Post EU Council statement by Brendan Howlin TD
28 March 2018
Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Brexit, Northern Ireland and Justice
Speech by Brendan Howlin TD
Post- EU Council Statements
28th March 2017
A Ceann Comhairle,
In the run up to the EU Council meeting last week the overwhelming focus was on Brexit and the proposals leaders were to discuss on digital taxation.
However as the UK prepares to leaves the Union, we were provided with a symbolic and poignant demonstration on the benefits and power of membership.
Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the assembled leaders of 27 other member states on the chemical weapon attack in Salisbury.
She asked for the EU to stand shoulder to shoulder with the UK on their response to Russia.
EU leaders strongly condemned the attack and the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances. They expressed its deepest sympathies to all whose lives had been threatened, lent its support to the ongoing investigation, and stressed its unqualified solidarity with the UK.
Following that decision the EU withdrew its ambassador to the Russian Federation for a period of four weeks.
That was a strong and clear signal to Russia, and a clear example of European solidarity.
I was alone on Friday among the opposition to support the Government’s stance in Brussels, to stand in solidarity with the UK.
I do believe it is simply not credible that Ireland would stand alone of the 28 EU members on this issue that includes both neutral countries like Sweden, but also those like Greece and Cyprus that have close friendships with Russia.
It is a collective tragedy for the UK, and the EU that such a shared action will not occur after March 2019.
If this happened in a year’s time, Theresa May would not have been at the Council, and would have to rely on other countries like Germany or France to make the case in the room.
It was a clear demonstration that by pooling our sovereignty in the EU we have actually strengthened our position as a country.
This has most recently been shown with European support for Ireland on the status of the border in Brexit negotiations.
It is reassuring for Ireland to know that should an attack like this or a natural disaster ever impact Ireland that we can rely on the friendship, solidarity and support of the other 26 remaining countries.
There was an expectation that the proposals for a digital tax would dominate the outcome of the Council.
It is interesting that the conclusions of the Council do not include any mention of the proposal.
The policy design of the tax that would allow companies to use the amount paid as a credit against corporation tax shows that it would be a transfer of revenue to larger countries.
This is a difficult issue for Ireland. But large digital corporations must pay more tax on their profits.
However in the race to do that, the position and competencies of member states should not be undermined.
We have been very clear about our support for the OECD and BEPS process which has shown results, and will continue to do so if all countries remain committed to it.
Ireland was expected to take a position at the Council arguing that moves to impose such a tax would be viewed negatively in the US and escalate a potential trade war.
However that issue was removed from the table on Thursday when the US announced it would temporarily exempt the EU from Trumps tariffs on steel and aluminium.
Despite this concession we can expect the Trump administration to continue to press its case. The EU Council has said that ‘these measures cannot be justified on the grounds of national security.’
However, it has been reported that Germany wants tariffs reduced on car imports from the US from 10% to possibly match the US rate of 2.5%, showing that Trumps strong arm tactics on trade are having an impact.
On trade in general, as the US retreats, it falls to the EU now to lead and the Council reaffirmed its commitment to an open and rules based trading system with the WTO at its core, and is working to progress talks with Mexico and Mercosur. The trade agreements with Japan and Singapore also need to be concluded.
However, it is important that in any trade talks that the people of the EU can retain confidence in what is being negotiated, that their concerns are heard and that the EU and other member states listen and take on board the legitimate fears people have.
The Council was to focus on jobs, growth and competitiveness. Social issues are a part of that, and delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights is a shared commitment of the EU and member states.
The Council has now been invited to consider the Commission proposals under the Social Fairness package.
This includes the proposal on a European Labour Authority.
The new Agency would provide support for mobile workers, ensure they know their rights, and fight cross border social fraud. There are 17 million cross border workers in the EU and many of them are in Ireland.
I asked last week what the views of the Government on this proposal are and I hope this can be outlined.
It would be welcome if the Government would outline an implementation plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Social issues cannot just be seen as a tagged on part of the EU trade and competitiveness agenda, as an afterthought and sop to social Europe.
It must be at the heart of what we seek from Europe, and address people’s concerns – on job security, terms and conditions, and on education, health and childcare.
On the Paris Agreement, the Council asked the Commission to present by next year a long term EU strategy to reduce emissions that takes into account national plans.
Ireland has singularly failed to show ambition on tackling climate change, and the Government, having published its Ireland 2040 plan must now ensure we meet our own commitments.
The Council condemned Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea over the rights of Cyprus and Greece on off shore oil and gas exploration.
I am also concerned at the continued actions of Turkish forces in northern Syria and the city of Akrin, and the impact on civilians and in particular why Kurds are under attack. I would call on the Council to consider this at future meetings.
There was an EU-Turkey summit on Monday and relations remain tense.
Turkey was once on track to become a member state. That is now unlikely.
But future enlargement of the Union has now turned to the Western Balkans. There are six possible future members there. Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro.
While EU efforts appear most focused on Serbia, I do think it is important that others are not neglected. Last week the Albanian prime minister urged the start of talks and visited Brussels in advance of the summit to press his case.
If the Government has a view on future enlargement I would welcome an outline of our approach.
Finally, under Article 50, the EU agreed to open talks on the future trade relationship with the UK and the outline of a transition deal was agreed in principal.
We have discussed this at length in this House, but I want to reiterate that I am concerned that the ongoing fudge on the Irish border must be resolved in the months to come, and requires a sustained diplomatic effort by Ireland in the EU to ensure it does not fall down the list of priorities in a final push to agree an agreement on the future trade relationship.