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Address by Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, to the Irish Section of the Association of European Journalists, 15 September 2010
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Address by Mr Martin Territt,

Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland

to the Irish Section of the Association of European Journalists

Dublin, 15 September 2010

Martin Territt, Director of the Euroepan Commission Representation in Ireland

Introduction

A very good afternoon to you all and before I commence I would like to extend my thanks to the Chair, the Secretary and the Treasurer for inviting me here today for what will be my last address to you all in my current capacity as Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland.

My past five years spent in Ireland, as the European Commission's representative, have proven to be a very interesting, a journey that sometimes proved too interesting! 

But it is not so much about my journey but, more importantly, the journey that the EU and Ireland have travelled together upon for over fifty years and will do for hopefully many more years to come.  A journey that, most of us at least, have witnessed, and one that you, as journalists, have communicated.  It is a journey that has shown that collective democratic decision making can create a political stable, an economically sustainable (current difficulties notwithstanding) and most importantly, a peaceful Europe.

I would like to make a few remarks on three issues this afternoon:

Firstly, on European Debate and the Media,

Secondly, on the policy challenges facing the EU, and,

Thirdly, on the Lisbon Treaty referenda aftermath.

European Debate and the Media

I would like to congratulate the AEJ on its role in fostering debate on European issues in Ireland and wide afield and on the role you play in assisting journalists to be fair-minded and independent on their reporting of EU matters.

In my tenure in this post I have been passionate about the need to democratise the ownership of the European Union.  It is not a Union of, or for, elite, nor a Union for bureaucrats or diplomats, nor a Union of the Brussels beltway.

It is a Union clearly founded upon the rule of law with powers and means of action clearly set out in international treaties, the most recent of which is the Lisbon Treaty.

But however much detail is set out in these democratically negotiated and agreed documents, the actual democratic legitimacy of the Union will only ultimately be fully consummated if people across all Member States have a reasonable understanding of how it works and what it does in their interests.

And that is the beginning, middle and end of the communications challenge with which the EU confronts us.

And we all – all strata of society – have a role in helping meet the challenges of communication, and democratic ownership of the Union.

I can certainly say, five years later, that we in the European Commission Representation in Ireland have done our very best to rise to this challenge.

And we approached it with fair-mindedness, but also with no small element of passion, imagination and innovation.

On this occasion, I would like to stress the continued importance of communicating and mediating what is happening in the European Union to diverse audiences up and down this country and across the Union as a whole.

There is a continued, and underlined, importance on delivering high quality editorial.  There is an ever pressing need to encourage interest and debate on the Union's policies and decisions.

New Media

And while we must continue to deepen our relationships with traditional media, we as a public institution must seek out the opportunities offered by new media.

As part of the democratisation of communications, we have, in my Representation, been particularly active in offering "non-traditional" web-based opportunities for people in Ireland to interact with the Commission and the other institutions.  The core idea behind these initiatives is to present our policies in the language of those seeking information or wishing to present a point of view.  We must get away from bureaucratic jargon to the greatest extent possible.

For example, our www.talktoeu.ie website for young people presents a fresh and inviting view of the Union.  We will launch a complete revamp of this year-old product next Tuesday.

This morning we launched a new website for NGOs, www.ngoeuconnect.ie which is designed to help ngos navigate through the EU's official maze, get their point of view across and be heard.

I have also commissioned a scoping study on developing a specific website tailored to the needs of workers and trade union members so that they can be given every opportunity to participate in the democratic life of the Union.

And I can also say that we continue to develop our main website  www.euireland.ie which is heavily used as a valuable and trusted source of Union news and policies.

The Future – EU policy in action

In the second part of my address I would like to say a few words on European policy in the period ahead.

These are extremely challenging times, times fraught with difficulty.

I believe that the European Commission, and indeed other institutions, has real empathy with people across the Union who are struggling in the face of the worst economic and financial situation since the great depression.

We must recognise not just "unemployment rates" or "economic trends" or "financial black holes" or "bank bailouts", but the real plight of people, their story of unemployment, or their house repossession, or their pay cut.

And we must give them hope that their individual and collective difficulties are capable of being addressed and are actuallybeing addressed.

And that is the challenge for the European policy maker – to demonstrate to the 6 million people who lost their jobs since 2008 that there is hope and that there are viable solutions.

We have being doing just that since the very beginning of this crisis.  Concerted, collective effort and action at European level has stemmed the tide that threatened to engulf us all.

There are tentative signs of recovery, but these must be nurtured by further strong measures across the Union and in individual Member States, no more so than here in Ireland.

Over the coming year we face daunting challenges as to how to grapple with the fragile financial and economic situation.  Firstly to consolidate the reforms already made, and secondly, to make sure they take root.

