Buzek's full speech to Seanad Éireann
A Chathaoirligh agus a Sheanadóirí, is mór an onóir dom bheith anseo inniu romhaibh.
Dear friends, I am delighted to be in your country. This is a great visit for me. I know that I represent 735 of my colleagues in the European Parliament. We may differ from time to time on the very important issues for the European Union. However, from the point of view of representation and visiting all member states, from the point of view of presentation of the idea of unity of the European continent, and from the point of view of common values, tradition, heritage, we may differ from country to country, but all of my colleagues in the European Parliament are of the same mind that we need co-operation and openness if we want to be a continent which will be different from the Europe of the first half of the 20th century. We all worked very hard in the second part of the 20th century to change our attitude to the most important issues for our continent and we must continue to do so. In this point of view the Members of the European Parliament are united. I can, therefore, represent all of its members. This is the direction we should follow. The most important issue is the detail of how to agree the most important political guidelines and how we should organise ourselves.
EU member states are different countries and situated in different parts of the Continent, but we share a similar history of occupation, immigration, poverty and striving for freedom. We also have a history of transformation, economic success and shared European aspirations. For the countries which joined the European Union in 2004 during the Irish Presidency, Ireland’s success has been an inspiration for achieving deep reforms, broad modernisation and internal solidarity, as in the solidarity pact. Ireland has used the benefits of the European Union wisely and maximised the impact of Structural Funds to accelerate development and modernisation.
My first visit outside Brussels two years ago as President of the European Parliament was to Ireland. This was just before the referendum. I propose to make a few remarks on the changes I have noted in the past two years, not necessarily in Ireland but generally in the European Union and our institutions.
My first comment is that we are discovering in practice how the new treaty is a treaty of parliaments, both national Parliaments and the European Parliament. The checks introduced with the yellow and orange card procedures are working, with a total of 337 contributions from national Parliaments to the 113 legislative Acts tabled thus far. It is a large number. Each such contribution and remark is carefully examined by the European Parliament and the European Commission. This means that our exchange of information is working rather well, but there can always be improvements in many aspects. I assure the House that the European Parliament is open to more systematic engagement with both ante and post-legislative dialogue. This is very important if European law is to be implemented. We are of the strong view that a network of corresponding committees needs to be created across the European Union. EU affairs are not restricted to foreign affairs. They are very much domestic issues because they deal with jobs, the economy, farming, fisheries, the environment and so on.
I have another comment related to our relations with citizens. I have great expectations for the citizens’ initiative which will come into force in 2013, the year of the Irish Presidency. I wish to comment on how Council Presidencies in general have changed since the Lisbon treaty. From the point of view of the European Parliament, the Presidency is a strong legislative partner because of the new powers given to us by the treaty. There are two equal Chambers for legislation, the Council and the European Parliament. There are now fixed meetings with the Presidency and the European Parliament at all levels. I have meetings with the Prime Minister and there are meetings between Ministers and our committees. This is a positive initiative, as it helps towards better co-ordination of legislation and to sell our common initiatives to citizens, which is very important.
That leads me to my fourth point. One of these common initiatives is the next multi-annual financial framework. The European Union needs a strong, stable and realistic European budget in the next seven year period after 2013. The European Parliament broadly supports the current proposals of the European Commission, as we believe they go in the right direction. It is important to keep traditional policies such as the CAP original policy or the Structural Funds, but we also need to invest much more than before in new policies such as innovation, research and new technologies. I strongly believe these new policies are the key to our future success. The proposal for a 70% increase for education in the multi-annual financial framework is the right kind of investment, in particular when one sees how much could be changed in Ireland. More money could be invested in our research and development clusters. The fragmentation and duplication of efforts in the field of research and development and the substantial costs that need to be reduced are important. We will all gain from a common approach in this field.
I may not be touching on the hottest questions all over Europe which are important for all of us. There is a problem with migration today and neighbourhood policy. We should tackle these problems in the future. The current economic crisis is the most important question for our citizens. My first points mainly concerned co-operation and how we can co-operate as a Parliament to be more efficient for citizens.
