I’m delighted to welcome Donald back to Dublin today. This is his third visit to Dublin in his capacity as President of the European Council, and his second in only 4 months.
Of course, we meet regularly in Brussels but it’s very useful have this opportunity for an in-depth exchange, ahead of the next European Council meeting on March 22nd and 23rd.
We will discuss major economic issues relating to jobs, growth and competitiveness – including:
· the Single Market;
· the European Semester;
· social Europe;
· international trade;
· as well as important foreign policy issues.
We will also have an exchange of views on digital taxation, and on the deepening of Economic and Monetary Union. And in the Article 50 format, we will also discuss Brexit.
As you all know, these are significant issues for Ireland, and for the Union.
We have been very active in calling for greater progress on the completion of the Single Market, particularly in services, and we have pushed for a high level of ambition on the Digital Single Market.
And we are strong supporters of the EU trade agenda. I believe that ambitious and balanced free trade agreements can bring immense benefits to our citizens and businesses and indeed to third countries.
So I am very happy to support Donald in his efforts to achieve a positive outcome on these and other issues.
Our discussion on digital taxation will take place as part of the Leaders’ Agenda - a process which Donald initiated last year to provide regular opportunities for EU leaders to exchange views, collectively, about the future direction of Europe.
As I’ve said before, we are committed to tax reform at the global level, and we are therefore very supportive of the OECD BEPS process.
We believe that company taxation should be paid where value is created and that reforms need to be evidence-based and sustainable in the long-term.
And on Economic and Monetary Union - following a Leaders’ Agenda discussion which Donald chaired in December - Minister Donohoe published a joint paper on Tuesday, along with his Nordic, Baltic and Dutch counterparts, which outlines a number of common values with like-minded countries, to help us build a strong Economic and Monetary Union, within which open economies can trade for the benefit of their citizens.
Of course, Donald and I also had an extensive discussion today on Brexit. I thanked him for his leadership on this issue, and his unwavering support for our unique concerns.
We spoke about the draft guidelines he issued yesterday for the negotiations on the future relationship, which are expected to be adopted at the European Council in two weeks’ time.
I welcomed the clear message in the guidelines that we want the future EU-UK relationship to be deep, comprehensive and ambitious, while ensuring a level playing field, fair competition and free trade go together, protecting the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union, and for the transition period to be smooth.
Donald confirmed that the guidelines reflect the EU’s wish to continue the very close relationship with the UK after its departure, not just on trade, but also in other important areas including the fight against terrorism and international crime, defence and foreign affairs, and aviation, and to invite the UK to participate in EU programmes in research, innovation, education and culture.
The proposal for a Free Trade Agreement is based on what the British Prime Minister, Theresa May has outlined to date as the UK position. I welcome Donald’s assurance that the EU will enter the negotiations with an open, positive and constructive mind that will allow for the possible evolution of the UK position in the future.
Of course, progress on the Withdrawal Agreement published last week will be important in the next phase of work, as it translates into legal text the commitments and guarantees agreed in December.
I have always said that my preference is to avoid a hard border through the wider future relationship agreement with the UK, Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are committed to playing our part in exploring this option, or alternative specific solutions, in a way that respects the structure of the negotiations, and that will of course require further detailed proposals to be put forward by the United Kingdom government.
However, we must have certainty that, if a better option proves unachievable, the backstop of maintaining full alignment in Northern Ireland will apply, in order to protect North South cooperation and avoid a hard border.