None of this is going to be easy.  But it must be done in the interests of the millions unemployed, in financial difficulty and for the younger generation coming through who must not be burdened (or at least not over-burdened) by the mistakes of this generation.

Reform in Action

In all of this major work to reform our systems, there is often the temptation to look at the particular: this or that black hole, this or that miscreant, this or that financial crash.

All of this is understandable and is part of a process of coming to terms with the calamity that has unfolded over the last three years.

Nevertheless, most of our collective energy needs to go into structural reform work for the future so as to ensure, as far as humanly possible, that the mistakes of the past can be avoided in the future, and to build a better and more prosperous future for our fellow citizens.

This means taking tough action on:

•        The economy and financial governance

It means taking a firm stand on:

•        Restoring growth for jobs

It means looking to the future for:

•        A modern EU budget.

Each of these strands is very much inter-connected as we seek to get people back to work, sort out the financial mess and set a clear course for growth over the next decade to 2020.

Public finances must be brought back under control.  Public borrowing must be stemmed and reduced.  Unsustainable levels of public debt (or indeed private debt) make us all vulnerable and that is self evident to see here in Ireland and elsewhere.

Reform the Stability and Growth Pact

So, just as national governments and authorities seek to bring their public finances back into order, we must at EU level press ahead with necessary reforms to the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) for the future.

We must have greater macroeconomic surveillance, and this must be coupled with greater enforcement.

This is the economic governance debate that should be the real focus of public debate and comment, because this is about building a sustainable macroeconomic and fiscal policy framework for the future.

I would, on a personal note, like to see this debate deepened and enriched within this Member State.  I would clearly like to see consideration given, for example, to what role the Oireachtas might afforded in the future in monitoring Ireland's performance vis a vis a reformed SGP.  Should consideration be given, for example, to copper-fastening the SGP's deficit and borrowing provisions in this State's primary law, Bunreacht na hEireann?  Something along these lines has been done in Germany, so perhaps there are lessons to be drawn.

If these type of questions, and others, can be teased out in public debate, then we can hope to have a more substantive European dialogue, and, hopefully, avoid the sterility of debate around this or that percentage of fiscal tightening in a given budgetary year.

We must also continue on the path of more stringent financial supervision and regulation.  The combined effects of sound public finances and responsible, regulated financial markets should engender the necessary confidence and economic solidity for sustainable growth.  And not just growth for growth's sake but growth for jobs, sustainable growth and inclusive growth.

And it is important that we are smart about how we tackle the jobs issue.  For example, notwithstanding a 10% unemployment rate across the EU, there are at the same time some 4,000,000 job vacancies.  So we must see how best we can match available skills with vacancies through a European solution, something we will come forward with later in the year, a European Vacancy Monitor.  And we will pursue our interaction with the Member States on the need for continuous upskilling of the workforce and investment in life-long learning.

One of the more contentious areas of EU policy is quickly coming onto the live agenda, namely the shape of the EU's funding for the period 2014 to 2020.  Next month we will come forward with the Commission's first ideas for the budget review.

This will pave the way for a broad debate on the Union's budget priorities until the end of this decade, on who does what, on how the EU's budget can be best spent, what policies should be prioritised and much more.

It is important that all actors in the European polity become involved in this debate.

There are two other major priorities for the year ahead, namely,

•        Building an area of freedom, justice and security, and

•        Pulling our weight in the global stage.

For reasons of time on this occasion I will not go into any detail under these headings.

The Lisbon Treaty – an epilogue

Like US crime fiction word smiths, please allow me a moment or two to reflect, extremely briefly, on the period of time devoted to the two referenda in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty.

Personally speaking, the communications challenges, or opportunities if you will, during both periods were enormous.  And, suffice it to say, the right result prevailed!

Nevertheless, I do not believe that it should be taken for granted that the Irish electorate would automatically sign up for any future Treaty change should such an opportunity present itself.

Generally speaking, the same structural weaknesses on communicating about such a complex matter remain.

Some are constitutional, some are legal, some are administrative and some are political.  Some of these issues go beyond European treaty referenda.  All I can say is that these matters should be carefully examined and acted upon appropriately after careful consideration and debate.

Understandably the nation's eye is on another ball at present, but some opportunity for greater EU debate presents itself more immediately with the greater role given to the Oireachtas under the Lisbon Treaty.  At least that is a start.

I have little doubt that the internal communications challenges will be faced in time, including I hope greater emphasis being placed in educational curricula on the role of the European Union.

As always, the media can help foment this debate!

Conclusion

I would like again to thank Eileen, Martin, Tim and all members of the Irish Section of the AEJ for their support to me in my official capacity.  Your collegiality and warm friendship will continue with me in pastures new!

ENDS




Last update: 31/10/2010  |Top