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04-10-2012

Speech by the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz to Dáil Éireann

On his official visit to Ireland, President Schulz today addressed Dail Eireann and expressed his support for the June Summit agreement on debt to the applause of the House.  

"Ceann Comhairle, Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Ministers and Members of the Dáil, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dia duit,

It is a great honour and privilege to be here in Dáil Éireann today, the proud assembly of a hopeful and positive nation. Let me thank you for this wonderful opportunity!

Your nation's tumultuous history, marked by many highs and lows, is the embodiment of the European experience.

In the past:

- Ireland lived through bloody wars, saw its country invaded and its people oppressed.
- Ireland lived through poverty and hunger, saw its people die from starvation and others forced to emigrate.
- Ireland saw its national pride trampled upon; saw the Irish language forbidden and its Parliament shut down.

Ireland has lived through so much of the European experience, the same suffering that motivated the founders of the European project, to say: No more of this - we will start a quiet revolution. This quiet revolution has changed our world forever; because the founders of our union decided that:

- They would not erect walls, but open borders
- They would not crush their arch-enemy but help them to their feet.
- They would not protect their national economies but link them closely together.

The founders of our union decided to face the future together. Because they understood that together we are stronger.

And indeed, together we grew stronger: We have built a project unique in human history, a tremendous success story: enemies became friends, a region plagued by shortages developed the richest internal market in the world, and nations threw off the yoke of dictatorship and became democracies. We established the most progressive social model in the world.

Yes, the European project has brought Ireland and Europe good times: Joining the European Union nearly forty years ago boosted the Irish economy though direct aid and increasing foreign investment. Today, 60% of Ireland's exports go to the EU. The country that had throughout history seen its young people depart to far-away-lands became a magnet for young educated Europeans. It was named the best place in the world to live in 2005.

No wonder, one might say that the Irish are great Europeans. And indeed, the Irish people have always had a strong European commitment.

But it's easy to be pro-European when times are good. Being an EU member is like being in a marriage - true commitment is proven when times get tough. And in Ireland times are rough, without any doubt. Still, the Irish people remain pro-European and continue to see the value of common European decision-making in both the collective European and national self-interest.

Ireland has tackled its financial difficulties with determination and purpose, and is putting its own house in order. You took the very hard decisions needed to get your economy and your country back on track.

Ireland has implemented tough reform programmes and cut the budget dramatically. Ireland has not only accomplished, but over-accomplished the targets the so-called Troika had set for Ireland. Ratification of the Fiscal Stability Treaty by the Irish people has been another key step in this direction.

It is my personal conviction that in this Union everybody has to live up to their commitments and be responsible for keeping their own house in order. This is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is solidarity. If one family member gets into troubled waters the others are called upon to offer a helping hand.

Thus, personally, I believe that the Irish programme should be adjusted before the end of the year along the lines of the June European Council conclusions. The biggest risk for Europe is the lack of mutual trust.

After all, Ireland got into trouble because it took over the debt of its banking system - a banking system which allowed some banks to engage in unethical financial transactions based on greed combined with irresponsible lending practices. Irish taxpayers are now paying the bankers' bills to stop a domino effect that could have dragged the whole European banking system down.

The economic crisis has come at a tremendous human cost: hundreds of thousands have become unemployed, poverty is growing...

Many families had to leave their homes because they could no longer pay their mortgages, emigration numbers are on the rise again. When young people leave it's a loss for both family and the country.

And still, despite all the hard work, despite the over-accomplishing of set targets, despite the huge sacrifices made by the people, Ireland has still to get back on its feet completely.

To me, this shows that the recipe isn't fully working: yes, sustainable budgets are important. But with cuts alone, no economy can recover. There is more to be done.

The first lesson from the crisis: is that we need a robust supervisory system for banks to assure that what happened in Ireland and elsewhere will never happen again.

After all, it was the banks which had gambled and lost on property loans. It was the banks which had to be bailed out by the tax payer.

Already two years ago, the EU established European supervisory authorities. The European Parliament had pushed for a more integrated and intrusive supervision of banks, insurances and financial markets.

The Member States first refused our requests - only to come back to our ideas this year in June. Two years were lost in the process!

Now, the project is back on the table - that is good news. Work is ongoing but Member States seem to disagree already. We Parliamentarians will do our utmost to set up a solid, transparent pan-European supervision of banks, because we believe this is in the interest of our citizens. But we will not do it at any cost. We want a supervision of banks that works and can, at a later stage, be extended to insurance, pension funds and financial markets and also be extended from the Euro-zone to all EU countries.

Ordinary hard-working people can't be asked to shoulder the follow-up costs of this crisis alone. The European Parliament with an overwhelming majority believes that the financial markets have to deliver now and they have to contribute to the follow-up costs of the crisis with a financial transaction tax. In the view of the European Parliament it is simply a matter of moral decency and social justice. I know the reluctance of Ireland. But those who wish to have a Financial Transaction Tax should not be prevented to implement it on the basis of enhanced cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The second lesson from the crisis is that credit-fuelled booms are simply not sustainable.

Financial crises, time and again, show similar characteristics: cheap money, excessive debt, and speculative bubbles with over-valued assets - so-called "innovate products" on the financial markets - in my eyes fantasy football. One of them, credit-default swaps, was referred to by Warren Buffet as a "weapon of mass destruction - irrational exuberance that tips over into panic, when first mortgage payments are not met". Time and again, we are told, that this crisis was an accident, completely unpredictable. And yet, they keep happening - at regular intervals.

To protect ourselves from the next crisis, the European Parliament believes that we have to get tough financial market regulation with transparency as its core principle into place; decrease macro-economic imbalances and return to growth based on the real economies.

