Pre-EU Council Statements

Pre-EU Council Statements

Full Transcript; I echo Deputy Howlin’s comments regarding how interesting it is to reflect on the agenda of the EU Council meeting and how we could not have foreseen many of the items on it when we look back to the start of the Taoiseach’s tenure. It is interesting in the context of not just those items on the agenda but even those items that have slipped off it. Deputy Gannon made a good point regarding what is not on the agenda but that should possibly be there. The Covid-19 pandemic has slipped down the agenda to such an extent that it is not listed. I worry as well that while we are talking about external relations, security and defence, there is no explicit mention in the agenda of the crisis in the Horn of Africa. Perhaps it was ever thus, but what happens is that these crises seem to play out, we pay attention to them in real time and then, somehow, they slip out of our mind’s eye as other things push in. It is not that these crises have been resolved but that we tend to forget about them. They have slipped down our agenda, which is not welcome.

However, I welcome the Taoiseach’s update on the EU’s western Balkans summit. It causes us to cast our minds back to the foundation of the European project, which was as a peace project. It has been exceptionally successful in this regard. There is a history when it comes to the western Balkans. Having and strengthening this relationship with the EU can only be for the good in respect of fostering peace in that region. The agenda that will dominate, of course, is the single biggest international issue that must be addressed, which is Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine. Across so many contexts, we have seen how there has been a weaponising of human suffering. That has been seen in the movement of people, as Deputy Gannon mentioned, and it is a deliberate undertaking. We saw this being done from Belarus before ever the war was instigated. A deliberate attempt was then made to destabilise European democracies through the movement of people and the weaponisation of human misery. We are seeing it as well in the context of food in the Horn of Africa.

The worst consequences in this regard are playing out beyond the EU. The crisis in energy and energy prices is hitting hardest inside the EU. Now, the cold has been weaponised. There is a deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure aimed at depriving people of their hierarchy of basic needs. It is an attempt to try to take away their basic need to access shelter, heat and food. That is deliberate and we must call it for what it is. These are war crimes. In the longer term, we must have a conversation about how we can seek recourse to justice for what is happening. Deputy Haughey spoke about the specialised court. It will need to be resourced. We need to resource people in this regard now because we need evidence to be taken in real time. That will be a difficult conversation, but we will need to figure out how to prosecute those people responsible for the crimes we are seeing playing out.

Energy and the economy are mentioned on the agenda. The need to reform our EU energy markets has never been clearer given how gas pricing works and the impact that is having on electricity prices all across the EU. This situation is also throwing into stark focus the need for us, as a country and as a Union, to move away from a reliance on petrostates. These may not have a track record on human rights or may not share our value system, yet we find ourselves funding their economies, societies and states through our use of fossil fuels. This brings home to us this need for us to move to energy independence and to accelerate the renewables revolution under way. We understand Ireland’s potential in this regard but, equally, that we must also be part of a European framework when we undertake this process. In this regard, the launch of the Celtic interconnector is important in the context of attaching our renewable energy resources to a wider European system. We must take this and build it up. We must move towards having a European super grid to address the intermittency we get in wind power here is balanced, for example, by solar energy production further south in Europe. We should build a resilient system that is going to serve everybody across our Continent.

I have a nagging worry about the continuing focus on GDP growth. We understand now that we must move away from an economic model that couples progress with measures such as our emissions outputs. Measuring just by GDP, though, and the throughput of economies is also not going to be fit for purpose as we move into a future where we must consider a decarbonising agenda. We must move more towards aspects such as well-being and a circular economy. The slavish adherence to just GDP growth measures is not going to cut it in this regard.

I mentioned my worry that the crisis in the Horn of Africa is falling off the radar. The same thing happened concerning the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver. This issue has also not been resolved. It has just slipped down the agenda until it has disappeared off the bottom. As a result, we still see low vaccination rates across the developing world. Maybe it was ever thus, but we must have an eye to the future as well. There was a welcome move at COP27 in respect of a loss and damage facility. Movement was also made on climate financing. We must, however, consider issues such as intellectual property rights in respect of the roll-out of green technologies. Countries in the developing world will have to leapfrog fossil fuel development. We cannot just have a situation where we say to those countries that they are allowed to develop their economies but that they must use the same technologies we did and add to emissions profiles as a result. There will be great technical developments in these areas and there should be a suspension of intellectual property rights in the case of many of these technologies so developing countries can have access to them as well.

As other Deputies have done, I conclude on the actions of Hungary and its blocking of the €18 billion in EU aid for Ukraine. European solidarity in the face of this Russian aggression is of pivotal importance. For a state within the Union to use the bargaining chip of European solidarity for its own ends has been termed a low point in Hungarian foreign policy and I am forced to agree with that.