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EU co-ordination poor and member states 'did their own thing' at start of pandemic, says Taoiseach

Micheál Martin said if ever there was a time to reflect on the importance of co-operation between states, this is it.

Image: Photocall Ireland

CO-OPERATION OF THE European Union countries is needed now more than ever, the Dáil heard today.

Speaking during a discussion on the role the EU has played during the pandemic crisis, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said:

“If ever there was a time to reflect on the importance of co-operation between states and strong shared institutions, this is it.

“While we welcome the measures agreed at the summit and Ireland’s late conversion to supporting collective borrowing, we reject the idea that anywhere near enough has been agreed or that what has been agreed has been delivered.

“Other than the outbreak of a war there has never before been such a dramatic and rapid public health and economic shock. Just like every other country in Europe, Ireland does not yet really know the scale of the recovery challenge we face. If the member states of the Union continue to block measures to develop new direct funding mechanisms, then the Union’s contribution will continue to be economically marginal.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said:

“Sadly, when this emergency started the level of coordination across the EU was poor.  Member states did their own thing because very often they were responding to a pandemic that was happening at a different pace in different countries.”

He said member states had spoken about a potential mutualisation of debt, known as coronabonds, but there was not unanimous support for such a plan.

“The idea was to take a shared approach to managing debt arising solely from this crisis.

“Such an approach would have required a legal underpinning not currently provided for in the EU treaties.

“I accept that it would have take a long time to agree this, even more time if it were to be approved by all EU member states and even in ours where it would require a referendum.

“In the absence of unanimous support for that approach, we agreed that alternative solutions for  a recovery fund should be developed.”

He said the European Commission is building a stockpile of medical equipment to be distributed to member states.

“I welcome that the European Commission is building a strategic stockpile of equipment from which member states will be able to draw in future and indeed, the near present.”

“There is more to do and we need to examine how to make the EU more resilient and responsive as we chart our way through this crisis,” said the Taoiseach.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald warned that there should be no return to austerity in the wake of this emergency.

“The fiscal rules within the EU are currently suspended but this is only a temporary state of affairs and the excessive deficit rules will re-apply again in the future.”

“The Irish people are all too aware of how austerity looks and how it feels from the last crisis.

“The European Commission and the European system at that time was no great friend to Ireland or our people.

“There are huge concerns now amongst workers and families that we are looking at a deja vu, or re-run, of that scenario,” she said.

Martin said leaders of some countries, such as Hungary, were using the pandemic to entrench their power.

He criticised the actions of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, stating that he was acting with impunity and it is “deeply corrosive of the foundations of the European Union”.

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“The effective suspension of Parliament in Hungary is clearly a major breach of the core democratic principles which Hungary signed up to when seeking membership of the European Union. Every country has had to implement emergency measures to respond to the pandemic but the powers grabbed by the Orban Government go well beyond anything seen elsewhere.

“In many countries, there have been questions about whether the media has been challenging enough concerning government action but only in Hungary has the Government taken major new censorship powers to itself,” he said, adding that the country is one of the highest net recipients of European Union support.

He said Hungary’s economy is profoundly based on the free access to the Single Market, but his actions are “challenging the basic idea that a state must be a free democracy with genuine checks on power if it is to be a member of the Union. To simply ignore this and hope it will sort itself out is not good enough”.

Martin also raised concerns highlighted by the European Parliament about the possible watering down of a Commission report on the spreading of pandemic disinformation.

“It is not yet clear what happened but there should be no doubt about core principles,” he said.

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