To get out of the current economic crisis we need to stimulate growth and investment. It is a simple statement but sometimes it is necessary to repeat it. To do this we will need to close the gaps in the Internal Market, which is not so simple. There are about 150 bottlenecks in our Internal Market and 12 pieces of legislation proposed by the Commission and the European Parliament. We should implement all of the legislation. The most important pieces of legislation will be lying on the table during the Irish Presidency 18 months from now at the beginning of 2013. We should also implement all of it.
We should also think about the 2020 strategy and how to fulfil all the policies to be more competitive. It is connected with my general financial framework. Ireland is well placed to recover, with a business friendly environment and young skilled workforce. I know from my personal experience of being responsible for the Government in my country how hard economic reforms can be, but for reform to be successful there has to be help from Ireland’s closest neighbours.
I would like to express the main message which is connected with my visit. It is a message of solidarity and also support from the European Union. Let me ask a very delicate question. I am sure it is possible to put such question between friends. Did the previous Irish Government negotiate a deal with the EU and IMF with Ireland’s best interests at heart? I am quite sure it did.
I have a second question. Is the current Government right in seeking to try to improve the terms and conditions of that deal? Of course it is. To answer yes to the first question does not mean it is impossible to answer the second question with a yes. Both questions are valid. I can see it and I can feel it, having been in the European Parliament in the negotiations. If Ireland is to make a full recovery it needs all the help it can get and all instruments at its disposal.
Let me make one thing clear. The EU or its institutions should not put pressure on Ireland to change its corporation tax rate.
It has achieved the guarantee according to the additional protocol in the Lisbon treaty that it is a matter of national competency. We should all remember such a solution. There is tremendous good will towards Ireland in the EU institutions and appreciation for the responsible steps it is taking to address its situation. I understand the situation from both sides.
There is big tension in Irish society. I represented trade unions in my country for more than ten years and was involved in national authorities of the trade unions. Later on I also represented the Government and I know very well what it means to be on both sides. I understand both sides. We had to go through very difficult reforms in my time in government. We had to close 22 coal mining in my constituency, making 100,000 people unemployed in one year. Thanks to that we survived with the rest of the coal mines, more than 30 of them, which are still working very efficiently. It is quite clear that without all those reforms, the coal mining industry in my country would have disappeared.
It is a very risky profession being a politician, as Senators know very well. Without risk, however, we cannot achieve anything more than going from one election to another and trying to survive. That is not the main goal for politicians. I can understand and feel what Irish politicians are doing with their reforms and how important they are for its citizens. They sometimes feel differently but the responsibility politicians have is great. I congratulate them.
The position of the Opposition is very helpful for the Government, as far as I know. Of course, there is never full support from the Opposition for the coalition; it is quite obvious. Otherwise, it would not be a democracy. We know very well that in the most important issues for our future there could be from time to time a very broad and wide coalition. Such coalitions are sometimes necessary, maybe once for ten years or two decades.
The last time there was such a coalition in Ireland there was an excellent pact of solidarity. I visited Ireland just after the Good Friday Agreement on the invitation of the Taoiseach. I visited the country because I wanted to know something about its solidarity pact. Trade unions engaged in freezing salaries for some time. It is fantastic because thanks to that, Ireland had at least one decade of prosperity.
Ireland is a very important country for the European Union. The last two Secretaries General of the European Commission, Mr. David O’Sullivan and Ms Catherine Day, were from Ireland. One of my predecessors is sitting here, Mr. Pat Cox, whom I thank for coming here. I am very glad. I am always proud to see him because he was an excellent President of the European Parliament.
We also know about the important portfolio of Ireland’s Commissioner, Mrs. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. We need to look ahead to create better high technology jobs so that the EU can play a leading role in the competitive global economy. Ireland is well placed to benefit from this new wave, and Ireland’s Commissioner is excellently prepared to do such a job.
Let me conclude, although I have probably not kept to the allotted time. In the European Parliament, where I am responsible for debates, my colleagues are usually angry because I stop them after two minutes. I must think about that deeply, colleagues, so maybe I can adopt a softer approach in future.
The European Union will show solidarity and will help Ireland. The faster we can secure our future financial instruments, the faster we can make the investments that will stimulate the long-term recovery and prosperity of Ireland and Europe generally.
Go raibh maith agaibh.
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