based EU Ambassadors
Speech30 June 2020
Minister Coveney addresses Dublin based EU Ambassadors
30 June 2020
Good morning, and thank you for the warm welcome. Many thanks to Ambassador Vidiš for hosting us today as we mark the end of Croatia’s first Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Much has changed since the last time we spoke. I am happy that we have the opportunity to come together virtually today to consider and reflect on the latest developments at the level of the European Union.
Ambassador, I would like to begin by thanking Croatia for its capable and flexible management of some very difficult circumstances throughout its Presidency. In fact, my last meeting before all travel was curtailed was in Zagreb with EU Foreign Ministers.
The Covid-19 pandemic came as a profound shock to us all. It has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the life of every European into the future.
How the EU’s citizens view its role and relevance in the long-term will largely depend on its management of the crisis and how it facilitates the economic recovery.
Ireland believes that the EU is central to our recovery from this crisis. The new Programme for Government places our EU membership at its heart. The new Government, like the last one and its predecessors, is committed to maintaining and enhancing Ireland’s place at the heart of Europe.
We also understand that the EU adds value to our crisis management, and will be vital in making sure that our shared economy recovers quickly from this shock.
Furthermore, our membership of the EU underpins our broader commitment to support the continued functioning of multilateral institutions including the United Nations. My colleagues and I were therefore delighted to see Ireland elected to the UN’s Security Council for 2021 & 2022 earlier this month.
The Union’s policy agenda is likely to consist of a number of key but distinct challenges over the coming months, which I will discuss today. I will turn first to the issue of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
We welcome the intensification of the negotiations process which kicks off this week. We hope that the new schedule of talks can help to bridge the gaps on the key issues, such as fisheries, LPF, law enforcement and judicial cooperation, and governance.
Addressing these issues is key to progress. We believe that the best way forward for both the EU and UK is on the basis of the Political Declaration.
From an EU perspective, we have a very clear mandate agreed by all 27 Member States. Michel Barnier has been clear that we should stick to that mandate.
There may be real challenges in the period ahead as we face another critical juncture of the talks. It would be detrimental to all of our interests to allow this pressure to undermine EU solidarity.
In the face of the UK approach to the talks, and their attempt to create a public narrative of unreasonable EU asks, it is vital that we all maintain our unity. This is our greatest strength.
From Ireland’s perspective, this means continuing to voice support for a unified EU position in line with the mandate and for the lead negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Implementing what was agreed by the UK and the EU in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is also vital. Some progress has been made but much more detailed work is required for the Protocol to be fully operational on 1 January 2021.
Clarity on this work is particularly important to give reassurance and certainty to people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and indeed across the island of Ireland. I look forward to the upcoming meeting of the Specialised Committee expected in mid-July.
We found an agreed way to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border, to maintain the Common Travel Area and to protect the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.
That is what the Protocol does and it is vitally important that the Protocol, as agreed, is now implemented fully – detailed engagement on implementation is now required so that business can prepare for the necessary changes.
Ireland is continuing to work with citizens and businesses to make sure that we are ready for the changes that will come with the end of the transition period.
This includes extensive work at our ports and airports to prepare for additional controls from 1 January 2021. Rest assured that Ireland will play our part in protecting the Single Market.
I would like to thank colleagues here today who, in cooperation with their capitals, have supported our work to ensure that the UK Landbridge remains an effective and efficient route linking Ireland with the rest of the Single Market.
In the coming months we will renew our work to inform businesses and citizens about what they need to do to prepare for the end of transition.
No set of arrangements will be able to replicate the access and benefits of the UK being a member of the EU and within the Single Market and Customs Union. Ireland will face these changes with the mutual solidarity and support of our EU partners and with all of the strength that EU membership brings.
In addition to Brexit, the MFF/Recovery Instrument is likely to dominate the discussion at EU-level over the coming months. It will play an important role in supporting the economic recovery of Member States post-COVID-19 which requires strong EU solidarity.
We will continue to engage constructively towards reaching an agreement. From the beginning of the pandemic, we have believed that an unprecedented response was required to address this unprecedented crisis.
Ireland welcomes the ambition of the Commission’s proposals for the next MFF and recovery instrument. The primary function of the recovery package should be to support Member States through this unprecedented crisis, and it should be targeted towards those most affected sectors and regions.
The proposals will complement the three backstops already agreed by EU leaders to support citizens, business and Governments, namely the SURE guarantee for unemployment, the EIB loan guarantee for SMEs, and the ESM credit line, together providing €540 billion of assistance to Member States.
It is important for Ireland that the impact of COVID-19 on the economies of Member States be fully taken into consideration when looking at resilience needs. Ireland is particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of Brexit at year-end, and we cannot underestimate the impacts of a further shock to our economy later this year or in 2021 if the negotiations result in a sub-optimal outcome.
