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Quarta-feira, 17 de Janeiro de 2018 - Estrasburgo Edição revista

8. Debate com o Primeiro-Ministro da Irlanda, Leo Eric Varadkar, sobre o Futuro da Europa (debate)
Vídeo das intervenções
PV
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  Presidente. – L'ordine del giorno reca la discussione sul futuro dell'Europa con Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach (primo ministro) dell'Irlanda (2017/3023(RSP)).

Come sapete, questa è la prima discussione sul futuro dell'Europa che il Parlamento europeo ha deciso di organizzare, invitando i Primi ministri e i più grandi protagonisti dell'Europa per un confronto concreto, non con discorsi formali ma con la possibilità di interagire per conoscere il pensiero e le proposte dei leader europei.

Voglio ringraziare il Taoiseach, il Primo ministro d'Irlanda, per aver risposto con grande sollecitudine al nostro invito. Sarà il primo ad intervenire con questa nuova formula. Sarà nostro grande interesse ascoltarlo, anche perché l'Irlanda è un paese protagonista della nuova fase che stiamo affrontando, quindi la sua presenza nella sede del Parlamento europeo e nell'emiciclo è di grande rilievo. Lo ringrazio per essere stato il primo a rispondere con grande disponibilità e sollecitudine alla possibilità di confrontarsi con il Parlamento europeo.

Quindi è con grande piacere che gli do la parola perché possa indirizzarsi a voi e iniziare questa discussione costruttiva sul futuro dell'Europa.

 
  
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  Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach. – Mr President, Vice-Presidents, President Juncker, Commissioner Hogan, distinguished leaders of the political groups, Members of the European Parliament, dear friends, I want to say that it is a great privilege to be the first speaker in your series of debates with Heads of Government on the future of the European Union.

I believe that the European Union is at a decisive point now in our history. Despite all of the upheavals in recent years, the rise of populism and euroscepticism, nationalism and anti-democratic forces, we meet today in solidarity and with a renewed sense of purpose. The European ideal has always been inspired by a spirit of optimism and a belief in a better future. While that ideal has been tested, it has not been broken. Based on the achievements of the past, we have a renewed appetite to face the challenges of the future.

Back in 1947, representatives from 16 countries met in Paris to discuss how, in the words of Jean Monnet, they could resist economic decline and preserve political freedom.

En 1947, des représentants de seize pays se sont réunis à Paris pour discuter de la manière dont, selon les termes de Jean Monnet, ils pourraient résister au déclin économique et préserver la liberté politique. L’Irlande était l’un de ces seize pays. La sagesse de la prédiction de Monnet selon laquelle «il n’y a pas d’avenir pour les peuples d’Europe autre que dans l’union» s’est vite fait jour.

Dès le début, les petits pays ont contribué de manière non négligeable au développement de l’Europe.

Dans les années cinquante, Joseph Bech, luxembourgeois et grand architecte de l’intégration, a joué un rôle capital dans la création de la Communauté européenne du charbon et de l’acier, et dans la tenue de la conférence de Messine en Sicile. Interrogé sur la présence de politiciens européens réunis en Sicile en 1955, un haut dirigeant politique britannique rétorqua que ces derniers avaient pris part aux fouilles archéologiques! Des fouilles qui ont servi de base au traité de Rome.

Wir sehen die Stärke der europäischen Wertvorstellungen im Erbe der Persönlichkeiten wie Konrad Adenauer und Hans Dietrich-Genscher, deren Vision für Versöhnung und Integration in ganz Europa so wichtig war. Wir sehen sie in der Arbeit Helmut Kohls und seinem Glauben, die Bedürfnisse und Gleichberechtigung kleinerer Nationen zu beachten. Und wir sehen sie in der Vision Jacques Delors' und seinem Glauben an einen tieferen Sinn Europas – eine Seele für Europa –, ohne den das ganze Projekt scheitern würde. Seine Arbeit bei der Schaffung einer gemeinsamen Währung, des Euro, ist ein bedeutsames Erbe. Seine Aufgabe an uns, einen größeren Sinn anzustreben, ist noch bedeutsamer.

Mr President, the promise of a better future has motivated people to work for the European ideal since the very beginning. And speaking in this chamber today I am reminded of one of the greatest figures in Irish politics, and one of the greatest figures in politics from Northern Ireland, John Hume, whose birthday it is tomorrow and who served as a Member of this great Parliament for 25 years.

John Hume spoke many times about the symbolism of the bridge not too far from here, connecting Strasbourg to Kehl just across the border in Germany. He spoke about how easy and ordinary it was to walk across that bridge, and given Europe’s dark history how remarkable and profound that ordinariness was.

In the European Union John Hume saw a model and a vision for how a lasting peace, however improbable, could be fostered and built. and he saw how that model of people working together with a shared purpose and endeavour, spilling their sweat instead of their blood, as he put it, could provide an inspiration for my own country.

Today there is a peace bridge crossing the river Foyle, bringing together the divided communities in John’s native city of Derry in Northern Ireland, a bridge that the European Union helped to build.

Dear friends, it is hard to imagine the Good Friday Agreement being made without our shared membership of the European Union and its single market, and in Ireland we are now having to contemplate our future without that foundation which underpinned it and made it possible.

That’s why the government which I lead has been so determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and all that flows from it. And it is why we have insisted that there cannot be a return to a hard border on our island, no new barriers to the movement of people or to trade. And it is why we are so deeply grateful for the remarkable solidarity and support from other Member States. It is everything we hoped for and proof-positive of why small countries benefit so much from membership of this Union.

(Applause)

And so the Irish people are profoundly grateful for the unswerving support of this Parliament, and in particular I want to thank your President, Antonio Tajani, your Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the PPE Group, Manfred Weber, and all of the other political groups that have been so supportive.

The solidarity of Parliament has been matched by the Commission and the Council. I’d also like to extend my thanks to President Juncker, to the lead Commission negotiator, Michel Barnier, and also to Council President Donald Tusk.

The European Union has consistently recognised the unique position of Northern Ireland and the unique situation in which it finds itself given the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. A decision which we respect.

Notwithstanding that, the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, the majority of the representative elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly want to remain in the customs union and the single market, and it is likely that the majority of people living in Northern Ireland will remain European citizens after Brexit, because of their unique status under the Good Friday Agreement which allows them to be British citizens, Irish citizens or both.

The breakthrough achieved before Christmas means that the United Kingdom has guaranteed that whatever the future relationship with the European Union is, a hard border on the island will be avoided, and the common travel area and all the associated rights that flow from it will be maintained.

As the negotiations move forward into phase 2 we will continue to rely on your support and solidarity as we work to ensure that what has been promised in theory is delivered in practice, and there can be no backsliding on this.

So it is important that these commitments are fully reflected in the legal text of the withdrawal agreement and firmly embedded in the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, whatever shape that ultimately takes.

For my part I hope that the new relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and the European Union is as close and as deep as is possible, but consistent with the needs of the Union to protect our internal market and customs union.

Mr President, I was born European and am part of a new generation of political leaders who were born after our countries joined the European Union or its predecessors. We treasure what has been achieved and share the vision of the founders for further integration and cooperation.

While I’ve always lived with the benefits of European membership, I’ve never taken them for granted. I very much value what was hard won by past generations and what they sacrificed for us. That vision delivered peace in Europe and opened the door to peace and prosperity in my own country.

These values of solidarity, partnership and cooperation which are essential to the European project have brought Ireland from the position of being one of the least-developed Member States when we joined the Union to one of the most prosperous today. And for us Europe enabled our transformation from being a country on the periphery to an island at the centre of the world, at the heart of this common European home which we helped to build.

The promise of Europe unlocked the potential of Ireland and it allowed us to take our place among the nations of the world. So, along with other Member States who’ve benefited so much from the European Union, I believe we have a particular responsibility now to lead on the future of Europe debate. We have much to offer and also much to give, and I firmly believe it is our responsibility and relish the opportunity.

So we should approach, all of us, the debate on the future of Europe with a positive attitude, talking about what we want to achieve for our citizens rather than what we want to block or resist. Many of the policy challenges we face are increasingly global and they cannot be met by nation-states acting alone.

Issues such as uncontrolled mass migration, climate change, cybersecurity, international trade, the regulation of medicines and major corporations, many of whom are now bigger than states, cannot be solved by 28 countries coming up with 28 different solutions. In unity there is security, in cooperation there is strength. As we say in the Irish language ‘ní neart go cur le chéile’, there’s no strength without being together.

So we should, I believe, welcome those who aspire to and who are ready to take on the responsibilities and obligations of membership. The prospect of membership of the European Union can be a powerful motivator for those who seek to build peace and freedom and prosperity and democracy in the Western Balkans and these countries should, I believe, be given a pathway to membership.

Mr President, I believe that in the Europe of the future all European countries and all Member States will be small states, even though perhaps they don’t realise it yet, and you only need to look at the list of the top 60 cities in the world in terms of population, only one of the top 60 is in the European Union, and it is currently getting ready to leave.

In terms of population now there is only one country in Europe that is in the top 20 in the world, and its population is falling. So in a global context, we are very much now a union a small countries. And I know that population doesn’t equate to economic power or military strength, but there can be no doubt that these are also shifting east and south globally. So I think we need to stick together if we are to protect what we have and continue to export our values and worldview.

(Applause)

A Europe worth building is a Europe worth defending and with the launch of the Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence (PESCO) in December, which Ireland was pleased to join, we are coming together to answer new threats in an inclusive way. The threats we face in the 21st century include cyberterrorism, international terrorism, uncontrolled mass migration, natural disasters and drug and human trafficking, and we want to be involved in European actions against all of these. We definitely can’t do it on our own.

My country also has a very proud history of military neutrality, participating in UN peacekeeping operations and EU common security and defence policy operations, and we are not members of NATO, so we will participate in PESCO in a way that is consistent with those traditions as other countries will too.

President, I believe the Europe of the future must do four things. First of all, we should continue to do what we currently do well. Secondly, we should focus on the big new challenges facing Europe and its citizens. Thirdly, where appropriate, we should devolve some powers back to Member States, municipalities and regions. And, fourthly, we should engage more with citizens in direct democracy.

