Berlin blog

8th February, 2014

This week I travelled to Berlin to meet, for the first time, the newly elected Minister for European Affairs, Michael Roth, following the formation of the new German Government.

But before doing that, I paid a visit to the biggest economic institute in Germany; the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). They were very keen to understand the Irish story and to find out about the measures we adopted that put us back on the road to economic stability.

The were impressed by the fact we have been so successful in not just meeting, but exceeding, our budget deficit targets and indicated that Ireland could be used as a role model in the future. I was very quick to point out that the last number of years have been exceptionally hard for the Irish people, who have made so many sacrifices in getting the Irish economy back on a sustainable path.

I reiterated the fact that it is the intention of the Irish Government’s to ensure that the progress we have made so far continues. We will do this for a number of reasons. The first is that we still have too many people unemployed who we simply have to get back to work.The second is that we need to get to a point where the people who have made the biggest sacrifices get something back in return.

I went from the DIW, to a meeting with members of the European Affairs Committee of the Bundestag who again were keen to discuss the progress Ireland is making. We also discussed the need to promote a strong and united Union and the debate that is currently taking place in the UK about the future path they might take.

This was followed by my meeting with Minister Roth during which we discussed issues of common interest to both of our countries. Minister Roth commended Ireland on our achievements and the efforts of the Irish people in exiting the bailout, unaided, and getting our public finances back under control.

We spoke of the need to deepen competitiveness in Europe and to ensure greater social cohesion; two sides of the same coin as Minister Roth put it. I agreed.

In looking at the areas that are most in need of attention, unemployment, especially where our young people are concerned, was top of the list. A commitment of 6 billion has been made at European level for the Youth Guarantee Initiative. In Ireland these funds will be used to ensure that all people under 25 who are unemployed for more than 4 months receive an offer of further education, an apprenticeship or additional training to enable them to get back to work.

A brief discussion was had about the need to progress the banking union. I made the point that in Ireland’s case there are some outstanding issues which need to be resolved. This is something that will be further discussed by our respective Finance Ministers.

Finally, I addressed the Konrad Adenauer Foundation about Ireland’s commitment to the European Union, the benefits and challenges of living in an increasingly globalised world and the importance of ensuring that all voices are heard in Europe.

Enjoyed reading the ‘Irish Journal’ by Heinrich Boll to gain an insight into a German view of Ireland over 50 years ago. Much has changed on both sides.