Ireland is well-placed. Ireland's growth in recent years has been based on the high-skill, high-technology sector. Renewed growth will come from jobs in industries of the future. With its well-educated work-force and functioning administration, its intact business and social model, I am convinced that Ireland will succeed in the long-term.

The third lesson from the crisis is that we need a growth pact to boost the economy and create jobs - in Ireland and in Europe.

The European Parliament believes that a more balanced approach is needed: yes to sustainable budgets, but also yes to growth initiatives.

The European Council is called upon to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. They promised a growth initiative - they now have to deliver a growth initiative. That is also a question of credibility. Fiscal stability is necessary, but it needs to be backed up by other measures as well.

It is our conviction that the EU budget supports growth, that the EU budget is an investment vehicle. Calls for cuts in the EU budget may be popular, but they are irresponsible. Because: the EU budget is not money for Brussels. The EU budget is money for the people of Europe.

It is a means of boosting the economy - one we need more than ever, at a time of crisis, to create growth and jobs. In areas like Research and Development it provides Europe-wide scale from which individual EU countries like Ireland will all benefit.

Ireland is living proof that the EU-budget is a tool to make the lives of people better. Over the last years Ireland received 30 billion euros net from the EU. Ireland used this money wisely, maximizing the impact of receipts from the structural funds to accelerate development and modernisation.

Success stories like Ireland will no longer happen if the EU budget is slashed. And vital areas for Ireland like agriculture would also suffer. That is why in the negotiations with the Heads of Government the European Parliament is fighting for a proper budget! For the people of Europe!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Yes, the people in Europe need to see light at the end of the tunnel. Unemployment, and especially youth unemployment on the scale we witness today in some parts of Europe threatens to destroy the social fabric of our societies. It leads to frustration and anger, resignation and alienation. It undermines the legitimacy of our democratic institutions.

Let me quote an eminent historian and great man, Tony Judt - whose father as a boy had immigrated to Ireland from Belgium - he wrote: "The last time a cohort of young people expressed comparable frustration at the emptiness of their lives and the dispiriting purposelessness of their world was in the 1920s: it is not by chance that historians speak of a "lost generation." Today, we are faced with what could potentially become another "lost generation".

Young people, as witnessed most recently in Spain or Greece, are taking to the streets because they feel abandoned and outraged. Their helplessness, their despair in the face of seemingly all-powerful financial markets coupled with alienation from the political institutions - that is the biggest threat to democracy.

Democracy lives when people know that they can take decisions about their lives - that, by getting involved, they can change society for the better. We elected politicians are called upon to win back their trust!

Therefore, I especially welcome the announcement of the incoming Irish Presidency, that they will make the European youth guarantee a priority of their work. We in the European Parliament believe that the youth guarantee is an important initiative that will prevent young people from paying for this crisis with their life chances.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We, the members of the European Parliament very much look forward to Ireland's seventh Presidency of the EU Council. Since joining Ireland has made enormous contributions to European integration. Judging from very good past experiences with Irish Presidencies, I know: this Presidency will be an exceptional one.

Please allow me to say some words on a trend that is worrying me deeply. Times such as these, times of crises are always times of the executive. The pressure of events calls for swift action - and leaves parliaments, both national parliaments and the European Parliament, ever more marginalised. Parliaments are increasingly seen as an annoying waste of time - they are not! Parliaments are the guarantors of democracy!

Still, decisions in European policies, which affect us all, are increasingly taken in a way which reminds me of the "Congress of Vienna" in the 19th century - when Europe's leaders were ruthless in their defence of national interests, international politics were conceived of as a zero sum game and the stronger imposed their will on the weaker.

Post-war Europe is founded on the sober acknowledgement of the fact that our interests can no longer be separated from those of our neighbours - either we all lose - or we all win. The fundamental basis for this is the Community method.

The Community method means resolving disputes by means of dialogue and consensus; basing decisions on the principles of solidarity and democracy, reconciling the interests of the smaller and larger Member States, northern and southern Europe, eastern and western Europe; and placing the common good above individual interests.

Over the last two years, the Community method which has always served us well, has been undermined. We, the European Parliament and I as its President will defend the Community method, which to us is the soul of the European project.

This crisis has driven home the lesson that our economies and our lives have become deeply linked and interdependent. One country's economic problems can undermine the European economy, but many countries working together can solve the problem. Today, in Europe we are all in the same boat. Either we all sail together or we all sink separately. Solidarity is in all our best interest.

From the crisis we have learned that we need more European economic cooperation - but this must never come at the expense of democracy and the community method.

If we want to continue with deepening European integration and keep our democratic societies - then we need to strengthen the ties between the European and national parliaments.

This is especially true if we talk about budget issues like the European Semester - where we together have to ward off attempts by the executive to curtail the key prerogative of parliaments: the right to adopt a budget.

This is why I have made the cooperation with national parliaments a priority of my time in office.

I intend to strengthen economic dialogue and introduce a "parliamentary week" during which national and European parliamentarians would together take a close look at the Annual Growth Report and the guidelines for national budgets. I look forward to working together with you in this and in many other ways.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me conclude, almost 40 years since Ireland joined the EU, Ireland has been transformed: from a country primarily trading with only the UK, to an export-led high-technology economy deeply rooted within the solid foundations of the European Union.

We in the European Parliament look forward to working closely with you as you take on the Presidency of the Council at a crucial time.

No doubt, the last few years have been very hard and mistakes have been made. Yet, I believe in hearts and in minds, Irish people are true Europeans. Europe is on Ireland's side and Ireland can be proud of its true European vocation.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh a chairde"