Ireland, as you know, has moved from being a net beneficiary of the EU budget to one that is now a net contributor. Nonetheless, we’re open to contributing more, but only if it is spent on things that contribute to the advancement of the European deal and the European project. For example, structural funds for Central and Eastern Europe to enable them to unlock their economic potential as we did.

The European Union should also continue to fund well programmes and policies that work and have stood the test of time, such as the common agricultural policy and providing funding for research, innovation, Erasmus, Interreg and the European Investment Bank, among others.

Budgets for these, in my view, should be protected. Europe can do new things and Europe should do new things, but new programmes require new money. Ireland is a founder-member of the euro and a founder-member of the single market, and we were among the first to open our labour market to Europeans from Central and Eastern Europe. We now want to see the completion of the single market and the digital single market and, above all, a single market that serves the interests of all our citizens, and not just corporations.

So I want to commend this Parliament on the work it has done to make the lives of Europeans better by removing roaming charges on mobile phones within the European Union. That helps bring people together. Your recent action on credit card charges and, likewise, I commend the way you’ve championed air passenger rights and your plans for interrail.

Now is the time to fulfil the promise of the single market in other areas. For example, take financial services, insurance, mortgages and loans, so that people can get cheaper loans from European lenders and insurers if needs be. I’d ask the Parliament to work on this in the period ahead, and I think it is something that would very much be welcomed by our citizens.

I also believe we should work much more closely on the cost of medicines, and new, innovative medicines in particular. This could save billions for taxpayers, freeing up funding to ensure that modern medicines are available to patients in every country at the same time, and countries are not played off against each other. So let’s pool the buying power of 450 million people to do so.

I also believe in more free trade agreements with third countries and in completing monetary union, and I believe in a banking union to protect citizens’ savings on a pan-European basis and reduce exposure to individual Member States. And I also think that a capital markets union would provide the building blocks for an integrated capital market across Europe.

In terms of improving democracy within the EU, I support a Europe-wide list for the European Parliament. I’d like to get people in cafes in Naples and restaurants in Galway talking about the same election choices. Perhaps that’s an ambitious idea, but I think it is one we should strive for.

(Applause)

And I believe we should also make permanent the Spitzenkandidat system and democratise the choosing of candidates for other leading positions within the EU. And let’s establish as well a common asylum policy and system to replace the current system, which we all know is not working. Too few countries have shouldered the responsibility of providing refugees with a fresh start in Europe, we can all do more and we must.

(Applause)

And let’s put fire back into the engine of our social Europe by following through on the proclamation that we issued in Gothenburg last year on jobs, employment rights and pensions, among other things. Whatever our future holds, Europe needs to be competitive economically. And one of the ways to ensure this is by allowing competition among Member States, and I think this is particularly important for peripheral and less developed countries whose domestic markets are small and need inward investment.

My strong view is that national taxes that fund national budgets should be determined by national parliaments and governments, but equally strong is my view that corporations should pay their fair share of tax, and we cannot tolerate a situation where large companies avoid paying any taxes anywhere. And that’s true for American tech companies as it is true for European car manufacturers and international aerospace and defence companies.

(Applause)

Ireland has already taken steps to close loopholes in our tax laws and will do more in the years ahead, but we strongly believe this should be done on an international basis through the OECD, as Europe should not give advantages to our competitors on other continents by acting unilaterally.

Mr President, as a community we must also look outwards, offering leadership and partnership, especially when it comes to Africa, a continent which is only eight kilometres from Europe. And I believe that Europe must show much greater leadership on Africa, and I support the idea of an EU Marshall plan for that continent.

We’ve already witnessed the terrible impact that chaos in Syria and Lebanon has had on people in those countries and its impact on Europe. Libya and Syria are small countries, imagine what would happen if similar events were to unfold in massive countries with massive populations, like Egypt or Nigeria. The consequences are too awful to contemplate for us and for them. By contrast, we can look east to Asia and the successful development of those countries in East Asia who have transformed themselves from countries to which we gave aid, to countries with which we now trade.

So in the 21st century Africa must succeed. It is in our interest and it is in theirs, so let’s make it part of our mission as Europeans.

I also strongly support the subsidiarity and proportionality task force. It is interesting to me and for many of us who travel the world that on many matters and many issues US states and Canadian provinces, and even counties and municipalities, have greater autonomy and greater variation among themselves then EU Member States currently have.

So do we have the balance right? Not always. And does everything have to be harmonised and standardised? I don’t think so. So, Mr President, in making decisions I think it is vital that our citizens are engaged.

In Ireland we’ve launched a national debate, a citizens’ dialogue on Europe and our starting point is to focus on the hopes and dreams of our citizens. Led by our minister for Europe we’re undertaking a series of regional meetings and other initiatives across the country between now and Europe Day on 9 May, and I strongly encourage other countries to do the same.

Mr President, it is been an honour, a great honour, to be the first European head of state or government to speak to the European Parliament on this hugely important topic of the future of Europe. All of you across all political groupings have enormous political experience, insight and knowledge. There is a mass of wisdom in this chamber and also imagination, and I believe it is the perfect place to debate our future as we move forward and to ensure that into the future that parliaments and governments are more connected to each other.

I know that under the guidance of President Tajani you’ve already started to discuss the issues in a thoughtful and productive manner, and even before the Commission’s white paper you adopted three resolutions on our future. I hope that this first debate in this series and the others to follow will be lively and spontaneous, and I look forward to engaging with you during the course of this session.

The European Union has always offered the promise of a better future. It is a future that will not be handed to us, we must work to create it. We can achieve a more perfect union and we can speak to Europe’s soul. Our values, like peace, friendship, freedom, justice, opportunity and cooperation, are the values we are committed to in advancing on the island of Ireland within our European family and in our relations in the wider world.

Europe has been a great success and we owe its achievements – peace, individual rights, equality before the law and prosperity – to that political creativity and the friendship that we’ve built together. I believe that Europe is the outcome of one of the greatest acts of political creativity in human history, and that same creativity and vision of the founders should drive our work today.

The European ideal took flight in the second part of the 20th century when people imagined a world joined by mutual interest, trust and affection replacing one that was torn apart by jealousy, fear and animosity.

Building on the great successes and achievements of the past, I believe that with our imagination, with creativity, with courage, we can provide a soul and a heart for Europe, creating opportunities for all of our citizens, and we can ensure that the European ideal that took flight in the last century will soar in the 21st.

Mr President, I want to conclude with a few words in the first official language of my country.

A Uachtaráin, creidim gurb í an spiorad dearfach agus creideamh i dtodhchaí níos fearr ba chúis le hinspioráid an idéil Eorpaigh i gcónaí. Murach an Eoraip, ní chuirfí ár dtír i gcuntas i measc náisiúin na cruinne.

Táimid buíoch do Bhallstáit na hEorpa as a ndlúthpháirtíocht agus as an aire a thugann siad dúinn le linn chomhráite Brexit. Deimhníonn sin an fáth a bhfaigheann tíortha beaga tairbhe as a mballraíocht in AE.

Anois tá an deis againn Eoraip na todhchaí a shamhlú. Ba mhaith liom leanúint ar aghaidh leis an dul chun cinn atá á dhéanamh againn, agus díriú ar na dúshláin mhóra nua atá i gceist. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh páirt níos gníomhaí ag saoránaigh i ndaonlathas díreach.Tá súil agam go léireoidh an Eoraip níos mó treorach faoi chúrsaí na hAfraice.

Tacaím leis an smaoineamh maidir le ‘Marshall Plan’ don Afraic.

Agus muidne ag cur le rathúlacht na laethanta atá thart, creidim, le samhlaíocht agus le misneach go mbeimid in ann anam agus croí a chur ar fáil don Eoraip, agus deiseanna a chruthú dár saoránaigh go léir.

 
  
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  President. – Taoiseach, thank you very much for your speech, a large majority of the European Parliament is happy. It is now very important for us to hear the first reaction from the President of the Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker.

 
  
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  Jean-Claude Juncker, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, to be very short, I could not agree more. But I have to deliver a speech because the disappointment would be too great if I did not do so.

I wanted to say that I am delighted that my good friend Leo comes before this House today, and I would like to thank President Tajani and the Parliament for holding this timely debate on the future of our Union. This is the first of its kind and I hope the first of many. Since he became Prime Minister, Leo has proven to be a committed European. I knew this before, but he has proven it by being where he is for the time being.

It is fitting that today we remember with sadness another true Irish and European statesman. I would like to pay my personal tribute to Peter Sutherland. He was the first ever Commissioner to receive the gold medal from this House. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing. Peter Sutherland was a proud Irishman, another giant of European politics and a friend of so many. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on. As Peter in the past shaped our policies of today, so can we shape the policies of the future with the choices we make today.

It was less than a year ago that I presented to you the White Paper on the future of Europe: five possible scenarios for our project. Since then, the debate has picked up in all corners of Europe. The White Paper set a new approach – debate, not dictate – and the White Paper and the different scenarios are still inspiring the debate across Europe. However, the future of Europe cannot remain a scenario. The time to take decisions is now, because citizens will head to the polls in May 2019 and, in doing so, they should have a clear understanding of how the European Union will develop over the years to come.

Last September, I therefore presented to you my very own vision for a more united, stronger and more democratic Union: a Union where solidarity and responsibility go hand in hand in all policy areas, from migration to the banking and monetary union, from energy to our common budget; a Union where the rule of law is not optional but the very basis of everything we do, from implementing decisions jointly taken to preparing enlargements; a Union of equals where the euro and Schengen, the most visible expressions of European integration, continue to unite our continent.

Since the publication of the White Paper, a lot has happened. The Commission has organised hundreds of citizens’ dialogues – six of them in Ireland, which is important. I am happy to see that the Taoiseach himself has launched citizens’ dialogues on the future of Europe across Ireland, from Galway to Dublin. This is how it should be. To succeed in Europe, we have to put an end to this eternal artificial opposition between the Union and its Member States. Our Union can only be built with our Member States and never against them.

