Tánaiste's address to the IIEA in Brussels, Monday 27 February
“Ireland’s Role in the World”
Address by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade,
Mr. Eamon Gilmore T.D.
IIEA Brussels, 27th February 2012
Thank you for that kind introduction and welcome. And thank you also to our Ambassador, Rory Montgomery, for hosting us at the Irish mission here this morning.
It is a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to address the Brussels branch of the Institute for International and European Affairs.
In July of last year, I gave a speech to the Institute in Dublin. The new Government was only four months old, but already we had taken a number of decisive steps in order to address the severe economic crisis in which we found ourselves.
It was – and is – a crisis more complex, and on a greater scale, than anything that had faced us as a nation before. A crisis that required an extraordinary response, including the formation of, effectively, a national unity government made up of the two largest parties in the state.
On entering office 12 months ago, we were resolute about the task ahead: to fix our economy; to grow employment and opportunities for our people; and to repair our international reputation. We have made progress, restoring badly-needed stability. Our next steps must be towards sustainable growth and job creation, and to continue the work of restoring Ireland’s place in the world.
As a Government, we have set down not just our objectives, but also the means by which we intend to engage with our problems, both domestically, and abroad.
From the outset, the new Government was clear about the approach we would take with our funding partners. We are committed to a dialogue based on trust and confidence. Our approach is to engage constructively and co-operatively with our partners, while being clear about our view of what is in Ireland’s best interests. Ireland is a small and extremely open economy that relies heavily on direct foreign investment. It is simply not in our interests to engage in public stand-offs with the Troika. Differences when they arise – and they do - are dealt with through negotiation and diplomatic engagement.
This approach has been assisted by the fact that Ireland has robust budgetary institutions, clear and reliable systems for expenditure control, and efficient and independent structures for revenue collection. Over time, we have established a strong track record of adhering to our programme commitments – over 90 individual actions to date. This has provided a context within which we have been able to negotiate substantial improvements to the programme, in line with our commitments to the electorate. The reduction in interest rates on the programme loans, for example, reduced our debt burden by €10 billion Euro.
While we are making progress, I do not claim that it has been easy. There is no good or easy way to correct a budget deficit of 10% of GDP. But it has to be done. No country can continue to borrow at that pace for very long, and Ireland is reliant on other countries to fund our deficit. There are few, if any precedents for the quantum of consolidation that has already been implemented. The key challenge is to find ways to balance the need to reduce the deficit, with strategies for economic growth.
And yet, despite this rate of level of consolidation, the Irish economy returned to growth in 2011. Our latest expectation is that is that GDP grew by 1% in 2011, largely on foot of strong export performance. Our exports grew by 4.4% in the first 9 months of 2011, and we are now recording a balance of payments surplus after several years of deficits.
There is now acceptance at all levels and in all Member States – based on this clear evidence – that Ireland is determined to recover and is sticking to its word. However, as I have consistently said, this is not just an Irish crisis, but a European crisis, and it will require a European response.
We have always been clear that our membership of the European Union is central to our recovery.
We have supported efforts to improve discipline and to ensure that the rules can be enforced, including through the recent Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance.
But we see this work as part of a wider picture.
We have argued consistently that discipline will never be enough on its own. Recovery will not come until we have growth, and it will not be sustained without jobs.
Looking at where we are in Europe, this has to be a shared endeavour.
Last week, in publishing its revised economic forecast, the Commission predicted that there would be stasis at European Union level in economic terms this year –that is 0% growth –with negative growth of 0.3% in the euro zone. It characterised the backdrop as one of “waning and continued low confidence”.
This must be a wake-up call to Europe’s leaders ahead of this week’s meeting of the European Council.
As we in Ireland have discovered, there can be no shirking the tough decisions that have to be made. We have to put real energy into the process of reform as envisaged in the Europe2020 process, and we have to prioritise and fast-track those measures at European level that can really drive growth and jobs.
In a letter co-signed with eleven of his European Council colleagues the Taoiseach highlighted several areas of promise including the single market, especially in the digital area; energy, including efficiency; trade; and research and innovation.
There are many advantages to being a part of the European Union, but one of the main ones is scale.
