It’s the turn of the Irish to run the EU for six months. What are they going to do and has recession changed their legendary euro-enthusiasm?
Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Eamon Gilmore, has been answering your questions from Dublin.
“I would like to know: after receiving help from Europe, what do the Irish people think about the European Union?”
“So are people still as euro-enthusiastic in Ireland or not these days?”
“Well, it’s forty years since Ireland first joined what was then the European Economic Community, and it has been a very positive experience for Ireland. The European Union has contributed enormously to the economic growth of the country, contributed to the modernisation of our laws, contributed to the bringing in of a lot of social laws, like, for example, equal pay and equality legislation. A lot of our environmental legislation had its origins in Europe. So it’s been a very positive experience.”
“Ok, let’s go to a second question for the deputy prime minister.”
“I would like to know which plans Ireland has to solve the flag crisis in Northern Ireland and how you expect to manage the rise of nationalism in Europe.”
“So Maria would like to know what you think about nationalism. You must be a bit concerned by recent events in Belfast?”
“Yes, indeed, we are, and I think what it shows is the need for constant vigilance to work on our peace process. We had a conflict in Northern Ireland which lasted for about thirty years. It was a very violent conflict, 3,500 people lost their lives. That’s a big number of people to have been killed, and many, many more were injured. Over time, we worked on a peace process – the Irish government and the British government together with the political parties in Northern Ireland – which brought about a settlement and the establishment of a shared administration in Northern Ireland. We have, however, seen some disturbances in recent weeks which are worrying. I hope that they will not last. But I think it shows the challenges that we have to build a shared future for people in Northern Ireland. I think it also shows the degree to which national identity and other identities are very strong throughout Europe. While the European Union has been successful in building a union of 500 million people, within that union are many peoples and many groups of people who have a very strong national or regional identity. And I think it is important that we, first of all, respect those identities, but that there is mutual respect all round and that we work together as a people in Europe to build a better future together for all our citizens.”
“Let’s have another question now for Dublin.”
“What does the Irish presidency plan to do to counterbalance Germany’s power in the European Union?”
“Do you intend to do anything to curtail German power or is that killing the goose which lays all the eggs?”
“Well, I think it’s important that we all recognise that the European Union is made up not of any one state or indeed a small number of large states. The European Union is made up 27 member states, and when Croatia becomes a member, it will be 28 member states. I think it is important that we do our work in Europe using the community method, that there is a strong sense of all of the member states working together, of there being mutual respect between smaller states and large states.”
“Economic power does give Germany a preponderance, doesn’t it? It does make the whole situation a little unbalanced…”
“I think, in order to appreciate economic power, we have to undertand how interdependent we all are on each other. I think that is the whole rationale for the European Union: that no individual state, no individual country is going to be a great power on its own. The power that we all have, the economic strength that we all have, comes from our interdependence. The big strength that the European Union has is that there are 500 million people in the European Union, it is the biggest consumer market in the world, it represents 25 percent of the world’s GDP. We have had problems in Europe, problems with our currency and problems with our financial system. I think we have to move beyond those problems now, and concentrate on getting economic growth in Europe, building on the strengths that Europe has. And to build on those strengths, we have to understand that we are interdependent on each other. It’s not a case of one state or a small number of large states, it’s a case of all 27 member states working together.”
“Ireland is the first presidency of the next trio with Ireland, Lithuania and Greece, and I would like to know what you are going to do to make sure you have a strong cohesion and a good cooperation between those three countries in these difficult economic times?”
“Isn’t the problem, Mr Gilmore, that everything is just very short-term. It’s six months for each country and then it changes.”
“Yes, as far as the rotating presidency is concerned. But, of course, there is also the presidency of the European Council, which is a permanent institution with president Van Rompoy, and of course the president of the Commission, president Barroso, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security. I think the new trio arrangement, whereby the presidency works with the two succeeding presidencies – in Ireland’s case, that will mean we will be working with Lithuania and Greece – gives continuity to our work. There is a particular agenda that will have to be driven forward in the next six months, and Ireland is very conscious of that. We hope that it will be possible to get agreement on a European budget, the multi-annual financial framework, then there is a legislative programme that has to be followed on from that. We want to see the single market deepen, pariticularly in the area of the digital market, we want to see some trade agreements concluded which have been outstanding for some time. So we are going to work on those issues and drive them forward, and then, in cooperation with Lithuania and Greece, see them followed through in the succeeding 12 months.”
“One final question for Eamon Gilmore in Dublin.”
“I would like to know what the Irish government is planning to do to protect its youth from the effects of the crisis, and especially to stop the flow of emigration. At the moment, you see young Irish people leaving Ireland to look for work. So, what are you going to do to stop this? Thank you.”
“According to statistics, there are 250 people leaving each day. What can you do to prevent young people wanting to go elsewhere to get work?”
“The biggest and most urgent issue that we face in Ireland and in Europe is the problem of unemployment, and particularly the problem of unemployment among young people. Throughout the European Union, about 20 percent of our young people cannot get jobs. We have to address that urgently. There are a number of initiatives that Ireland intends to take during the European Union presidency, among them is bringing forward the idea of a youth guarantee, in other words, that young people will have access to employment, to work experience or to education and training. The worst possible situation that young people can be left in is in a state of idleness, one of unemployment without hope. So, it’s a combination of measures. First of all, boosting the European economy to create jobs, deepening the single market and the digital market in particular, an area where, I believe, there is a lot of potential for employment for young people, developing our education and training systems, advancing the idea of erasmus for all, the whole idea of exchanges in education between European countries. But, above all, making youth unemployment and addressing the jobs crisis the priority, not just for the Irish presidency, but the priority for all of Europe, so that we can give hope to young people that they will have a future, whether it is in Ireland or in other EU countries.”
“Thank you very much indeed, Eamon Gilmore, for joining us from Dublin.
“Thanks for your questions, you can see who our next guest will be on the euronews website. Thanks, as ever, to the audiovisual service of the European Parliament for this wonderful, virtual studio in the middle of very real and beautiful Brussels. See you next time.”
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