This is why the invitation of the national leaders to this House, President Tajani, is so important. I am delighted to see the commitment from the European Council. It has agreed the leaders’ agenda: 17 summits in the next 18 months on the road to Sibiu (Hermannstadt) to chart our common future. This is even more than we had at the height of the eurozone crisis, but with one important difference: this time we are not repairing the burning plane while flying, as we had to do during the crisis. Instead, we are now fixing the roof of our European house while the sun is shining. We know what we need to do together: completing our economic and monetary union; securing our borders; delivering on our social agenda; making our tax system fairer; reforming our asylum system; getting back to Schengen; and completing the digital market and the energy union.

In all these talks on Europe’s future, I have been privileged to have a close working relationship with the Taoiseach, and there is no better example than to say that we worked during the first phase of negotiations with the United Kingdom. When it comes to the issue of Ireland in these negotiations, Europe is united. It is all for one and one for all. The Commission and the Irish Government worked tirelessly, side by side, to help us reach the sufficient progress needed to move onto the next phase of the talks. This partnership will continue and will grow stronger as we work on the future of our Union at 27.

I read with pleasure Leo’s speech at the Citizens’ Dialogue last November, when he set out his vision for ‘a Europe that continues to do well what it does well, that focuses on big things and that, where appropriate, devolves some powers back to Member States’ municipalities and regions’. For me, this is more than just a beautiful poem. These are the essential questions we all need to answer when going into the negotiations for the next European budget. This debate on the budget will be an open and honest discussion and one that goes right to the heart of the debate on the future of the European Union. If we want the European Union to have nothing more than a single market, a single small budget will be sufficient. But if we want a European border and coast guard to protect our external borders or European civil protection teams to help in the case of floods or fires, then the answer is simple. Member States must put their money where their mouths are.

(Applause)

Herr Präsident! Genau weil diese Zukunftsfragen jetzt in Angriff genommen werden müssen, haben wir vorgeschlagen, unter der Leitung von Vizepräsident Timmermans eine Taskforce zu Subsidiarität und Proportionalität einzurichten. Im nächsten Wahlkampf wird das genau so sein wie im letzten Wahlkampf. Nur wenige haben den Mut, in Bürgerversammlungen, auf öffentlichen Plätzen, im Bierzelt oder sonst wo aufzustehen, wenn es heißt, die Europäische Union und die europäische Politik in Gänze zu verteidigen.

Man wird immer wieder den Bürgern sagen: Europa macht zu viel, und Europa muss weniger tun. Es gibt Bereiche, wo Europa mehr tun muss – ich habe sie oft hier erwähnt. Es gibt aber auch Bereiche, wo wir uns zurücknehmen sollen, wo weniger mehr wäre und wo weniger Tatendrang mehr Fortschritt brächte als blindes Losstürmen hin zu Zielen, die für uns eigentlich – von unserem Instrumentarium her – unerreichbar sind.

Deshalb wäre es mein Wunsch, dass das Europäische Parlament sich an dieser Taskforce beteiligt. Mir wird berichtet – but this is a house full of rumours, dass das Europäische Parlament an dieser Taskforce nicht teilnehmen werde und wolle – das ist ein grober Fehler! Denn wir brauchen das Europäische Parlament, wenn wir darüber reden, welche Kompetenzen der Europäischen Union in die Mitgliedstaaten zurückverlagert werden können.

Dies wird eine Debatte sein, wo man dann natürlich auch darüber reden muss, was wir besser machen können, indem wir mehr tun. Auch über neue Kompetenzen muss geredet werden. Aber die Hauptaufgabe ist, Ordnung zu bringen in das Zuständigkeitsgerangel zwischen Europäischer Union und den Mitgliedstaaten. Ich bitte deshalb herzlich – vor allem die großen Fraktionsführer dieser Welt –, diesen Beschluss – falls es ihn dann gibt – zu überprüfen, weil es nicht im Interesse des Europäischen Parlaments ist, dass die Kommission und die Vertreter der Mitgliedstaaten sich alleine, ohne das Mittun des Europäischen Parlaments, mit diesen Fragen beschäftigen.

Mr President, since 1999 the Good Friday Agreement has preserved peace and enabled progress where once there was bloodshed and discord. We all know that peace can be fragile, and I see no more important use of our new budget than guaranteeing and financing the peace process in Ireland.

This is an unconditional European commitment. This is what the Commission will deliver with its proposal on the next Multiannual Financial Framework in May. Our new budget must be as ambitious as the goals we set ourselves and as flexible as possible in order to adapt to new and unforeseen challenges. Our future cannot wait. Together with Leo, with the Irish, and with others, we will swim in that direction.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Presidente. – Non credo che sia stata un errore la decisione del Parlamento di non partecipare ad un gruppo di lavoro organizzato dalla Commissione europea dove tre deputati sarebbero stati parte, insieme ad altri funzionari, di uno studio.

Noi condividiamo l'ipotesi e la necessità di legiferare meglio, di ridurre il numero di norme, ma devo ricordare che in base al trattato il Parlamento è la prima istituzione dell'Unione europea e non può essere trattato come un qualsiasi consulente che partecipa con tre parlamentari ad un gruppo di lavoro. Non è una questione di dignità, è una questione di rispetto dei trattati. Nessuna acrimonia nei confronti della Commissione, tutt'altro: noi vogliamo collaborare con la Commissione, ma all'unanimità la Conferenza dei presidenti – nessun gruppo escluso, tutti d'accordo – ha deciso di non partecipare. Questo non significa che non intendiamo collaborare con la Commissione per legiferare meglio e per lavorare nell'interesse dei nostri concittadini. Anche questo fa parte del dibattito.

Ora cominciamo con gli interventi dei leader dei gruppi politici: vi prego di rispettare il tempo a voi assegnato. Dopo gli interventi dei leader ci sarà una risposta del Taoiseach, poi cominciamo con il "catch-the-eye" e ci sarà un'altra risposta del Taoiseach. Siccome alle 12.30 dobbiamo iniziare le votazioni, vi prego di rispettare i tempi a voi assegnati.

 
  
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  Manfred Weber, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Mr President, it was a good decision to ask Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, to start our debate in the European Parliament on the future of Europe. It was a great speech and a great contribution to our debate. We can first of all conclude from this speech that it is good to follow the Irish example, because when I look at the past years, Irish politicians – Enda Kenny, Leo Varadkar – didn’t point the finger at others when it was taking on responsibility for cleaning up the budget and making the necessary reforms. They simply did their job. The Irish Government also showed in the past few days how big and how strong you can be if you are part of the European Union in the Brexit negotiations. This is another example where the Irish point is a good point.

And finally, I must say that the tradition of referendums in Ireland helps a lot in explaining to people what Europe is all about. It is not blaming and shaming Brussels, but explaining what is going on in Brussels and explaining what is going on in Strasbourg. That is great. There are a few aspects that I see when I look to Ireland and the future of Europe, but now Europe stands at a crossroads between hate and hope. Demagogues play with people’s fears, and for their selfish goals they are spreading hate. That is our challenge.

We have to bring hope to the people. We know that the Europeans do not want to live in anger. They are proud of their European culture, of their achievements, and they want to protect the European way of life. They want to combine prosperity with fairness; they want to combine freedom with security, and cultural identity with tolerance. That is what Europe is all about.

And then we have to keep this in mind, I think we have to make concrete what Leo said in his speech. We have to talk about job security, social fairness, quality of life and whether we can protect this in a globalised world. This promise has to be founded. We have to give good arguments for this. It is either a Europe which is fair, or not a Europe at all.

Furthermore, we see in times of Putin and IS that people are looking for protection, for security. That is why your statement on the future of European defence is a great statement. A few months ago, I was in Estonia and I visited the NATO air base there. A Belgian pilot told me what he was doing with air policing towards the Russian border. I asked him whether it would be a problem for him if there was no longer a Belgian flag on his uniform. What would he say if there were only a European flag in the future? And this young pilot said to me, for him it made no difference. For him it was always clear that he defended our European values when in his aircraft. Dear colleagues, it is either a Europe that is strong in defence or it is not a Europe at all.

Finally, about culture, I think we have to be aware that the whole world is listening to European music, is reading our literature. Europe is the leading cultural continent in the world, and Europe provides cultural diversity instead of the commercial mishmash from Hollywood. The question now is: how can we protect this? How can we bring this into a globalised and a digital world? The idea of Emmanuel Macron to create a European Netflix, to bring all our cultural heritage in one digital form together, with free access for everybody, would probably be a good idea in this regard. It is either a Europe sticking to its cultural richness, or not a Europe at all.

There are lots of things to do, but having our fundamental ideas for the European Union in mind, our founding fathers – De Gasperi, Kohl and others – were always aware that European integration was ambitious. It was always concrete in terms of projects, and that is why we have to look for these concrete projects in the days, weeks and years to come. Let’s get things done. It is either an ambitious Europe, or it is not a Europe at all.

 
  
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  Jeppe Kofod, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, I wish to thank Taoiseach Varadkar for an excellent speech, for his commitment to Europe and for his commitment to cooperation. The European Union is the foundation of our prosperity, our security in Europe. Ireland and my own country, Denmark, share a similar history. We joined the European Community at the same time – 1 January 1973 – 45 years ago. Both of our countries have seen tremendous changes. We have benefited from the single market, from the wealth of trade agreements with third countries, and from EU funding and cooperation throughout its history. But for us as Socialist and Democrats, Europe is much more than trade and profits. It is about solidarity. It is about the prosperity of our people. It is about protecting strong welfare states where no citizen is left behind. Solidarity is the future of Europe, and working together to help each other to overcome shared challenges in the 21st century. Globalisation, climate change, the refugee crisis – all of these we have to face together.

Next year the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.

(Applause from certain quarters)

This, of course, will have a special impact on Ireland and the people of Ireland. Let me be absolutely clear: the European Parliament will stand firm on upholding the Good Friday Agreement and securing peace, cooperation and prosperity throughout the Emerald Isle. It is very important.

(Applause)

We also expect solidarity from the Irish Government – and I must take the opportunity this debate offers to express this – and the same commitment to solidarity, fairness and cooperation on other issues. So when we build a single market in Europe, with the free flow of capital, goods, services and people, it is also important that we fight tax evasion and avoidance, protect our tax bases, our welfare states, our people, against the tax evasion we are seeing. What we have seen in Europe – and I have also to give the example of Ireland – when Apple only pays EUR 50 per EUR 1 million it earns on its profits, is a disgrace. It is not acceptable. We need to change that behaviour.

