Strasbourg blog

25th February, 2014

Five months ago the Government initiated a strategy to ensure regular Ministerial presence at European Parliament plenary sessions, which take place once a month. This was done to demonstrate our commitment to the European Parliament (EP) and help bring the institutions of the EU closer to the Irish people. Votes that are taken in Brussels and Strasbourg directly affect the lives of our people at home so it makes sense to do what we can to ensure a greater understanding of what that is.

As Minister for European Affairs, I undertook the initial trip to Strasbourg back in October. I travelled there again this week.

Being in Strasbourg when all of the MEPs (not just the Irish ones) are in attendance allows for dialogue to take place with representatives from all over Europe. This, in turn, allows Ireland to convey messages to MEPs from other Member States who will, at some point, be voting on issues that have direct relevance and that matter to Ireland.

My day began with a meeting of the Fine Gael MEPs to discuss issues relating to the upcoming European Parliament elections. I then met with the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule, to outline my observations in respect of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, following my visits to both countries last month. We also discussed the current situation in Ukraine and what may lie ahead for the people there.

I made an appearance on the Sean O’Rourke Show on RTE mid-morning to discuss the vote that was taken last night by the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (ECON), in respect of its report on the Role and Operations of the Troika with regard to the Euro area programme countries and what that might mean for Ireland’s legacy debt. Literally walked from meeting with the Commissioner back to the delegation office to find Sean at the end of the phone line. A tight schedule indeed. The interview also covered post offices and whistleblowers.

The EP voted in favour of the ECON report which said that Ireland should be supported in dealing with outstanding banking debt. This builds on previous commitments to consider Ireland as a special case in the development of the banking union.

I had lunch with the Irish MEPs from north and south of the border, listening to their concerns and getting feedback on the work the Government is doing. I wished those of them who are contesting the upcoming European Parliament election the very best of luck for the months ahead and thanked those of them who are not for the work they have done on Ireland’s behalf.

The afternoon was spent in meetings with the vice chair of the EPP and the rapporteur of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Paulo Rangel MEP; the chair of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok MEP; and President of the European People’s Party (EPP), Joseph Daul MEP. Discussions centred around the future development of the EU institutions, again, the situation in Ukraine, and the EPP Congress, which is taking place in Dublin on the 6th -7th March at the Convention Centre.

In each meeting I raised issues of importance to Ireland.

Meeting with key members of the EP in this way affords an opportunity to advance Ireland’s strategic priorities and to enhance our influence at European level. It also provides an opportunity to ensure that Irish MEPs are well briefed on Government priorities and that the Irish Government hears from our European representatives on political developments within the Parliament and relevant Committees. This level of engagement has been very well received but we need to keep at it.

Events in the Ukraine, of course, overshadow much of the day. How could they not?