European Union Affairs Committee, Discussion with Minister for Foriegn Affairs and Trade

I welcome the Tánaiste and his team. He merits our complete congratulations because of the extraordinary success of the Irish Presidency. The flagship developments are having the multi-annual financial framework agreed to and the very recent success in breaking the deadlock with the European Parliament in making progress on that issue.
I know the matter has not yet been resolved, but the Tánaiste has broken the deadlock and work is progressing. That is to be highly commended and we should be collectively proud of that achievement.

Our EU Presidency was correct in identifying unemployment as the key issue in Europe. As the Tánaiste knows only too painfully, it is a problem right across Europe. Spain, for example, has 50% youth unemployment, while the overall figure is 30%. Our own unemployment rate is unacceptable, as it is in Northern Ireland and throughout the EU. It is a major issue, so it was correct to identify it as such. The EU Presidency’s view is ad idem with the wishes of this committee, given all our contributions. There is nothing more compelling to deal with than unemployment.

I am impressed with the concept of the youth guarantee programme. If people can attend a job scheme after four months it can break the deadlock. I gather from the experiment in Finland that many of those people successfully found jobs later. While it may not be comparable, our own internship scheme was an unqualified success. It is great to get people going sooner rather than later.

When does the Tánaiste think that programme can be put into action? People want to know when it will be activated here and across Europe. Without the €6 billion devoted to it as part of the multi-annual financial framework it could not succeed. I congratulate the Tánaiste on that.

I also want to ask the Tánaiste about European funding sources and whether we can match the necessary financial retrenchment and reforms. I do not propose to reiterate those, but could we obtain a stimulus package that would have a productive dimension? While a lot of good work has already been done in this regard by the Minister for Education and Skills, the construction of new school extensions would be labour-intensive locally. In addition, the removal of pre-fabs would be efficacious both in creating jobs and removing one area of expenditure. Could we therefore get such a stimulus package from Europe to deal with the jobs crisis, in addition to what the Tánaiste has already cited?

I am delighted the Tánaiste referred to SMEs. Shopkeepers and other small business people are constantly telling us that they are inundated with bureaucracy and cannot cope. In this context, what will the EU accounting directive mean in practice? We should be able to explain what it means and promulgate it for those who need it.

We are all in favour of an EU-US trade agreement from which tremendous benefits and opportunities could accrue, specifically to this country. Is the Tánaiste confident that he can preserve agriculture, which is the vital Irish national interest, in the context of such an international trade agreement? People might reasonably fear that an EU-US trade agreement might mean automatic access to European markets for cheap US produce, including food. Could that prejudice Irish agriculture? Is the Tánaiste confident that he can protect Irish agriculture and the objectives of Food Harvest 2020?

The Tánaiste answered questions about the banking union and progress has been cited in that respect. It is an Irish priority, so I am pleased about that. Can he comment on the north-south divide in Europe, including areas of inequality, and the availability of eurobonds?

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website