(Applause)

We need to stop the never—ending race to the bottom on corporate taxation. We need to protect our welfare state. We need a common rule book in Europe on corporate taxation, and that is also why I am asking you, Prime Minister, to fight for the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, creating a tax system in the 21st century that is fair, that serves our states, that serves our citizens.

I also want to say we share a lot of challenges. We also need to build a Europe, as you said, Mr Varadkar, that will protect the citizens of Europe, the workers. Good decent work and good salaries are the basis of our societies, and therefore also the social Europe you mentioned is part of that agenda and we need to see action in that field as well.

We also need to ensure, when we do trade liberalisation and make trade agreements, that these trade agreements also follow our values, our rules on sustainable development, protecting the environment, protecting labour rights, protecting human rights, and ensuring that big corporations pay their fair taxes. This is equally important.

In building a Europe of the 21st century we are, as you said, much stronger together than apart. That is true. And you said the single market is not just for all of our citizens if we do not also protect our citizens against, for example, big corporations, against people that take advantage of a single market to undermine our society. That is very important.

So, Mr Prime Minister, I have to commend you for standing up for Europe, but I think we also need to talk about what type of fair Europe we can create for the future. Thank you so much for this and I look forward to working with you and all others who want to change Europe for the better of the people.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Peter van Dalen, namens de ECR-Fractie. – Dit debat heeft als titel “De toekomst van Europa”. Dat is mij eerlijk gezegd wat abstract. Het gaat over de toekomst van onze burgers! Het is logisch dat in aanwezigheid van de Ierse premier de brexit centraal staat. Het antwoord van veel Europese leiders daarop is: “never waste a good crisis”, vol gas vooruit naar meer Europa.

Ik denk dat doorduwen naar een steeds hechtere Unie “penny wise but pound foolish” is en bij onze burgers het tegenovergestelde effect zal hebben. Ja, het klopt, de laatste Eurobarometer-peilingen laten zien dat men wat positiever denkt over Europa. Maar vergeet niet dat de laatste jaren elk referendum over Europa verkeerd uitpakte voor de pro-Europeanen. Denk aan het referendum over justitiële samenwerking in Denemarken, het referendum over de associatieovereenkomst met Oekraïne in Nederland en het brexitreferendum in het Verenigd Koninkrijk.

Áls de burgers dan positiever denken over Europa, waarom dan toch steeds die tegenstemmen? Ik denk dat onze burgers een Europa willen zien dat écht werkt. Maar dat doet het nog niet! Wij voerden de euro in op basis van de no-bail-out-clausule en het stabiliteits- en groeipact. Vervolgens negeren we die twee en gaan we tot in detail elkaars nationale begrotingen uitpluizen. Dat is natuurlijk een vrij nutteloze oefening als handhaving tegen de structurele begrotingszondaars, zoals Frankrijk, al jaren ontbreekt.

En dan moeten we ook nog beginnen aan een eurozonebegroting en Europese schuldpapieren? Dat lijkt me de uitgelezen route om opnieuw een nee van onze burgers en een lage opkomst bij de Europese verkiezingen te zien. Wat dan wel? Ik denk een pas op de plaats. En eerst beginnen met handhaven en vooral nakomen van wat we met elkaar hebben afgesproken. Op die manier winnen we weer het vertrouwen van de burgers. Dat is échte solidariteit en het bieden van echte hoop!

 
  
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  Guy Verhofstadt, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, Taoiseach, I think that our European Union can learn a lot from Ireland. When I say that, I am not talking about the weather forecast, naturally. I am talking about what I call the Irish capacity to transform and to reinvent itself, as has happened over the last decades. I think that is exactly what we need in Europe today: this capacity to transform ourselves and to reinvent ourselves – and not to destroy ourselves, as some of our colleagues want.

Thirty years ago, Ireland was a very different country. I think only 7% were born abroad. Today, that figure is more than 70%. I think that Ireland today has become one of the most diverse nations of the European Union. The Irish economy has successfully integrated migrants from all over the world – from Poland, from Nigeria. Ireland has also become the home country for a number of big companies, such as international IT giants. Today, Ireland is no longer a country of emigration; it has become a destination country and also a country with many pro-Europeans – sometimes very critical but always constructive, and that is absolutely key.

What I hope to see in this debate is that Ireland can show the same European leadership as happened in the past. Let me remind you that in 1985/1986 it was Garret FitzGerald, your predecessor, who gave the final support to the Single European Act. That support was crucial, because it was the first time that Ireland broke away from the British position and made it possible to push forward the European agenda. It is the Single European Act that later resulted in the single market, and that is now seen as the biggest European achievement. Even Margaret Thatcher found it the biggest achievement of European politics. The same thing happened in 2004 and 2007. After the enlargement of the European Union, it was Ireland who championed, in fact, the freedom of movement of all people in the European Union, including the Polish plumber and the Romanian doctor. I hope that Ireland continues to have such a commitment to reform the European Union now. Your voice is critical in this debate.

I see four things to do. The first is the new governance for the eurozone. The second is the European Defence Union. The third is the new European asylum and migration policy. We have to get rid of Dublin – not of Joyce’s city, naturally, but the Dublin Regulation on migration. We need to have something completely different, where Italy and Greece do not bear all the burden. Finally, I think we also need a deep democratic reform, with a transnational democracy. I thank you for your support on that important reform, which I hope we can achieve in the coming weeks.

Lastly – and the President of the Commission is right – we need a budget that goes in parallel with this. It is impossible to say to the citizens: ‘Look, citizens, you’re right: we need more this and we need more that; we need more European action’ but, at the same time, we do not give the necessary instruments and the necessary budget.

Finally, President, I think there is a new generation of politicians in Europe who are standing up. You need to know one thing. It is the last thing I am going to say, and it is on Brexit. Whatever stance you take, Taoiseach, Europe will always be behind you. We know what is at stake in these Brexit negotiations. We know how existential it is for you, but know that we will always be behind you. In these negotiations, we are all Irish, and you have to know that.

 
  
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  Gabriele Zimmer, im Namen der GUE/NGL-Fraktion. – Herr Präsident! Herzlich willkommen, Taoiseach, zu unserer Debatte hier im Europäischen Parlament! Spätestens seit dem Brexit erahnen wir, welche Folgen ein solcher Austritt hinsichtlich der sozialen Rechte und Bürgerrechte für die betroffenen Menschen hat – nicht nur in Großbritannien selbst, sondern auf der irischen Insel und in der gesamten EU. Ein Zurück zu erneuten harten Grenzen in Europa kann es für uns nicht geben; wir werden uns dem immer verweigern. Meine Fraktion wird auch alles dafür tun, das Karfreitagsabkommen in all seinen Bestandteilen zu verteidigen.

Ein Zusammenwachsen und der Aufbau Europas sind aus meiner Sicht unausweichlich. Und doch steht die Frage, weil wir über den Brexit und die Verhandlungen zum Brexit hinaus denken müssen, ob das heutige Europa, die heutige Europäische Union mit ihren Verträgen, mit ihren Strukturen, mit ihren Institutionen geeignet ist, um wirklich die Hoffnungen der Menschen auf ein soziales, solidarisches Miteinander, auf einen Kampf gegen den Klimawandel tatsächlich auch umzusetzen. Wir sagen in meiner Fraktion: Wir haben erhebliche Zweifel daran, dass das so funktionieren wird. Ich möchte gar nicht aufzählen, mit welchen Problemen die EU gegenwärtig konfrontiert ist. Das haben wir hier oft genug getan. Ich möchte nur dazu sagen, dass es wichtig ist, dass wir uns den Ungleichheiten zwischen den Mitgliedsländern und den Ungleichheiten zwischen Bevölkerungsgruppen stellen, dass wir den Kampf gegen Armut endlich ernsthaft anstreben, und da brauchen wir Formen der Regierbarkeit der Europäischen Union. Ich habe den Eindruck, dass die Europäische Union in einigen entscheidenden Fragen nicht regierungsfähig und nicht regierbar ist. Das ist die Migrationsfrage, das ist der Kampf gegen die Steueroasen, das ist der Kampf gegen die soziale Ungleichheit.

Und die EU befindet sich in einer Legitimationskrise. Sie haben vorhin gesagt, wir müssen den EU-Bürger wieder in den Vordergrund stellen. Ja! Dazu müssen die Bürger die entsprechenden Instrumente bekommen, die entsprechenden Rechte bekommen. Sie müssen der Mittelpunkt unserer Debatte um die Zukunft der Europäischen Union werden. Sie müssen die Europäische Union mitgestalten, weil diese nicht einfach von oben verändert werden kann. Wir müssen radikal ran an die Wurzeln. Wir müssen auch über Vertragsänderungen nachdenken. Und da bitte ich Sie um die entsprechende Unterstützung.

 
  
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  Philippe Lamberts, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, it is a real pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister. Taoiseach, you have demonstrated again in your speech the depth of your country’s and your own commitment to the European project. We all got familiar with your name on the occasion of the Brexit debate, and Ireland is obviously the Member State that will be most affected by it – not just for economic reasons but because this is about peace on the island. Let me just say this: we are at your side on this. Letting violence erupt again in Ireland will not just spell disaster for the communities concerned, but it would it would be an arrow through Europe’s heart because the European Union is, and remains, a peace project.

Brexit is a challenge we could have avoided, but it should not detract us from those challenges that are existential to the future of Europe. Allow me, Taoiseach, to mention two of them that I find particularly relevant to Ireland. First, all societies need to find ways to live within the biophysical constraints that nature sets us. There is simply no way around it. Europe has a choice here – either to become leaders in the ecological transition of all societies, thereby becoming solution providers to the rest of the world – or to stick with the past, thereby becoming solution takers from the rest of the world. From a young, entrepreneurial Prime Minister such as you, I would expect the first option.

Yet, Taoiseach, your government has been sorely lacking ambition on tackling climate change. You said when you became Prime Minister that climate action would be your first priority. Yet it doesn’t really show. This year Ireland was ranked as Europe’s worst performer in tackling climate change. It is one of only two countries in the EU that will miss its 2020 emission reduction targets. And now your government seeks special deals and exemptions from the quite modest 2030 targets.