Let us make the most of it. Let us fully realise what it means to have a domestic market of 500 million people. Let us make life easier for our SMEs; let us maximise the benefits of new technologies; and let Europe become a real beacon of innovation and creativity.
I believe there is a shared will to do this at political level – let us now translate it into real and resolute action.
In the meantime, we also have to be confident that we are fully equipped to deal with market pressures. While things have eased somewhat in recent times, we cannot afford to become complacent. We have seen all too often how quickly things can change.
We came into this crisis without the appropriate tools in place. We were very much improvising when we shaped the first package for Greece. Since then we have put in place the temporary mechanism, the EFSF, under which Ireland has drawn down some of its funding. We learned lessons from experience and factored these in when we designed its permanent successor, the ESM. We have agreed that it should enter into force early and we have seen the ECB play a more active and welcome role in recent times, providing large scale liquidity to the banking sector.
We have achieved a great deal. But we will continue to need strong, credible firewalls for some time – and I believe that the stronger and more credible they are, the less likely it is that we will have to resort to them. This will be an important topic for discussion when leaders meet later this week.
It would have been understandable perhaps if we had responded to the most serious economic crisis in our history by turning inward, and focusing only on our own problems and preoccupations.
However, this has not been the case. Quite the reverse.
Naturally the overriding national priority at this time is to get the economy back on track and to work with our EU partners in ensuring a strong and stable Eurozone into the future.
However, at the same time, Ireland is engaging with the wider foreign policy agenda, and indeed taking a leading role in a number of areas. One such area is our current Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe which Ireland assumed, for the first time, on 1st Janaury.
This is a remarkable opportunity for Ireland to demonstrate its willingness, and its ability, to play its part in addressing some of the big questions facing the international community today. As a small country on the global stage, Ireland’s strength has always been in its ability to form relationships and act in cooperation with other nations. Ireland has a well-deserved reputation for skilled diplomacy and expertise in the field of conflict resolution and human rights - both important features of Ireland’s foreign policy. We will bring this experience to bear in our work during the Chairmanship year.
As OSCE Chair-in-Office this year, I intend to adopt a fair-minded and pragmatic approach. Ireland’s priorities seek to ensure a balanced approach to the work of the Organisation, across its three policy dimensions.
As regards the human dimension, we intend to prioritise the issue of internet freedom, with a focus on digital and social media. In the politico-military dimension, Ireland hopes to see continued progress on updating confidence and security building measures and enhancing the conflict prevention capacity of the Organisation. While within the Economic and Environmental Dimension, Ireland’s core theme will be the promotion of security and stability through good governance.
A further key priority is to work with others to promote lasting settlements to a number of conflicts in the OSCE area. Among these are the conflicts in Georgia regarding the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Transdniestrian settlement process. I commend the success of the EU’s monitoring presence on the ground in Georgia and its participation in the Geneva Discussions, which are co-chaired by the OSCE, EU and UN.
In relation to Moldova and Transdniestria, I look forward to welcoming the parties to Ireland tomorrow for the second round of the official 5+2 talks since their resumption late last year. The EU plays a very important role in these talks and I know it is committed to this settlement process. It is a very positive step that formal talks have resumed after an interruption of nearly six years.
In supporting these efforts, I intend to draw upon our own experience of conflict resolution. A conference will take place on 27 April which will focus on Northern Ireland as a case study, aiming to draw on common themes applicable to conflict situations. We believe that by showing that peace is possible and explaining how it was achieved, we can encourage and support those engaged in negotiations elsewhere to persevere.
The experience of achieving a peaceful political settlement in Northern Ireland will be presented as a case study of possible relevance to conflict resolution efforts in the OSCE area. I will address the conference, along with the Secretary General of the OSCE, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the First and Deputy First Ministers. Senator George Mitchell is also confirmed as a speaker and the conference will be moderated by the former President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari.
Recognising that no two conflict situations are the same, the focus of the Conference will be on an exchange of experience. The objective is not to draw direct links with any one conflict situation nor to present ‘lessons learned’ or prescribe any blueprint for action. Rather, in sharing the Northern Ireland experience, we hope to support and encourage those engaged in seeking lasting settlements to conflicts in the OSCE area and elsewhere.
