Tánaiste's address to the EU-Latin America Summit
President Piñera, President Van Rompuy, President Barrosso... esteemed colleagues from the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.
I would like to begin by expressing my thanks and congratulations to you, President Piñera, for the exemplary work and planning that has been dedicated to hosting our meetings in this beautiful city of Santiago.
As many speakers have already observed, our two regions have a long, shared history and a mutual understanding that we value very much.
These are challenging times for our regions and our peoples. That said, I am very aware of the strong and continued growth of many countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. This growth is all the more valuable because it has lifted millions from poverty and reduced inequality and marginalisation. Economic growth accompanied by social cohesion is the objective we all aspire to.
But this morning, I want to speak specifically about international cooperation, and solidarity that lies at its core.
In recent years that solidarity has been tested in many ways, not least by the financial crisis – the aftershocks of which we are all still coping with.
We have been talking for years about how our economies have become more globalised and interconnected, and the crisis demonstrated all too well just how vulnerable we all are to what happens in another country, or another region.
Indeed, whether we are talking about climate change, the threat from terrorism or financial instability, the common theme for all of us is the shared impact of such events.
In Europe, our response has been to recognise that the answer to this interdependence is more cooperation, not less.
In the same way, the answer at summits such as this must be more cooperation – not less. We have to ask ourselves how we can cooperate more to promote the common interests of our peoples.
In response to the profound economic crisis of recent years, the European Union has taken a number of important steps, particularly in the management of our single currency, the euro.
We have also agreed to put in place a Banking Union which will establish a single supervisory mechanism to regulate Europe’s banking system. And we have agreed on the principle that banking debt and sovereign debt must be separated. As a result, we have seen a return to relative calm in financial markets.
But we still have work to do if we are to build on the stability that has been restored, in order to make it the basis for economic growth and job creation. And that is the theme of Ireland’s current Presidency of the EU: Stability, Jobs and Growth.
Because we must, as European leaders, respond to the problem of unemployment –particularly among young people. That is, without doubt, one of the most troubling legacies of the economic crisis.
In my own country, we have made important strides in working our way out of the financial crisis that brought us into an EU/IMF assistance programme in late 2010.
Through hard work, and difficult decisions, we have reduced our public deficit, stabilised our economy and are in a good position to exit our bailout programme during 2013.
But in order to do that, we have to reach agreement on how to deal with the burden of our national debt. If we can reach agreement on these issues, Ireland – and Europe – will have a very positive story to tell.
Getting there, however, will require more work – and, perhaps, a greater sense of that solidarity that underpins the Union – because there is no guarantee of a successful conclusion.
Time is not on our side. We have entered a critical phase in this process, and a major deadline is looming.
We all know that the Irish people have shouldered a great burden of debt. We in Ireland believe this showed solidarity with Europe when the risk of contagion was high. The sacrifices made by the Irish people must not be squandered now.
The commitments made to lessen that burden of debt – by separating banks and sovereigns – are critical to the future of Ireland’s economy. Further, failure to conclude negotiations on the promissory note would have a potentially catastrophic effect on Ireland.
It is only with a combination of huge national effort and international agreement that we will emerge from this – and that is true for every country. Right across Europe, and Latin America, people are looking for stability – from which jobs and growth will follow.
As the second-most open economy in the world, Ireland understands better than most the issues that matter to the business community. And certainty is one of them. It is our job to provide that.
Ireland believes strongly in the importance of open markets and free trade – particularly with this region. This is another way in which greater international cooperation and solidarity can improve the way we live. With this in mind, expanding Europe’s trade is a central priority for us.
It is in all our interests to develop stronger trading links between Europe and the emerging economies.
As a country, Ireland is committed to developing relationships first built up through aid, into relationships that are also based on trade.
Development aid is one of the cornerstones of Ireland’s foreign policy. Throughout this economic crisis we have, with great difficulty, managed to maintain our overseas aid budget at just under 0.5% of GDP – again, out of a strong sense of solidarity. And as Europe attempts to agree a budget for the next seven years, we must recognise our collective responsibility when it comes to helping the world’s poorest nations.
Notwithstanding the pressure we are all under, we cannot sacrifice what is also the cornerstone of the European Union foreign policy – the same sense of international solidarity that resulted in our winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
But we should also be cognisant of the fact that, by 2015, an estimated 90 percent of economic growth will take place outside of the EU – much of it in this region, where you also know the challenges of building a unified collective of South American states.
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you again on the success of CELAC, and wish you well as you deepen your regional integration.
We also look forward to working with you to deepen the engagement between our two regions. Working together – with a sense of solidarity – we can achieve much, at this critical time for our people.