On a similar line, Prime Minister, your government opposes the waste reduction bill proposed by the Irish Greens, which only aims at bringing your country on a par with best practices across Europe on the way to a more circular economy. Come on, Taoiseach, with its abundant resources for renewable energy, Ireland has the potential to be a pioneer in green transformation. Your country and Europe’s prosperity depend on it.

You will hardly be surprised by the second topic that I want to raise which is, of course, taxation. If we want our single market and single currency to thrive and to deliver benefits to all and not just the richest, we need to stop this race to the bottom on taxation and on social protection. And you know that Ireland often comes to the fore as a tax haven for corporates. Of course, you would argue – and I would agree with you – that several Member States offer real taxation rates to multinationals that are way lower than the Irish nominal 12.5%. And you would say that Ireland should be allowed to find ways to make up for geographical disadvantage. I agree with all of this, but surely the alternative cannot be between a one—size—fits—all taxation system that would work for the central big and core European countries to the detriment of everyone else and the no—holds—barred tax competition that we have right now. Instead of playing hold—out, instead of fighting European Commission decisions in court, I would expect Ireland to be at the core of efforts to better cooperate on tax matters in order to give tax justice a chance in Europe. It is not just our excessive ecological footprint, but also ballooning inequalities that threaten the very existence of all civilised societies.

Taoiseach, the European Project is about establishing a lasting peace on our continent through shared prosperity on the one hand and, on the other, through anchoring our societies in the values of freedom, democracy and human rights. I am very glad that your government wants to ensure the right of women to control their own bodies. I hope that the upcoming referendum will allow your country to make progress in that direction at a time where we see progress in the other direction in too many parts of Europe.

Taoiseach, if you can deploy the same leadership on ecological transition and on tax justice as the one that you have deployed here, you will have done a lot for the European Union. I am sure you can do it.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Nigel Farage, on behalf of the EFDD Group. – Thank you, Mr President. Well, Mr  Varadkar, you are very popular here! A standing ovation from left and centre and right; Mr Juncker looking joyous! In fact this European project could have no greater, stronger devotee for a militarised, expansionist United States of Europe.

You, of course, worked here as a young man; you’re a devotee. In fact, we should call you, I think, a European Unionist – whatever the cost to Ireland may be. Normally, of course, small countries count for nothing here. It’s run by the big boys, but right at the minute you are important and you’re useful, because you have helped with the obstructionism and the delay of Brexit. Firstly, on the Good Friday Agreement, where, as you know, the European Union had little or nothing to do with it. They were written in at a later stage, but of course, as everyone knows, nothing binds either side to continued membership of the Union, and you know the UK Government intends to fully uphold it.

The border issue has been put up as a problem, but I think your predecessor Bertie Ahern has said, look, in practical terms we don’t face a problem. There has been a common travel area between us, of course, for decades, but it is on trade where that border could in some ways be challenged. And of course, when you think that nearly 50% of exports from Irish-owned companies go to the United Kingdom and in agriculture in some sectors it’s as high as 90%, you potentially have quite a lot to lose. And yet, despite the fact that no one should be fighting harder for a genuine rounded trade deal than you, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, I’d even go further and say that if there was no trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, an exception should be made for Ireland because of political sensitivity, and it’s something that the World Trade Organisation, I have no doubt, would back up.

And yet it seems to me that you are prepared to put your devotion to the European project above the interest of Irish farmers and other companies too, and I wonder why. Well, let’s cast our minds back a short distance: the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish. A second referendum forced on their people, conducted on the most unfair, undemocratic lines that I have ever seen. You are part, of course, of a big attempt here and elsewhere to frustrate and to attempt to overturn Brexit. You don’t want Britain to leave, because you know if they do, others will leave too. And I would just say this to you: I don’t want a second referendum on Brexit – absolutely not. But I fear that you are all working together with Tony Blair and Nick Clegg to make sure we get the worst possible deal. I say that because I’ve seen it all before. The difference is, if you force the Brits do it again, there will be a different outcome.

 
  
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  Marcel de Graaff, on behalf of the ENF Group. – Mr President, let me give you a scenario that’s not in the White Book of Mr Juncker. When the EU continues on its present course, the future of Europe will be Islamic. That is the objective of the Islamic world, and that is the objective of the EU elite. It is the aim of the open border policy and it is the aim of this criminal mass immigration. Of course there are casualties of abuse, murder and rape. That’s the price to pay for the extermination of national identities. That is deliberate EU policy.

There is only one obstacle on the road to the European caliphate, and that is the patriotic citizens who vote for patriotic parties. The EU has declared these parties their enemies, their biggest threat. In the EU, the rule of law do not apply to patriots. They are homo sacer. The future of Europe is the caliphate, unless the citizens rise and defend their culture and identity.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – Mr President, Taoiseach, thank you for your vision of the future of Europe. Obviously, it is a future with the United Kingdom outside of these institutions, but an important partner in trade, security, research and many other areas. As in the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that future should be characterised by close links, shared values and cooperation. The outcome of Brexit on the ties between our two countries will serve as a wider test of the credentials of any deal reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union. You have rightly stressed that there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We agree, but, Mr Varadkar, I hope you recognise that it is not in the Irish Republic’s interest to see Northern Ireland suffer. That would be the case if barriers were erected within the United Kingdom internal market, disrupting almost 60% of local sales that go to Great Britain. The union that matters most to Northern Ireland, both constitutionally and economically, is within the United Kingdom. In focusing on the border, Mr Varadkar, you must not forget the pre-existing relationships, east and west, that are of vital importance to both of our countries. 2018 will be a pivotal year for relationships between the European Union and the United Kingdom, and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I hope that we can continue to build that positive future which is vital for peace, security and economic prosperity.

 
  
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  Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach. – Mr President, thank you very much. I’ve written down a few notes. I mightn’t be able to answer everyone but I’ll do my best to touch on as many topics as I can.

First of all, I particularly want to thank almost all the speakers here today for their ongoing support and solidarity with Ireland. That’s very much recognised, and we are very grateful for that. I think Ms Zimmer spoke about the need to reduce inequality among Member States, and I think that’s something that I can very much sign up to as well.

It’s been a long time since enlargement and there is still a huge gap in prosperity between Western Europe, on the one hand, and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, on the other. That’s why it is so important that the next multiannual financial framework and the next European budget contain adequate funding to continue to improve the infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe, and also to support the common agricultural policy.

That’s why it is so important as well, as I mentioned in my speech earlier, that we put forward a realistic pathway to European membership for the Western Balkans. I think the best way we can stabilise that part of Europe, those countries that used to be part of Yugoslavia and Albania, is to give them a pathway towards joining the European Union.

On tax, which I know is an issue of contention between many people in this Chamber and in Ireland, the view that we take as a government – and I think it is shared by a lot of governments – is that national taxes should fund national budgets. That’s, therefore, a national competence and a matter of national sovereignty.

We do have European taxes at the moment that fund the European budget, or at least in. We have that with customs, we had that to a degree with VAT, and that’s something that I am not opposed to at all. If you look at the model that exists in the United States, which is a federation after all, there is a lot of tax competition between Member States.

There are federal income taxes and there are state income taxes. There are different sales taxes in different Member States. So if the United States, the most successful economy in the world, can have tax competition among Member States, why can’t we have the same? As I have said, we have a number of federal taxes, European taxes, already, that fund the EU budget, and that is something that I think works quite well.

In terms of the Apple case, it is important not to forget that it is a state-aid case. Technically it is not a tax case, but a state-aid case, and the contention is that Ireland had a special deal with one particular company. Quite frankly, we didn’t. That is why that case is being appealed both by Apple and by the Irish Government.

Ultimately, the European courts and the European Court of Justice will make a judgment on that and, whatever that judgment is, our government will accept it. We’re establishing an escrow account, we will collect the money, or at least start collecting it, in the second quarter of this year. And the money will be held in the escrow account until that decision is made by the European Court of Justice.

But it is our contention and it is our belief that we did not have a special arrangement with that company, and we can’t say that we did when we know that we didn’t. But, ultimately, that is going to be a matter for those courts to decide.

I want to say that Ireland is not a tax haven, we don’t want to be a tax haven, and we certainly don’t want to be seen or perceived as a tax haven. We have no interest, in fact, in a race to the bottom. Our low corporation tax rate, 12.5%, has been around for 20 or 30 years now. We haven’t increased it, we haven’t reduced it, but we’ve just kept it exactly as it is now.

Ireland won’t win a race to the bottom. It’s already the case that a number of countries have a lower tax rate for corporations than we do – Hungary and Bulgaria, just to give two examples. So if this is a race to the bottom, it is not one that Ireland is going to win. As was mentioned by other speakers, countries like France, just to use one example, have a high corporation profit tax on paper but have so many exemptions and so many different ways not to pay tax that, according to the OECD, their effective tax rate is actually lower than ours.

So if it is a race the bottom, it is not one that Ireland is going to win and, therefore, it is not one that we want to participate in. The future of our economy and the future of our prosperity is going to be much more about human capital and attracting talent and people than attracting companies based on corporate tax rate.

We have already made a number of big changes to our tax policy. We’ve abolished the ‘double Irish’, got rid of stateless corporations, and we’ve started taxing intellectual property again just this year. We’ll continue to make steps in those directions and close loopholes, but we want other countries to do that as well, quite frankly. There is a bit of hypocrisy about that when you look at the amount of money that we actually collect in terms of corporate taxes versus other countries who collect so much less but yet on paper have a higher tax rate. I think that needs to be challenged.

(Applause)

It’s also very much my strong contention that the progress that we make on this should be done at international level through the OECD process. I say that for a very obvious reason: Europeans should not do something unilaterally that only causes other countries that are not part of the European Union to gain an advantage over us, whether it is the United States, Japan, or whether it is the United Kingdom, which, of course, is going to leave. We need to bear that in mind in anything that we do.

On climate change, Ireland is somewhat unusual compared to other countries in that a huge amount of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. That’s because we have never really had heavy industry. We never had those big heavy industries that other countries have decommissioned and shut down, and achieved their targets in that way. That’s not something we can do. As far as I am concerned, we are a laggard.

