In his State of the Union speech in the European Parliament, Strasbourg this morning (Wednesday), European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker showed realism, practicality and with his measures he has called for a more resilient Europe.
The challenge of migration was the focal point of Mr Juncker’s address today. Importantly, he stressed that the current influx of refugees is a direct result of conflict, instability and a terrorist threat in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. The President stated that Europe needs to be stronger in its Foreign Policy. Diplomacy has a key role to play. Globally, there is a need to address the ongoing sources of conflict and other nations must recognise their responsibility in helping these refugees too. Combatting human trafficking and the criminal gangs who profit on human misery is essential, on which Mr Juncker also voiced a commitment. In the long-term, I believe the EU can lead by example but the United States, the Arab countries and democratically governed African countries all also share the responsibility for resolving these issues.
Human dignity and a humanitarian approach were prominent themes in Mr Juncker’s speech this morning, echoing the public’s sentiment. Many Member States, including Ireland, were mentioned as having experienced persecution in the past and having witnessed so many hundreds of thousands or more emigrate in the past. We are all or have historical national experience of being refugees, Mr Juncker pointed out. Perhaps it is that feeling of solidarity that many European citizens are feeling at present that has led to the strong public plea for EU leaders to continue to offer refuge to those in need.
The details of newly proposed measures for addressing the migration crisis must now be discussed in detail by EU leaders and then decisions can be taken as how best to proceed in solidarity. Member States need to consider their current economic situation, how educational systems can accommodate extra numbers and after such an assessment a clearer picture of how Europe can accommodate asylum seekers should emerge.
Over recent weeks, the question of maintaining the principal of Free Movement in Europe has been the subject of debate. We are committed to open borders in Europe. For us to maintain free movement in the EU, we must protect Europe’s external borders – that is paramount for security reasons.
Securing greater stability was also highlighted by Mr Juncker when he spoke of the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine. We cannot forget the conflict and humanitarian needs of those living in Ukraine.
The need for stability also applies to the EU in economic terms, and to Greece and its future economic outlook. Noting that 17 million people are still unemployed across the Eurozone, the Commission President said the economic crisis will not be over until we return to full employment.
Looking further ahead, the State of the Union speech reminded us of the high hopes and expectations for an international agreement to tackle global warming at the Climate Change conference in Paris this December.
The upcoming referendum in the UK on its EU membership next year will also pose a challenge and an opportunity for Europe. EU leaders must examine proposals from the UK and see what possibilities for compromise arise. The referendum could be considered an opportunity for reflection on certain aspects of policy that can be improved for the benefit of all, however, our key fundamental values such as Free Movement are what the Union is founded on and cannot be up for negotiation.
From Spain to Louth
On Sunday last, I enjoyed meeting a Spanish delegation, led by the Mayor of Catoira, Mr. Alberto García Spain in the Glyde Inn on a very positive project – the twinning of Annagassan, Co Louth and Catoira, Galicia-Spain.
I intend to work with the two regions and ensure that the twinning process runs smoothly and that the important links already established grow and prosper.
Both towns, Annagassan and Catoira, represent two key Viking heritage sites in Europe. The twinning of Annagassan and Catoira aims to incorporate an educational element that would involve young people and students in a language exchange programme. The project focuses on promoting the Irish and Galician languages.
As well as developing foreign language skills, it would bolster and strengthen cultural links between the two towns and their students. I am happy to support this initiative.