I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to contribute to the debate. The next meeting of the European Council will take place in Brussels tomorrow and Friday, where there will be discussions on migration, including reform of the Common European Asylum System, CEAS, the economy and multi-annual financial framework, PESCO and co-operation with NATO, and, most important for us, Brexit. On Sunday last, 16 of the 28 EU leaders held a mini-summit hosted by the Commission on the migration crisis. We have noted the fallout between the Council and the Commission regarding the organisation of that summit. It is clear that migration will be one of the most contentious issues on which to find consensus during the summit. A pan-European approach to migration is essential, particularly as we think of people who have died trying to cross into Europe because they wanted to migrate here.
We have just passed the second anniversary of the shock Brexit vote of 23 June 2016 and the clock is ticking on tense negotiations. I commend Dublin City University, DCU, on establishing the DCU Brexit Institute and producing and publishing its report, Two Years Since the Brexit Referendum. I received a copy earlier this week and I am sure the Minister has also had an opportunity to have a look at it. This is the only such institute in Ireland and was the first European one set up to examine Brexit challenges. The report calls the upcoming Council meeting “crucial”. The Brexit section of the European Commission’s website tells us that Mr. Michel Barnier will present the current status of the negotiations to the European Council and Parliament this week. With only nine months left until the official exit date of 29 March 2019 and just three months to finalise this agreement, there is significant work to be done by October. Yesterday, the UK completed its withdrawal Bill, which repeals its European Communities Act 1972. As I understand it, the UK is also planning a withdrawal and implementation Bill following any agreement with the European Union.
The so-called backstop agreement states that “in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment” with the Single Market to protect and maintain the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The UK Cabinet rejected the British Prime Minister’s suggestions that regulatory alignment would remain between the whole of the UK and the EU pre-2020. Mr. Alexander Stubb, who was the Finnish Prime Minister from 2014 to 2015, recently reflected on the BBC on how crucial EU decisions are often made at the last possible moment and the Brexit negotiation seems to be typical in this regard. There is growing unease among our constituents about the lethargic way the Government is handling Ireland’s approach to perhaps the most crucial event in our history since the Second World War. The presence in this Chamber last week of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, along with Mr. Barnier and Commissioner Phil Hogan in the Gallery, demonstrated once again how dependent the Government is on the goodwill of our 26 EU partners.
The growing chorus of concern from British and EU industrial and trade union leaders about a bad deal Brexit or a no-deal Brexit shows how even more vulnerable the economy will be in such circumstances. For many constituents, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach seem often to be merely spectators in their engagement with the UK Tory regime and with the EU ministerial colleagues. In effect, that will probably be evident again this week. There should be total focus on the crucial issues of preventing a border re-emerging in our country and the massive importance of the UK market for Irish agriculture, services and industry but it still seems to be lacking in the current Government’s interactions with the UK and our EU partners and with public opinion throughout the continent.
Despite President Juncker’s shout of “Yes” to my colleague in reply to Deputy Boyd Barrett as to whether the EU would refute any establishment of an EU border on this island, people remain concerned that Ireland could end up being shafted at the conclusion of these negotiations, perhaps at some resolution in October or at the last minute in February or March next year, as is often the EU’s way. I note the Irish Times journalist, Mr. Stephen Collins, reported yesterday from the Danube delta that our Romanian fellow EU citizens were enthusiastic supporters of Ireland’s EU-Brexit stance. As evidenced by his recent article on the UK dynasty and Queen Victoria, commentators like Mr. Collins seem to live in a parallel universe. The harsh reality is that the larger EU states, led by Germany and France, will try to reach an accommodation with the UK that somehow keeps the UK in a multispeed EU orbit. Any fallout from such an agreement that disadvantages the Irish people, North and South, will just be seen as necessary and unfortunate collateral damage. It is a fear that citizens have.
This is why the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach need to be much more vocal in setting out a future EU and UK relationship that protects Irish interests. It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to say he cannot advise the British Prime Minister where to go. We have our interests that must be relentlessly and remorselessly placed in front of the British. Despite the so-called backstop agreement, this Government has failed to set out the necessary implementation of such a vision on the spurious grounds that Mr. Juncker and Mr. Barnier will somehow protect us.
Last month, during in a previous debate, I spoke about the French President Emmanuel Macron’s vision for the future of Europe. In his programme, outlined in his book, Revolution, and his speech in the Sorbonne last September, he spoke about his wish for the sovereignty of the historic French republic of 1789 to be transferred to a new republic of Europe, led by France and Germany. His vision seems to be taking some strides forward, with both countries coming together to propose a eurozone budget and the reform of the European Monetary Union. On 19 June, Mr. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced their collaboration on a eurozone budget. Yesterday, the French Finance Minister, Mr. Bruno Le Maire, told us this Franco-German proposal is “not negotiable for France.” Although Ireland has engaged with Macron’s vision – at least I have heard the Taoiseach saying he would engage with it – Mr. Le Maire has criticised the 12 countries, of which Ireland is one, which have voiced opposition to such proposals. He said that we have “expressed an interest in a budget and have reservations regarding fiscal convergence.” That is, of course, putting it mildly. The tactics of calling these proposals non-negotiable days before the Council’s meeting is extremely unhelpful but something that is becoming evident, unfortunately, in Macron’s attitude towards the EU.
The EU budgetary proposals were agreed in a meeting in Meseberg recently and put forward fiscal plans to assist countries entering recession, as well as the use of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, to provide a system of loans for countries. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has repeatedly expressed concerns over the proposed Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, CCCTB, and plans for an EU digital tax. A recent American study identified Ireland as the largest tax haven in the world and the critique of the Irish corporation tax system have been widely disseminated in the EU. Professor Seamus Coffey of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has identified our corporation tax regime as relatively stable to 2020 but clearly developments in the wake of Mr. Macron’s plans for a federal EU would have a major impact on the State’s finances going into the 2020s. The fact remains that most Irish people do not share Mr. Macron’s vision and would prefer the EU to continue as a confederation of nation states.
Following Brexit, our people may be faced with a further profound historic choice of whether to progress down the Macron road or to remain with states like Denmark and Sweden in an outer orbit of a multispeed Europe.
We cannot allow this terrible pressure of the Brexit negotiation. I appreciate the pressure the Government is under in this regard. The Government will be judged by this in the forthcoming general election, whenever it happens. It would be reprehensible to use the pressure of Brexit as a lever to rush us into a federal European state dominated by Germany, France, Spain and Italy, despite the comments of the new Italian Government.
During our most recent debate on European affairs, I drew attention to our record as a net contributor for the past five years. We are one of only nine net contributors among the 28 member states, which is striking. The EU budget between 2021 and 2027 totals €1.27 trillion or 1.1% of gross national income. The EU Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, wanted a higher percentage. Anyway, it means that a major contribution is being made by this country year in, year out towards the maintenance of the EU. We must ensure this organisation to which we contribute so much is au fait with our needs and that emerging from Brexit we will not be placed in a terribly disadvantaged situation.
Last year, I was one of 45 Deputies who voted against the Government proposal to join the PESCO. I remain deeply opposed to any attempt to engage Ireland in an EU army. We have heard of Macron’s military force, the European intervention initiative, which, apparently, will include Britain.
I wish to refer briefly to the migration crisis. The new Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, recently stoked anti-immigration rhetoric by turning away a migrant ship carrying 629 people. Malta then refused the ship but made a separate decision to accept the ship. I appreciate our Government’s action in this regard. Clearly, we need a pan-European approach to migration that is fair to everyone.
I appreciate being able to make these comments, in particular on Brexit, which is now at such a crucial point in the negotiations.