I am not proud of Ireland’s performance on climate change. We need to do a lot more, and one of the things my government will do in the next few months is to publish our 10-year investment plan, our capital investment plan for Ireland over the next 10 years. Central to that will be the kind of things that we want to do around climate change to make sure we meet those targets in 2030.

That includes things such as, in transport, electrifying our railways. We only have one small part of our railway that is electrified. It’s about transitioning our public transport and our bus fleet to low emissions. It’s about electric cars, in particular, where we have put in some incentives, but have not got the results that we would like. There are lots of things that we intend to do so that we can meet those targets. It’s something that I am very committed to, and certainly my generation of politicians is committed to. It’s not just the right thing to do; it makes sense economically, I think, in the longer term as well.

In terms of the contribution of Ms Dodds, which I very much welcome, certainly I have no wish to see any borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I also have no wish to see any new borders or barriers between Britain and Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and Britain. That’s why I did not want Brexit, because I do not want any borders.

(Applause)

Certainly, we will do everything we can to avoid any of that taking place. I know what you said and I understand what you said, that the union that is most important for you is the United Kingdom, and the single market that is most important to you is the single market of the United Kingdom, and 70% of Northern Ireland’s trade is with the rest of the United Kingdom. I acknowledge that, but it should not be a choice between the 70% and the 30%.

Why not take the hundred per cent? It’s possible to have special arrangements for Northern Ireland, if needs be, that allow Northern Ireland to have that because of its unique situation. That is something that I work for and something that I hope that politicians from all sides in Northern Ireland will be open to. If 100% is possible, take that, not 70% instead of 30%. I hope it is possible for us to have that discussion. It’ll be more in the future.

In relation to Mr Farage’s contribution, as a matter of information I have never worked here, by the way. I have worked in Ireland and the United States. I have never worked in Europe or for a European institution.

(Applause)

But in relation to small countries, I really have to disagree because I experienced that in a very personal way, not just in relation to the support that we have received on Brexit from the European institutions but also when, for the first time, I attended a European Council meeting of the prime ministers and presidents of Europe. It’s a really interesting and humbling experience to get to do that.

I know some of you who have been prime ministers will have had that experience, but for Council ministers it is very different. You go into this massive room, you sit there, the ambassador sits beside you, you have six officials behind you and it is a very different experience when you go into the Council of Ministers. I went into the Council of Ministers for the first time last year. I sat around the table. There were no officials there. The only people there were the President of the Council, the President of the Commission and the heads of government of 26, 27 or 28 Member States.

I come from a country that has only 4.5 million people. We’re a small country. There are many provinces, even cities, in other European countries that have more people than mine, have a bigger economy than mine, and I was sitting around the table as an equal with the President of France, the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of Spain, the Prime Minister of Italy, these really big countries, and that isn’t the way Europe used to work. Before the European Union, the big countries would get together, decide what was right for Europe, and would tell the rest of us. That doesn’t happen any more because of the European Council and because of these European institutions.

I am not so naive as to think that a country like Ireland, with 4.5 million people, can ever have the power or importance of a country like Germany, with 80 million people and its massive economy. But the European Union allows small countries to have a seat at the table when decisions are made, as opposed to having no say at all. That’s why I believe small countries are so much better off in this Union.

(Applause)

Finally, in relation to Britain, I want to say that Britain is a country that I care a lot about. Irish people are very close to British people in so many ways, even though sometimes we don’t like to admit that. In so many ways we have a shared culture and a shared history, and that’s very much the experience of my family as well.

My parents met, fell in love and got married in England. She’s an Irish nurse and he’s a doctor from India. They both went to Britain to build a new life and that’s where they met, that’s where they married, and that’s where they fell in love. That’s where my sister was born. She still lives there, in London, with my niece and nephew, who are English kids.

They point at the Union Jack, and they say, ‘Leo, that’s our flag’. That’s how close Irish people in many ways are to British people. We are connected by blood in so many different ways and that’s why I really regret the decision that has been made on Brexit, because so much will be lost. Young people will lose the right to live, work and study anywhere in the European Union, losing those rights as European citizens. My niece and nephew won’t, because they are entitled to Irish passports, but the other kids in their class will, and I think that’s a real shame.

British businesses could lose their access to the biggest market in the world. Farmers, food producers, even the beer makers that you and I are so fond of, could lose the subsidies that they currently benefit from, which are not guaranteed beyond this Parliament. I am also conscious of British veterans, very brave people who fought on the beaches of France not just for Britain but also for European democracy and for European values, and people like that are always in my mind.

So, notwithstanding the decision to leave, and I respect that decision, I will absolutely fight hard to ensure that we can have a partnership and relationship between the UK and the EU that are as close as possible. It’s in Ireland’s interests and I think it is in the interests of British people and in the interests of the European Union as well.

We should conclude a new partnership and a new agreement with the UK. But fundamentally what we have to move away from is any idea that any country can have a relationship that involves taking all the benefits and none of the responsibilities and obligations. That’s the fundamental thing that we need to insist on.

(Applause)

 
  
 

Procedura catch-the-eye

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – A Uachtaráin, mar cheannaire Fhine Gael sa Pharlaimint ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh ár dTaoiseach, Leo Varadkar, anseo inniu agus comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis as ucht an aithisc iontaigh a thug sé dúinn. Agus buíochas duitse, a Uasail Tajani, agus Manfred Weber agus na ceannairí eile a thug an deis dó a bheith linn anseo inniu chun caint agus díospóireacht a dhéanamh ar thodhchaí na hEorpa.

I was going to ask a question about climate change but that has been dealt with, so there is no need to repeat it, even though we will have a vote shortly on the renewable energy file, for which I am honoured to be a rapporteur. My question to him is very simple. He spoke about Ireland being one the most prosperous countries in Europe right now, but unfortunately we have a history of going from boom to bust, and bust to boom. What can he do, as a result of the prosperity we now enjoy, due to good leadership by him and his predecessor, and the cooperation of the European Union, to ensure we do not go into a bust situation again and particularly avoid auction politics at general elections, which has often been the root cause of this?

Go raibh maith agat, a Uachtaráin, agus fáilte romhat arís, Leo. Táimid bródúil asat!

 
  
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  Nessa Childers (S&D). – Mr President, I must start by thanking the Taoiseach for his continued efforts and commitment to preserve the peace process and to prevent the formation of barriers within the island of Ireland on foot of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the Union. However, Taoiseach, I do not share your ideology in other ways, so I must also follow that with a plea to you, as Taoiseach of Ireland and as a member of the European political force whose world view and power has most considerably shaped both the emergence of the financial and economic crisis a decade ago and the measures taken in response to it since. That plea is that you work to mend the frayed social contract that combined together our communities at national and European level.

Just as the conflict in the north of Ireland hid inequality and deprivation of basic rights under a cloak of ethno-religious hatred, so today the march of disillusioned citizens draws much energy from the losers of globalisation and the losers of our response to a crisis of globalisation.

We saved finance and strived for a return to the status quo ante in a transfer of wealth without precedent, and I agree with Mr Kofod’s view of our corporate taxation regime. Fair taxation – even a modicum of taxation in some cases – might just help us to do what I have already suggested and, who knows, make the case for the retrospective bank recapitalisation that we never saw.

 
  
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  Νότης Μαριάς (ECR). – Το μέλλον της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης είναι άμεσα συνυφασμένο με την αναγκαιότητα βαθιών αλλαγών στη δομή της ευρωζώνης. Στο πλαίσιο αυτό, πρέπει να καταργηθεί το δρακόντειο σύμφωνο σταθερότητας. Επιπλέον, η Ευρωπαϊκή Κεντρική Τράπεζα πρέπει να μετατραπεί σε ύστατο δανειστή και το Ευρωπαϊκό Σύστημα Κεντρικών Τραπεζών να αποκεντρωθεί περαιτέρω. Στις αλλαγές της ευρωζώνης πρέπει να περιλαμβάνεται πρόβλεψη για την ανάκτηση εθνικής νομισματικής κυριαρχίας ούτως ώστε κάθε εθνική κεντρική τράπεζα να μπορεί να ασκεί τη νομισματική της πολιτική βάσει των αναγκών του κράτους της και μέχρι του ποσοστού συμμετοχής της εθνικής κεντρικής τράπεζας στο κεφάλαιο της ΕΚΤ. Οι δομικές αλλαγές στην ΟΝΕ πρέπει να συμπληρωθούν με αύξηση της διαφάνειας και της λογοδοσίας της Ευρωπαϊκής Κεντρικής Τράπεζας με ενίσχυση των εξουσιών του Ευρωπαϊκού Κοινοβουλίου και των εθνικών κοινοβουλίων. Απαιτείται επίσης γενναία αύξηση του προϋπολογισμού της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin (ALDE). – Mr President, good morning Taoiseach, and welcome – and I see you’ve brought the snow with you! Three things: this morning you spoke of direct democracy. You said it was one of our four challenges. You supported an EU-wide list and the spitzenkandidat. But Taoiseach, that is representative democracy, not direct democracy. Direct democracy is something like the citizens’ initiative, where one million citizens from seven Member States call on the EU to act. So will you support real direct democracy?

Secondly, you spoke of Ireland’s commitment to Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). You said that we won’t be part of a single European defence budget. But do you envisage that the commitment we have made will mean increased defence and security spending in Ireland?

Finally, tax justice. You said twice this morning the EU cannot act unilaterally. But the EU often acts unilaterally in trying to shape global policy. Do you see Ireland as having any role in shaping this policy, where all – citizens and multinationals – pay their fair share of tax?

 
  
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  Martina Anderson (GUE/NGL). – Mr President, fáilte Taoiseach. Today’s uncertain present will shape the future of the EU. Brexit threatens to rip our island apart, dilute rights and freedoms we all enjoy, and stunt the economic and social development of our island. It threatens to harden the border, reinforce partition and undermine the Good Friday Agreement. So therefore I welcome your comments today about a special arrangement for the North being possible.