While we welcome the allocation for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development under Next Generation EU, we are also concerned that the overall CAP must not be forgotten. Our farmers are seeing exports and prices collapse as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This comes on top of the challenges they are already facing, not least Brexit and falling beef prices.
We hope for a substantive and constructive discussion by our Leaders at the next meeting of the European Council in July, with a view to reaching agreement as early as possible; that is what is expected of us by our citizens and we should not disappoint.
While much of the focus these past months has been on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and its immediate consequences, we have begun to prepare to rebuild our economy and to introduce the necessary recovery plans to bring renewed, sustainable progress and prosperity back to Europe and its citizens.
In April, Ireland jointly signed a letter with 16 other EU Member States calling on the EU to put the European Green Deal at the heart of a resilient post-coronavirus recovery. Now, as economies slowly reopen and countries begin to lift restrictions, it is more important than ever that we renew focus on the European Green Deal as the growth strategy at the heart of a resilient economic recovery, while at the same time addressing the global climate emergency.
While the pace of legislation in relation to the European Green Deal may have slowed in comparison to what was originally envisioned for 2020 prior to the crisis, the European Green Deal remains a key priority for the EU going forward, including for the German Presidency which will commence later this week.
Going forward, we will also work to restore and strengthen the Single Market’s integrity in a post-Covid environment and will work to complete the Digital Single Market and the Single Market for services. These past months have demonstrated just how vital digital infrastructure is for all members of society. As we look to a new normality, ensuring that Europe is at the forefront of developing digital technology and services will continue to be a key priority for the EU, and for Ireland.
Conference on the Future of Europe:
I would like to turn now to another item that will feature on the agenda in the coming months, the Conference on the Future of Europe.
We welcome the goal of President von der Leyen to improve citizen participation in the Union and build on the success of citizens’ dialogue over the past two years. We have a good track record in this regard in Ireland.
Due to Covid, it was right that the launch of the Conference was delayed from May. We hope that the Conference will be launched later this year.
Europe cannot recover from the effects of the pandemic without the support and trust of our citizens. The Conference provides a forum for us to strengthen that trust and ensure that new policies and strategies reflect the needs and concerns of our citizens.
We need to keep a clear focus on the concrete and real priorities we face and on delivering existing objectives, as set out in the Strategic Agenda, rather than considering unnecessary institutional reforms.
We should focus on realising the full potential of what can be done on the basis of the current Treaties.
I am very pleased with the text agreed by the Council. It sets out a sound mandate for engagement with the Parliament and the Commission in defining the modalities and governance of the Conference.
Rule of law
The issue of upholding the rule of law in member states is also likely to feature over the coming months, as the incoming German Presidency has made it one of its priorities.
Ireland firmly supports the rule of law as a core value of the European Union. The rule of law is and should remain a fundamental principle that all EU Member States respect, protect and promote.
We welcome the priority given to the rule of law by the new Commission and the development of the new rule of law mechanism. We are fully participating in the preparatory process for the first annual report on the rule of law and we look forward to its publication in September.
Finally, I want to congratulate the Croatian Presidency on all its hard work and progress achieved in relation to the Western Balkans over the past six months.
The decision in March to give the green light to opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, in particular, was an immensely positive development and well deserved.
It took more time than we had hoped to reach the positive decision, but that additional time did allow us to confront some of the longstanding weaknesses in the accession methodology.
It is our hope that the enhanced methodology, endorsed in March, will go some way towards reinvigorating the process.
It is regrettable that, due to the pandemic, Member States were unable to discuss these issues in depth at a face-to-face EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb - particularly after the hard work of the Presidency.
However, the virtual summit did allow us to strengthen and renew the bond between the EU and the Western Balkans.
The financial package that was quickly mobilised for the region in the early days of the pandemic shows the strength of that bond, and demonstrates the solidarity required to meet the challenge posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
It is crucial that this solidarity continues into the exit and recovery phase.
It is also crucial that the current crisis does not distract from efforts on essential reforms in the Western Balkans, most notably in the area of rule of law and fundamental rights.
Even after the virus is defeated, its aftershocks and the new constraints it imposes will define what Member States and the Union do for the next decade.
The EU has done, and is doing, much for its member states in responding to the crisis. From an Irish perspective, we see our membership of the Union as being crucial to our success in a post-Covid world.
For the new Government, it is likely that the response to the emergency will dominate the agenda for some time to come. Our membership of the EU will play a central role in that response going forward and we look forward to working closely with all of you and your capitals over the coming months and years.
I would like to conclude by thanking the Croatian Presidency for its hard work in guiding us over the past six months during a tumultuous period for the Union. At the same time, I would like to wish the incoming German Presidency the very best as it takes the helm and we look forward to working closely with you.