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
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
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
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
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.
And while we must continue to deepen our relationships with traditional
media, we as a public institution must seek out the opportunities offered by
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
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
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
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
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
For reasons of time on this occasion I will not go into any detail under
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
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!
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!