Sinn Féin MEPs Liadh Ní Riada, Lynn Boylan, Matt Carthy and I also welcome your comments that the people of the North will never again be left behind by the Irish government. You must hold firm to this, Taoiseach. You must also commit to a Europe that serves people, not multinationals. The civil, workers’, European, environmental, linguistic and human rights of all citizens needs to be protected and indeed enhanced. They won’t be achieved by a non-compassionate, faceless Europe. It won’t be achieved in a Europe where the gap between the rich and the poor grows, or in a Europe of homelessness and housing waiting lists. And it certainly won’t be achieved in Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and in any manifestation of an aggressive, militaristic Europe.

 
  
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  Jordi Solé (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, Taoiseach, as we discuss with you the future of Europe – a future which I firmly believe must be based on more and stronger and political integration in a number of areas – the Catalan Parliament is meeting for the first time, again with a majority of members in favour of a Catalan Republic. But eight members of this newly elected parliament cannot be there right now, sitting in the Catalan Chamber, because they are either in jail or in exile. So the question is: do you envisage a European Union where honest politicians can be sent into exile or must be forced into jail because they fulfil a democratic mandate? Do you envisage a European Union where, again, peaceful people are beaten by police forces just because they want to vote – to exercise a basic right? Do you envisage a European Union that looks the other way when it comes to democracy and basic rights within its borders?

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE). – Mr President, I would like to thank the Taoiseach very much for such an inspiring and positive contribution. As far as I have understood, Mr Varadkar, you would consider – and even appreciate – the creation of a transnational list and a single European constituency. Speaking as a true federalist and European, that is apparently a romantic and generous idea but it threatens a very delicate compromise among EU Member States.

Let me put to you a couple of short questions to stimulate your reflection on this issue. Are you aware that the United States, Switzerland and Germany, which are true and historic federations, do not have a single national constituency? Are we more Catholic than the Pope? These countries have true, successful histories of integration. Are you aware that this will reinforce the weight of the big states because it is natural that in the first place on each list there will be nationals from the bigger states? This will jeopardise the position of Ireland and Portugal. You should reflect on these things.

 
  
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  Mercedes Bresso (S&D). – Signor Presidente, onorevoli colleghi, mi permetta, Primo ministro, di ringraziarLa per il Suo intervento e anche di contestare quello che dice il collega Rengel: non sarà affatto così, le liste transnazionali, come sempre in Europa, se ci saranno, rispetteranno l'equilibrio fra paesi grandi, piccoli e medi.

Io La ringrazio per il Suo discorso. Ne parliamo, siamo qui per parlarne, avremo un dibattito fra di noi su questo. La ringrazio per il Suo discorso e volevo porLe il problema, che alcuni altri hanno già posto, di una più grande evoluzione democratica del sistema europeo. Io credo che un'equivalenza fra un Parlamento e un Consiglio che diventi un vero Senato europeo, con eguali poteri, con voto a maggioranza, permetterebbe di avere una vera, chiara e trasparente democrazia europea.

E naturalmente l'evoluzione del futuro dell'Europa deve anche garantire questo ai cittadini europei: una comprensibilità, una democraticità, una trasparenza del sistema. Credo che gli aspetti istituzionali siano altrettanto importanti di quelli economici di cui altri hanno parlato.

 
  
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  James Nicholson (ECR). – Mr President, I would like to say to the Taoiseach that he is very welcome here in the European Parliament today.

Taoiseach, your visit is rather timely, given that we have just reached agreement on phase one of the Brexit negotiations, and I welcome the fact that you were able to reach an agreement on that phase one and can proceed to talking about the future relationship within the European Union. I do not want to return to the borders of the past or the divisions of the past. Mr Lamberts, please do not speak about Northern Ireland ever returning to violence in my presence again, because we are not.

I listened to your comments, Ms Dodds. I was very concerned about Brexit for those very reasons, and I certainly hope that we can move forward, east-west, north-south and equally. If we can achieve that one hundred percent you speak about, Taoiseach, then I will welcome that.

Can I say, on a final point – and I hope you will agree with me – that the key to this agreement is to move things forward in Northern Ireland and get the Northern Ireland Executive back up and running again at Stormont. That, Sir, is the key to the future of Northern Ireland and the future of our relationships within the context of Brexit.

 
  
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  Luke Ming Flanagan (GUE/NGL). – Mr President, I would like to say the following to the Taoiseach. In 2013, you said there would not be another cent for the banks. Last year, on your watch, our Central Bank destroyed EUR 4 billion, and in the last years EUR 9.5 billion at a time when Ireland is suffering unprecedented crisis in housing and in health. This ongoing destruction of billions is the promissory note legacy, a direct result of the full bail-out of an insolvent Anglo Irish Bank, that bail-out at a time of crisis in the EU, a time when Ireland was left isolated on the front line by its so-called friends.

So tell me, what do you think happens if there is another crisis in the EU? A crisis, let’s say, on the eastern borders. In the banking crisis the EU institutions thought nothing about bending and breaking the rules. Today you say that PESCO doesn’t impact on our neutrality.

In the past you said what you said on the banks but you betrayed us. You will attempt to betray us on a neutrality but you will not succeed. You will not get away it. Taoiseach, the future of Europe, as currently envisioned, is a full federal united states. That is not what we envisioned or looked at when we joined what was a community. You do not have a mandate for what you ask for. Listen to the people.

 
  
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  Florian Philippot (EFDD). – Monsieur le Président, Monsieur le Premier ministre, mes chers collègues, l’avenir de l’Europe est un sujet essentiel et l’on voit bien que les peuples ne l’envisagent pas de la même manière que les élites autoproclamées et les institutions européennes, «le machin», comme aurait pu dire le général de Gaulle.

Ici, beaucoup répètent chaque jour, presque religieusement, qu’il faut plus d’Europe, avec son credo, ses blasphèmes, son bas et son haut clergés. En réalité, les citoyens des différents pays n’en peuvent plus de cette Europe. Ce qu’ils veulent, c’est d’abord la démocratie. Or, la démocratie repose par définition sur la souveraineté des peuples et on ne crée pas de peuple en regroupant artificiellement, sous la férule d’une bureaucratie tatillonne, des gens qui n’ont pour seule visée, seule espérance, qu’un marché unique organisé autour d’une concurrence sauvage déloyale, d’une immigration incontrôlée, au profit de quelques grands groupes et de lobbies hostiles à la démocratie.

Vous les Irlandais, vous le savez bien, Monsieur le Premier ministre, vivre dans un pays libre, cela n’a pas de prix, c’est un trésor. Vous avez parfois des différends avec les Britanniques – nous en avons eu nous aussi par le passé – mais nous savons que le Brexit est aujourd’hui la voie de l’avenir; nous devons la suivre pour une paix durable, pour la prospérité et surtout pour la liberté et la souveraineté de nos peuples.

 
  
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  Gilles Lebreton (ENF). – Monsieur le Président, en mars 2017, la Commission européenne a publié un livre blanc sur l’avenir de l’Europe. Cinq scénarios y sont envisagés, qui vont d’une Union européenne réduite à son marché unique à un État fédéral omnipotent. Cette ouverture d’esprit paraît louable, mais elle est en réalité trompeuse.

L’Union veut continuer à procéder à une intégration européenne à marche forcée. C’est le seul scénario qui vaille à ses yeux. La création d’un groupe de travail sur la subsidiarité, dont vient de parler M. Juncker, n’est qu’un grossier subterfuge.

Le Brexit aurait pourtant dû amener l’Union à se remettre en cause. Comme le peuple britannique, d’autres peuples européens ne veulent plus de cette Union européenne autoritaire, arrogante et immigrationniste. Si l’on veut préserver une forme loyale et intelligente de coopération européenne, il faut repenser l’Union et rendre aux États leur souveraineté. Il faut remplacer l’Union européenne par une union des nations européennes.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Mr President, welcome, Taoiseach, to the Parliament. There are many voices and views, as you have already heard. I am responsible for dialogue with national parliaments, and this is something that we need to do better. What are your thoughts about how the European Parliament and national parliaments operate, and would you have any guidance or advice for us?

I have to say you have set a high standard for those who come after you, and that is excellent, not just because you are Irish but because it is an important debate. You were disarmingly honest in relation to climate and the actions in Ireland, and we hope and want to make progress. You were equally frank about where taxation needs to be dealt with, and that is at the OECD level. Mr President, you are also to be congratulated for this initiative.

It is a good start to our work here in January that we have the opportunity to have an open and frank debate with the leader of my country, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and that that process will continue. So let’s make it beneficial.

 
  
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  Seb Dance (S&D). – Mr President, Taoiseach, thank you for your speech. I too, like your nephew and niece, was born European, and you very kindly mention the one world city that will be leaving the European Union. Of course, there are people up and down the United Kingdom who are fighting Brexit, who are campaigning in towns and cities across the country, so don’t count us out yet. As Mr Farage has said, this issue is not settled, and how dare Mr Farage say that the European Union had nothing to do with the peace process. I worked in the Northern Ireland Office under the last government. I sat in the meetings with the victims and the families of the victims of the Omagh bombing, and what I witnessed was their incredible dignity. They did not have anger; they did not have hatred, just a sense that no one should ever go through this again.

It was not the common travel area that got rid of the checks on the border: it was the creation of the single market; it was the creation of free movement; it was the values espoused in this place and put into action that removed those barriers. We should never forget that. And a warning: there are people who just want Brexit at any cost. They will try to undo what was agreed in phase one. Let’s not let them do it.

 
  
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  Alojz Peterle (PPE). – Mr President, I would like to say the following to the Taoiseach. More than a thousand years ago, Irish monks reached Slovenians and other peoples in central Europe. Today you are the first prime minister to speak about the future of Europe in the European Parliament. My congratulations on your – and Ireland’s – strong European spirit. You used three key words: heart, soul and citizens. We can make progress only if the European project is supported by European citizens in all Member States.

Prime Minister, we can agree on many concrete projects, but first of all we need a strong and uniting European narrative. What could, in your opinion, inspire and motivate European citizens for more Europe?

On Brexit, I don’t believe in this expensive and hazardous exercise. British citizens decided in the first referendum without knowing the consequences. They have a right to know the consequences and to have the chance to decide in a second referendum when they are acquainted with the consequences.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D). – Mr President, I say to Mr Varadkar: thank you for your enlightened words for Europe. As the child of a migrant, what would you tell citizens and European leaders about the rejuvenation, regeneration that migrants actually bring to Europe? How would you impress on the EU Council the importance of full social integration for migrants and for refugees and their children?