The OSCE is a consensus based organisation and I know we can look forward to support from our fellow EU members as we take forward our work programme as Chairmanship. A successful OSCE Chairmanship will provide a solid platform for a successful EU Presidency, which will follow immediately afterwards on 1 January 2013.
Ireland will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a very challenging time for Ireland and the EU as a whole. But the global economic crisis demonstrates that the EU has never mattered as much as it does now. The crisis has proven the value of solidarity between Member States and highlighted the need for Europeans to work together to ensure that the current crisis and other challenges facing our continent do not derail our global economic strength and competitiveness, or damage Europe’s standing in the world as a beacon of democracy and social justice.
During our Presidency, we will seek to tackle the issues of greatest concern to citizens and governments across Ireland and the EU today. Boosting Europe’s competitiveness, restoring strong and sustainable economic growth and creating jobs will be our main objectives in 2013. But we also need to ensure that the rights of workers across the EU are respected.
The ongoing crisis has shown Ireland that we need to regain our competitive advantage and to focus on research, education and innovation to stay ahead in the global economy. To strengthen and support our level of exports, we need to reduce barriers to exporters who are driving our economic recovery. And we also need to focus strongly on the education and training of our workforce to grow business and ensure that we can put people to work in skilled jobs.
These issues in Ireland are far from unique in the EU, but I believe that through our Presidency programme, we can share our experience of fighting the crisis with initiatives like the Action Plan for Jobs that was launched two weeks ago.
We also hope to use the Presidency to share Ireland’s concerns on global issues, including the links between climate justice and hunger. We are committed to showing strong leadership in effectively shaping and communicating the EU’s input into the 2013 Review Summit of the Millennium Development Goals. This will be an opportunity not just to assess how far we have come in achieving the MDG targets which the international community signed up to in the year 2000, but to shape the global development framework post-2015. Europe has a key role in shaping the international community’s response to poverty and hunger and Ireland will continue be at the forefront of those endeavours.
But the Presidency will also be a chance for Ireland to demonstrate its belief in, and commitment to, the European Union. To reflect, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of our accession to the EU, on the benefits of our EU membership. But also to plan for Ireland’s role in the EU’s future.
The Government believes that EU membership is vital for Ireland and is fundamental to our future economic development. Ireland has a lot to offer the EU, and we want to actively contribute to the EU decision-making process to create a better future for all citizens across Europe. The Presidency will be an important element in demonstrating Ireland’s commitment to a strong and economically viable Union.
Let’s be clear; the Presidency has always posed resource and financial challenges for a smaller Member State like Ireland, but we have reaped short-term economic benefits and long-lasting reputational benefits from showing that we can manage the EU’s challenging agenda and delivering efficient, impartial and result-driven Presidencies. We will seek to do so again in 2013.
As we continue to develop our Presidency programme and identify key priorities, we are listening to the views of all stakeholders. I value your inputs and contributions, and also seek your support in delivering a successful Presidency for Ireland and for the European Union as a whole.
Yet another area where Ireland is hoping to make a contribution on the world stage is by seeking election for the first time later this year to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We have long championed the vital role of the United Nations in the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. As a small State, we strongly believe in the community of nations working together to advance the values at the heart of the UN Charter. The need to safeguard and advance human rights is a cornerstone of Ireland’s foreign policy, underpinning our approach to development assistance, peacekeeping, and our participation in international organisations.
The protection of human rights resonates strongly with the Irish people and membership of the Human Rights Council would be a valuable opportunity for Ireland to play its part in the development of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world.
The protection and promotion of Human Rights is also of course at the heart of EU policy – both internally within the union and externally, within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. This has found expression in, for example, EU efforts to promote a universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The EU is also developing its approach to important issues such as Freedom of Religion or Belief, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights.
If elected to the Council, Ireland will seek to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in a number of key areas. These include the protection of space for civil society and human rights defenders; the promotion of gender equality; and strengthening the UN Human Rights Treaty Monitoring Body system. We would also highlight the importance of ensuring that human rights considerations underpin all areas of development.
If I can leave you with one message here today, I would like it be one of engagement by Ireland.
Engagement at national level to secure economic recovery and growth.
Engagement at European level to strengthen our institutions and defend the single currency.
And engagement with the wider world, in promoting Irish and indeed European values beyond our immediate borders.
I thank you for your attention.