A Cheann Comhairle,
I would like to thank Deputies for their statements and questions regarding the October European Council.
As the Taoiseach indicated earlier, I will focus my wrap-up remarks on enlargement and the foreign policy issues that were discussed last week.
The European Council held a lengthy discussion on enlargement, focusing specifically on whether to open accession negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and with Albania. We had discussed this at the General Affairs Council in June and again last week, on 15 October. Many EU Member States, including Ireland, were in favour of opening negotiations but unfortunately, there was not consensus on the matter.
Ireland has always supported the European Commission’s recommendation to open accession negotiations with both the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania. The European Union has asked both countries to undertake reforms. The Republic of North Macedonia has done this and it is particularly important that the signing and ratification of the historic Prespa Agreement by Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia is acknowledged and recognised. Albania has also made significant reforms, despite challenges. This is why we are in favour of starting the accession process with both countries.
In considering this matter is should be acknowledged that the opening of negotiations is just a further step in what is a long and demanding journey towards membership – accession negotiations take many years, and go through the Union’s body of law chapter-by-chapter in a rigorous way.
However, being on that journey with a prospect of success is of considerable importance in helping to underpin security and democracy in what has always been, and what remains, a fragile region in our neighbourhood.
We understand that there are challenges and that some Member States continue to have concerns, which is why it was not possible to reach a conclusion at the European Council last week.
We very much welcome, therefore, the commitment to return to the matter before the EU – Western Balkans summit which in Zagreb next May.
On Thursday, Leaders discussed a number of issues relating to Turkey, including the current situation in North East Syria. They took note of developments since the Foreign Affairs Council’s discussions earlier in the week, in particular the US-Turkey announcement, made that same evening, on a pause for all military operations.
The message from the meeting was unequivocal. Leaders condemned Turkey’s incursion into Syria, and urged Turkey to end its military action, withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law. Earlier last week, EU Member States agreed to halt the licensing of arms exports to Turkey. On Thursday, the Leaders agreed that the EU should remain engaged in addressing the humanitarian and refugee crisis in the region.
There was also a discussion on the ongoing illegal drilling by Turkey in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone. Leaders endorsed the conclusions adopted by Europe and Foreign Ministers at the General Affairs Council earlier in the week and expressed their full solidarity with Cyprus. It was agreed to continue to monitor this issue and to return to it at a future meeting, if necessary.
The European Council also returned to its June conclusions on the downing of flight MH17. Leaders reiterated their full support for all efforts to establish truth, justice and accountability for the victims and their families and called on all States to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation in accordance with UN Security council Resolution 2166.
This was a crucial meeting on Brexit, but as the Taoiseach set out, there were also discussions on a range of other issues of real importance to the EU, including the serious and pressing regional issues which I have set out here today. The European Council will remain seized of these matters in the months ahead.
I wish to thank all Deputies for their statements and assure them that the Taoiseach will continue to report to the House in advance of, and following the regular meetings of the European Council.