On taxation, you said that you want a single market that serves citizens and not just corporations and you said that corporation should pay their fair share of taxes and that countries should not be played off against each other. So, are you in favour of a common cooperate consolidated tax base in the EU so that the race to the bottom does not continue?

Will you also push in the Council for a financial transaction tax so that capital is not escaping taxes while citizens and SMEs are overburdened, and so that we will have a level playing field in the single market, and ensure that our own resources for the EU and for our Member States will increase?

 
  
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  Esther de Lange (PPE). – Mr President, I apologise to the House for the state of my voice. Maybe a good Irish whiskey would help.

At the end of this debate, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for honouring the past but looking towards the future. This is exactly what Europe needs right now. Sometimes the current situation in Europe reminds me of that famous poem ‘The Second Coming’ by the great Irish poet Yeats, in which he describes a falcon moving further and further away from the falconer until it can no longer hear him, and then comes the famous line ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’. These centrifugal forces are, of course, also at play in the EU, culminating in Brexit which will impact your country, Mr Varadkar. I’m aware of that. And it will impact my country, the Netherlands, and we should limit that impact as far as we can.

But this – I am glad to say – was not a debate about Brexit: it was a debate about the future. It was a debate about making the centre hold on those issues where we stand no chance of defending our values and interests alone. By only acting alone and by only flying a national flag, as you said, we will in the end all be small Member States.

Thank you for your outstretched hand. We in the European Parliament will gladly take it.

(Applause)

 
  
 

(Fine della procedura catch-the-eye)

 
  
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  Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach. – Mr President, I would like to thank the honourable Members again for their interesting questions and contributions.

I was asked how we can avoid boom and bust again, and I think there are two things here. First of all, it is ensuring that we do not have credit bubbles again in Europe, and the European Central Bank is best placed to do that. And it is also around fiscal policy: balancing the books for the first year in 10 years, Ireland will not have a budget deficit this year.

It is about reducing our debt so that we can ensure we have the capacity to borrow again in future if we need to, and it is also about setting up a rainy-day fund – which we have set up – to put some of our budget surplus into, to prepare for a future downturn, which inevitably happens at some point.

Ms Childers asked about the social contract and social Europe. I think the best thing we can do to put fire back into the engine of social Europe is to build on what was agreed in Gothenburg. We actually agreed a really good political statement in Gothenburg and I would like to see us turn that into reality by using the proclamation made there to guide European legislation in those areas in the years to come. I am delighted to see we are joined by Commissioner Thyssen for this particular part of the discussion.

To Ms Harkin, I have to say that I like the idea of a citizens’ initiative. I think it is a good idea. It would be a good example of direct democracy though we would also have to have safeguards because, while one million people is a lot, in the European Union of 500 million it is also a small minority. So we would have to make sure that any citizens’ initiative was not a loud minority, but was actually reflective of a majority view, and that is what representatives do best.

To be frank, it is our intention to increase defence spending. We are not going to increase defence spending to anything like the level that you see in other European countries, but we intend to do it for two reasons: first of all, because a lot of the members of our defence forces – our air corps, our soldiers, people in our navy – are quite poorly paid. We are now restoring and increasing their pay and, of course, that involves an increase in defence spending. We also need to replace a lot of out-of-date equipment – our fishery protection vessels, some of our helicopters – so, yes, there will be an increase in defence spending, but it something that we would have been doing anyway even if we were not involved in Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

On Catalonia – one of my favourite parts of the world, and Barcelona is one of my favourite cities – I think the only solution is dialogue, and I hope that the central Government in Madrid will engage in dialogue with the new Government in Catalonia.

Mr Rangel asked me to reflect on a few things in relation to a single European constituency. He makes some good points, notably that the United States, which is a federation, does not have a single constituency for anything. They elect their president, for example, through an electoral college. But perhaps they should have a single constituency because, on two occasions out of four now, the candidate who got the second highest amount of votes won the presidency. That, of course, is a matter for them.

I am not entirely sure that transnational lists would necessarily benefit big countries because I see what is here in front of me – the heads of groups – and I see that a number of the people who are heads of their groups are actually from small and medium—sized countries. So why might that not also happen on a list? But I think we have an opportunity now. The UK is leaving, there are seats that are free, so it is possible to have a transnational constituency without any individual Member State losing any positions, and it gives people two votes: one vote for their MEP, who represents them in their region, and a second vote for a European party, challenging people to think about those ideas. It is a big challenge and I imagine a lot of people would cast a blank vote the first time round. In time, however, people would get used to the idea.

To Mr Nicholson, I just want to thank you very much for your constructive comments. I concur totally with what you said about the new relationship and also the need to get the executive and assembly up and running. The Tánaiste and the Secretary of State have already met on this, and I will be in touch with the Prime Minister on it as well. We really want to drive that forward.

Finally, Mr Peterle asked about how we can inspire Europeans. Perhaps one of the ways we can do that is something I touched on in my speech, which is really to take action in relation to Africa, to make a part of Europe’s mission to improve Africa, to stabilise it, and to make it prosperous in the way that much of Asia has become prosperous. That is a way in which I think we can turn a thought into a feeling and really give people in Europe a positive feeling about what Europe can do.

Thank you very much again for your contributions. It has been a real pleasure and a real honour to have the opportunity here to speak to the Parliament and to answer some of your questions. Thank you again.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. – Taoiseach, thank you very much for your participation, thank you for your cooperation with the European Parliament. We will work together for a better Europe.

The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 162)

 
  
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  Francisco Assis (S&D), por escrito. – A UE é um dos projetos mais bem-sucedidos da história da Humanidade: proporcionou o mais longo período de paz na Europa, aproximou os povos, promoveu os direitos humanos e a abertura ao mundo, a prosperidade e a convergência, a partilha de conhecimento e a circulação de ideias, aboliu fronteiras e divisões. As complexidades desta extraordinária construção supranacional tornam, porém, qualquer mudança substancial num processo moroso e por vezes tortuoso, povoado de impasses. Essa morosidade contrasta com a aceleração do tempo que caracteriza o mundo de hoje, confrontado com profundas mutações de ordem tecnológica, energética, económica e laboral, entre outras, as quais geram angústia e insegurança entre os europeus. Em simultâneo, persistem fraturas internas surgidas ou descobertas nos últimos anos, ainda que mitigadas, e a retórica soberanista regressou em força ao espaço mediático. Apesar de todas estas dificuldades, o balanço do percurso histórico deste projeto político não pode deixar de ser francamente positivo. O grande desafio da UE passa por se manter firme na afirmação da superioridade dos valores da liberdade, da abertura, da solidariedade e da moderação, recusando soçobrar ao fechamento, ao egoísmo e ao extremismo.

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE), por escrito. – O Parlamento Europeu organiza um conjunto de debates sobre o futuro da Europa com personalidades destacadas. Esta iniciativa é bem-vinda, mas as instituições precisam concentrar esforços na tomada célere de decisões estruturantes para os próximos anos. Acompanho, genericamente, a visão de Leo Varadkar sobre os principais desafios para o futuro.

No que respeita ao Brexit, subscrevo na íntegra a necessidade de salvaguardar os Acordos de Sexta-feira Santa, integrando este compromisso em qualquer acordo de saída ou de futuras relações UE-Reino Unido. Concordo com a proposta de partir da Cooperação Estruturada Permanente, agora lançada, para uma integração mais profunda na defesa, para combater desafios comuns como a cibersegurança ou o tráfico de droga e armas. Partilho o entendimento da necessidade de aprofundar o mercado interno, construindo um Mercado Único Digital que compreenda a dimensão dos serviços financeiros. Neste aspeto, saúdo o compromisso do Taoiseach no sentido da defesa de uma maior integração no plano fiscal, para combate à fraude e evasão. Embora não perspective um alargamento para breve, acompanho o entendimento da necessidade de aprofundar as relações com a vizinhança, designadamente com países dos Balcãs. Subscrevo o alerta para a necessidade de rapidez na construção do novo Sistema Comum de Asilo.

 
  
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  Ангел Джамбазки (ECR), в писмена форма. – Подкрепям позицията, изразена от г-н Вардакар, за нуждата за по-демократична Европа, но за да постигнем това, трябва да бъдем по-близо да гражданите си. Смятам, че предприетият път за по-централизирана Европа или, иначе казано, федеративната идея за Европейски съюз, е грешен. Множеството варианти за реформа ни дават поле за размисъл.

Моята позиция е, че в рамките на ЕС, трябва да бъде премахнат двойният стандарт и най-вече да бъдат върнати компетенции на държавите членки. Виждаме, че в цяла Европа нарастват настроенията на хората, които искат институциите да са по-близо до тях. Виждаме какво се случва в Каталуня, но в крайна сметка това е нормално. Хората искат силни национални държави. Затова пътят за реформа на ЕС е не повече, а по-малко ЕС, по-силни национални държави. По-малко бюрокрация, повече работа в името на хората.

 
  
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  Eva Maydell (PPE), in writing. – As an MEP and President of the European Movement International, my take on the ‘future of Europe’ debate is that we don’t need to rebuild the whole house anew. The EU has a great body of achievements and we need to defend those that are valuable to EU citizens – such as freedom of movement, solidarity of cohesion policy or the EMU. But we also need a Europe that is able to change and adapt.

We have a historic chance to establish a new relationship with citizens, and the wind is indeed in our sails. The levels of support for the EU have returned to those of before the crisis: 57% of Europeans today support their country’s membership in the EU, and 64% believe EU membership has benefited their country. In fact, many Europeans today are asking for a more engaged EU in spheres like migration management, security and defence and even social policy.

The agenda that we set today is an indication of what kind of Europe we aspire to – a Europe that protects, a Europe that offers solutions to its citizens in disadvantaged regions, a Europe that has clear and uniform rules for citizens of third countries, an EU that creates stability for its immediate neighbours.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: PAVEL TELIČKA
Vice-President

 
Última actualização: 15 de Maio de 2019Dados pessoais - Política de privacidade