Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I am delighted on Europe Day to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this important debate. Clearly the EU is facing major challenges over the next few years, and the decision of the British people to opt for Brexit has offered an existential challenge to its very existence. In virtually every EU country, of course, there have been ongoing and long-standing concerns over the levels of democracy, accountability and transparency in the EU’s quasi-federal structures. These concerns have often been too easily dismissed as populism by commentators who, of course, are devoted to the EU project. The conduct of the bailouts of euro members like Ireland, Greece and Portugal since 2010 has greatly exacerbated these misgivings and reservations among the European electorates. The great Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance Minister, is now forming his own Europe-wide political party, which we may see in Ireland.
Brexit was a striking response to these concerns, but wide sectors of EU opinion have had similar worries and concerns and even felt revulsion over the treatment of the smaller euro member states. Rather than deeply examining how these concerns may be addressed in future revisions of the EU treaties, many analysts and journalists simply condemn the fears of the European peoples and label representatives as populist, including those who genuinely want a much more democratic EU. I am one of those.
At a recent meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight involving Members of the European Parliament, Deputies tried hard to show our European parliamentarians how close the relationship is between Ireland and the UK on personal, cultural, social, economic and political grounds. Above all, we emphasised the critical joint responsibility of the Irish and British states for the Good Friday Agreement. At that meeting, we also discussed the proposals for the EU’s multi-annual financial framework budget and the likely consequences for Ireland’s EU contribution, which is set to reach €3 billion per annum in 2019.
Many other EU countries are also grappling with challenges produced by issues such as the migration crisis, slow economic growth and climate change, to which other speakers have referred. Ireland has to contend not only with working hard to achieve the least damaging result on Brexit but also with how to respond to the proposals of the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron. President Macron’s vision on the future of the EU is clearly a programme for a federal structure, a federation. In his book Revolution and his Sorbonne speech of September 2017, he outlined how he wishes to transfer the sovereignty of the historic French Republic of 1789 to a new republic of Europe, led especially by France and Germany. He writes:
Faced with the current serious challenges, it would simply be an illusion, and a mistake, to propose to rebuild everything at the national level. Faced with an influx of migrants, the international terrorist threat, climate change, the digital transition, as well as the economic supremacy of the Americans and the Chinese, Europe is the most appropriate level at which to take action.
Therefore, Macron envisages the end of European nations holding their own sovereignty. In practical terms, Macron’s new European constitution will include an EU finance Minister and a shared EU national debt. Perhaps we will start calling it continental debt. Many felt the launching of the euro without an all-Europe debt structure was crazy economics. Macron’s model will certainly involve a common consolidated taxation, CCT, base, including clearly pan-European rules on corporation tax and the Europe-wide digital tax. Macron also envisages a great deepening of the current PESCO arrangements, which the Dáil recently approved, although 45 of us voted against them, and the creation of a European defence force, a European army. The President of France seems to want these new structures put in place and a clear path to European sovereignty by 2024, the date of the European Parliament elections after next. Obviously, Macron’s vision depends on German support to go even remotely down this pathway to a federal state. He seems to accept, however, that an inevitable consequence of this federalist programme will be a multi-speed EU. A number of states, perhaps including Germany, may join France on a federalist road but other states, although continuing in the EU, will remain outside this core group. Macron’s anti-worker initiatives in France do much to undermine his federalist vision since his domestic policy seems clearly to undermine further the “social Europe” programme, about which Deputy Howlin spoke powerfully. Social Europe was such an attractive feature of the EU for the first 30 years of Ireland’s membership.
It may well be, therefore, that we are heading for a multi-speed EU, with member states in different orbits around states that want a federal structure. There has always been the issue of deepening or widening. Deputy Howlin referred to the waiting list of states, such as Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, from the former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Armenia and the Ukraine, and perhaps at some stage Turkey and Russia. The very best outcome for Ireland in the wake of Brexit would be that the UK would also be one of those outer states. It would still be orbiting in the European system. Clearly, the UK will continue to be deeply involved with the EU in areas such as security, policing and scientific research. Despite the appalling performance of the current Tory Prime Minister and her appalling Government, as evidenced again this morning during Prime Minister’s questions, which I glanced at before coming into the House, it is likely that the UK will end up in the customs union, or at least a customs union as proposed by the distinguished representative Keir Starmer of UK Labour Party, whether before or after the next UK general election. These matters may have to be resolved by a UK general election.
Ireland’s critical economic needs and the issue of preventing any border returning in our country make an ongoing close relationship between Ireland and the UK imperative. Thus, when our own people may have to decide on whether to belong to President Macron’s core, if the programme is to go ahead, or to be a close confederal member of the future EU, along the present lines, it will be in our interest to support a multi-speed EU constitution. In any case, Europe’s greatness lies in the differences and unique cultures, wonderful languages and traditions of all its people, or its 40 or 50 nations. The EU’s future evolution should always reflect that essential reality.
I agree with commentators such as Stephen Collins that the Irish Government should engage in a constructive way with President Macron but, given our historical experience, most of our people find his federal vision anathema. We spent so long as part of the British empire. Many people would not be attracted to joining a new Carolingian empire, or seeing a restoration of that empire, which, as the Acting Chairman will know, encompassed France, Germany and Italy.
The most pressing realisation now is the growing size of Ireland’s EU budget contribution. We are now one of only nine net contributors to the EU budget and are entering our fifth year as a net contributor. The 2021-27 EU budget is being set at €1.27 trillion for the 27 remaining EU states and this will now represent 1.11% of the EU GNI. Commissioner Hogan, a former Deputy, seemed to be seeking 1.2% or even 1.3%. This type of figure was sought by some of the parliamentarians we met. While the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has signalled willingness to support this budgetary programme, many countries such as Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark are opposed to Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal to breach the previously agreed EU budgetary cap of 1% of GNI. While the British are expected to go on paying into the EU budget past 2021 for critical issues like passporting rights for their financial sector and the EU open skies policy, the additional funding is needed to make up a deficit of up to €12 billion that will be caused by the UK’s departure in March 2019. In 2018, Ireland is making an EU contribution of €2.7 billion and will pay almost €2.9 billion in 2019, a doubling of what we paid just five years ago, when we became a net contributor. Therefore, we are now a very significant and important pillar of the EU, certainly in financial terms.
This includes a cut of 5% in Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, spending which will profoundly negatively impact on our farming sector. I think the Minister, Deputy Creed, met his French counterpart earlier this week about this matter because France has a similar view to us. Ireland’s contribution and growing net contribution to the EU budget must be kept under very close scrutiny in the coming years, given that it is now becoming a bigger budget than the budget of many of our Government Departments. The MEPs we met on the budget committee recently told us how the EU’s future budget deficit – at least two thirds – will be financed. It will not be by cuts but new moneys. Some of the new money will be additional funding, such as the customs duty that we will be asked to supply. Our Committee on Budgetary Oversight and the whole Dáil need to keep these financial matters under close observation as well as being supportive of the EU budget. I believe, despite the awful Tories who are in government in the UK, and hope that there will be a soft Brexit and that there will not be a Border here. We need to engage with the deep and profound thinking that has been done by people like President Macron about how the European Union will evolve.