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Speech by MoS McEntee to IIEA on EU response to Covid-19

Speech by Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee T.D.,

IIEA Webinar

Monday 8 June 2020.

 

-Check against Delivery-

Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

 

I would like to begin by thanking the IIEA for inviting me to speak with you here today, and to all participants for joining this Webinar in such large numbers.

Whilst the current circumstances prevent us from being together in person, I congratulate the IIEA for continuing to deliver on its ambitious programme of events over recent weeks.

 

The Institute has a strong track record for providing a valuable platform to exchange ideas on the future of Ireland and Europe.

These conversations allow us to not only reflect on the priorities of the day but to critically analyse the challenges that lay ahead.

This has never been more important than in today’s environment.

I’d also like to acknowledge the participation in today’s event of Declan Costello from the European Commission, along with Patricia King, Danny McCoy and Alan Barrett.

 

I’m sure we are in for a very interesting discussion.

Economic Situation

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented economic and social challenges for Ireland.

Approximately 1.1 million people are currently in receipt of a state payments, when the special pandemic payments are included. This equates to a Covid-19 adjusted unemployment rate of 26.1%.

 

Similarly, the Exchequer returns for May recorded a deficit of almost €6.1 billion. This reflects the extraordinary measures that the Government has taken in recent months to support companies and workers so that we can limit income loss, save jobs, and preserve economic activity.

GDP is expected to fall by 10.5 per cent this year while Modified Domestic Demand is expected to fall by 15 per cent this year.

 

There is also of course a level of uncertainty as to the outcome of the future relationship negotiations between the UK and the EU, bringing the prospect of further economic risks for Ireland.

 

This is the difficult and challenging road which lays ahead, and provides the context of this year’s European Semester and our Country Specific Recommendations.

EU Response to Covid

These challenges, in particular the extraordinary one posed by COVID, are not however ones that Ireland faces alone.

They are shared by all Member States in the European Union.

 

As noted in the Commission’s Spring Economic Forecast, GDP for the EU27 is expected to decline by 7.4 per cent this year. For the Euro Area the Commission also foresees a drop of 7.7 per cent in GDP.

 

It is clear that in COVID we face a joint challenge of unprecedented scale. So, we must seek a joint solution.

Ireland welcomes the measures that the EU has already adopted to address the health and socio-economic consequences of the crisis.

This includes a three-pillared approach as part of an ambitious economic response package, namely,

 

  • the triggering of the general escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact;
  • the endorsement by the European Council in April of there safety nets of up to €540 billion for citizens, businesses, and countries; and
  • the presentation by the Commission on 27 May of ambitious proposals for a €750 billion Next Generation EU recovery package and the new €1.1 trillion EU seven year budget (MFF).

 

The recovery package will frontload investment, and is proposed to be funded through one-off Commission borrowing on the financial markets as an exceptional response to these unprecedented circumstances.

 

The Taoiseach has welcomed the broad thrust of the proposals and detailed analysis of the proposals is underway across Government Departments.

 

Every EU member state has been affected by this emergency, some more so than others.

 

As well as addressing the challenges arising from Covid-19, the EU budget must also deal with issues which were vital to Ireland before the crisis including CAP, cohesion, research and innovation.

 

 

The President of the European Council Charles Michel is hoping to reach agreement on the new MFF/Next Generation EU package by the time leaders convene for the Council meeting in July.

 

Ireland is committed to engaging positively and will work with colleagues in the European Council to reach early agreement on a substantial front-loaded recovery instrument.

As we work in partnership tominimise the negative economic and social consequences of this pandemic, and forge a path to recovery, a strong co-ordinated European economic response must be at the heart of this process.

 

European Semester

This is where the European Semester brings great value.

 

Through its annual cycle, we can co-ordinate policies to improve the growth and social prospects for all Member States, and advance our shared responsibilities to bring about sustainable growth and future employment opportunities for the benefit of our citizens.

 

As the 2020 cycle comes to its conclusion, it is important to reflect on the process.

 

This year saw a number of new features in the Semester process, most notably an increased focus on sustainability along with the integration of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Ireland’s 2020 Country Report indicated that Ireland is making consistent progress across the 17 SDGs towards achieving the Goals by 2030. This is welcome, but there is more to do.

 

Ireland is a firm supporter of the SDGs. We will continue to be advocate for their implementation on the international stage and within the EU in the years ahead.

 

We also welcome the increasing role that the Semester is playing in supporting efforts to reach our climate ambitions and in advancing the digital transition in our economies and societies.

 

In our Country Specific Recommendations this year we welcome and acknowledge the strong focus on the need to respond to the COVID pandemic through addressing labour market participation, education and skills development, support for SMEs, and investment with a particular focus on sustainability.

 

These are the keys to the economic recovery which is to come.

 

We also, in particular, welcome, the cross cutting approach being taken by the Commission to help shape a truly pan European economic response to the COVID crisis, while looking at how we can cooperate better to make our healthcare systems more resilient in the years ahead.  

 

We are now in the process of discussing and debating our Country Specific Recommendations at the European level, including at the European Council in June.

 

We look forward these discussions and the adoption of the Country Specific Recommendations in the coming weeks.

 

We will continue, as we have always done, to then give them full consideration as part our economic and budgetary planning.

 

Conclusion

In 2010, the European Commission proposed a new programme to help Member States to coordinate their economic policies. The preceding financial crisis revealed a clear need for more coordinated and coherent economic governance at EU-level. With this the Semester process was created.

 

Today, we find ourselves facing a very different crisis but the tools we will rely on to coordinate and engage with our European partners remain the same. 

 

Ireland is a committed supporter of the European Semester process.

 

We will continue to play our part, engaging constructively, and working with partners, as we plan for, and set out, on the path to recovery.

 

Thank you

 

ENDS

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