Martin Callanan speech on Irish Presidency of the EU, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Good morning Taoiseach,
I welcome the fact that Ireland is taking on the Council Presidency at this crucial period.
Indeed as someone who is himself half Irish, I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to wish you well.
And I have every confidence that your presidency will be a success as Ireland has a distinguished track record in holding the office.
• Ireland’s second Presidency in 1979 saw the conclusion of the GATT agreement which opened up international trade.
• Your 1990 Presidency helped to reunify the continent following the fall of the Berlin Wall,
• and your 2004 Presidency welcomed former Soviet bloc states into the EU.
Now of course, it will not surprise you that my group does not agree with everything you have said today, or with all of your Presidency Priorities.
However, there is a significant amount on which my group can agree. In particular, we welcome the emphasis on growth, on jobs, and on stability.
We agree that developing the Single Market as a driver of economic growth must be a key priority. My group has long argued that it’s time for the Single Market to move into the digital age. There is much in Single Market Act 2 that delivers this important agenda and we will work with you in trying to deliver it. In your priorities you also talk about improving access to finance, and to public procurement for small businesses. We welcome this.
My group believes one small but important change that you could make is to the Council meetings themselves – by creating a dedicated Single Market Council meeting, rather than lumping this important policy area into other configurations.
It is essential that we re-prioritise Europe’s competiveness. Like much of Europe, your country was hit hard by the crisis, but you have made great progress in your fight back. Ireland is a fundamentally competitive economy compared to many in Europe. In particular you have rightly fought to preserve your low corporate tax rates. Ireland should be an example to the rest of Europe – particularly to President Hollande – showing that low tax rates lead to a more competitive economy, generating growth and creating wealth. I also welcome your sensible opposition to a Financial Transaction Tax which will be very damaging for those Member States adopting it.
I believe we also have a unique opportunity in the next few months to make substantial progress on an EU-USA free trade agreement. The first half of 2013 not only sees Ireland hold the Presidency of the EU, but also the UK holds the Presidency of the G8. I look forward to both Presidencies working hard to get such an agreement off the ground. In only a matter of months, it has gone from a pie in the sky ideal to a distinct possibility and, although agreement will be hard, the benefits of reducing tariffs would be incalculable both to our economies and to our transatlantic partnership.
Our peoples want to see Europe making a difference in those areas where it can genuinely add value. What they do not want to see is more institutional navel-gazing or theological blueprints for deepening Economic and Monetary Union.
We all know that there is little willingness by any member state to shift from entrenched positions on the eurozone crisis – whether in the north or the south. So let us not waste time or divert scarce resources trying to pretend otherwise.
Taoiseach, my hope is for you to be able to return here in the Summer saying you have laid the groundwork for more open and competitive markets, for a more complete digital Single Market, and for freer trade with major partners. That would indeed be a worthy legacy of your presidency.
I therefore wish you well in taking your country’s pro-growth, open markets and free enterprise ethos to the heart of the European debate and encourage others across our continent to follow your lead.