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Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Where will Europe be in 2020?

Speech by Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn to a special Europe Day sitting of the Irish Parliament

Dublin, Irish Parliament; 9 May 2011

Ceann Comhairle, Taoiseach, Ministers, Deputies of the Oireachtas and Members of the European Parliament

It is a great privilege and honour for me to accept the invitation to speak before this special session of the Dáil on Europe day, on the theme Where will Europe be in the year 2020? It is a most worthwhile question and I am very much looking forward to hearing the views of the other speakers.

This historic chamber reminds us that Ireland and the European Union's common purpose - to pursue peaceful, prosperous and inclusive progress - is grounded in our democratic values. It is a fitting moment to recall the contribution down the years of many distinguished members, and former members of the Oireachtas, to the construction, enlargement and reform of Europe at critical moments in our common history.  

Since 1973 Ireland, and Europe, have surmounted many difficult and complex problems together. We have done this through solidarity, cooperation and dialogue – the very principles on which the European Union is based. That dialogue must always be honest, robust and based on facts.  How we work together in Europe, will play a decisive role in determining where we arrive.

Ireland's enduring reputation in Europe has been formed by a record of commitment, innovation, progress, effort and good example. Ireland’s Presidency of the Council in 2013 is fast approaching, and once again, Ireland will be at the helm in Europe at a decisive moment - with the finalisation of the EU budget for the period 2014 to 2020 and the future of the Common Agricultural Policy among the political issues to be resolved.

Ireland has often proved an exceptional ability to lead and conclude difficult negotiations within Europe, arriving at solutions that serve the interests of all the people. Ireland's previous Presidencies of the EU have brokered many significant achievements: the convening of the first formal European Council meeting in 1975, securing political agreement for the reunification of Germany in 1990, and overseeing the accession of ten new countries to the European Union in 2004.

This track record will serve Ireland well in 2013. Europe needs Irish ideas, Irish skilfulness and Irish experience. In this great tradition of Irish European diplomacy, there is an important lesson which is currently being forgotten by some in the tumult of the economic crisis. Ireland's success in Europe has always been about building bridges.  

If the last decade of integration has been about Europe, the next one must be about the people of Europe.

So I warmly welcome the increased role of the Oireachtas in EU affairs as introduced by the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty. The recent Programme for Government builds on this enhanced scrutiny of EU draft proposals by dedicating a week each year to debating major EU issues of national significance.

We need to have informed debate about key political issues facing Ireland within the context of Ireland's membership of the European Union – a debate that is based on facts and clear analysis.

The European Commission is keen to strengthen our ties with the Oireachtas. For example, Michel Barnier, the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, attended the Joint European Affairs Committee to discuss the Single Market Act, while  Dacian Cioloş, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, has met with the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. 

This kind of political interaction is increasingly important for effective European policymaking that will help improve the lives and prospects of the people of Ireland. Right now, we have a  long list of crucial issues on the political agenda in Europe: improving Europe's economic performance and competitiveness, a decision on the new EU budget; the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, strengthening Europe's external relations and trade policy, boosting R&D and innovation, tackling climate change and securing our energy needs.

We need to build a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe by 2020. This means that we must overhaul and reform the European economic model. Innovation is the key economic policy at the heart of Europe's programme for growth and jobs as set out in the Europe 2020 strategy adopted last year by the leaders of the 27 Member States. Innovation means adding value and generating growth by finding new and better ways to use ideas, research, technology and processes to develop new goods and services that can be traded in a globally competitive market.

As the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, last October I launched the Innovation Union Flagship initiative. This is the detailed programme of action, endorsed by the Member States, to stimulate innovation in both the private and public sectors. Overall, the Innovation Union Flagship aims to boost Europe's research capacity, and make Europe better at translating excellent research into commercial products and services by removing the remaining bottlenecks to the commercialisation of good ideas.

These ambitious aims are supported by the world's largest public programme for research. My department in the European Commission manages the 7th Framework Programme for research and technological development, which is investing more than 55 billion Euro over seven years until 2013 in areas including agriculture, fisheries and food; health, nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technologies, transport, energy, environment, and climate change.

Ireland is punching above its weight within the Framework Programme:  270 million Euro has already been awarded to Irish-based organisations, which is a much larger share than would be expected given Ireland's size. This shows that Ireland is well on course to achieving its target of drawing down more than 600 million Euro from the Framework Programme by 2013. In the last few weeks alone, the Framework Programme has granted 5.9 million Euro to the Irish biotech group Opsona – spun out of Trinity College - for research on organ rejection in kidney transplant patients, and also provided funding to ensure that key research to better understand people's health across the complete life-cycle is carried out at UCD by Nobel Laureate Prof. James Heckman.

For Ireland in Europe, there are two sides to recovery.  The first involves addressing the causes and resolving the consequences of the financial and economic difficulties before us.  The second is generating growth and jobs through trade in goods and services.

We do need European solutions to European problems. Europe acted quickly to tighten up financial regulation and oversight by establishing new European authorities on banking, securities and markets, and insurance and pensions.

Since becoming a European Commissioner, I have found that my colleagues in the Commission, have been attentive, concerned and understanding when discussing the problems that Ireland is facing at present.

I am acutely aware of the public mood, anger and anxiety about the future as people across the country struggle during this exceptionally difficult period. I hold regular meetings with representatives of the Irish Government, members of the Oireachtas, the business, farming and educational sectors on political issues of importance to Ireland in a European context.   I ensure at all times that my colleagues around the European Commission table are fully aware of the gravity of the problems in Ireland.

The European Commission acts as an honest broker when addressing complex political discussions in Europe. Each country in the European Union, from the smallest to the largest, has equal representation within the European Commission.

That said, I am deeply concerned that a broad-brush attack on "Brussels" is turning legitimate criticism on specific issues, into a populist attack on all institutions and indeed on our place at the heart of Europe.   Robust criticism and debate is the life blood of democracy.   But when it comes to the vital issue of holding EU institutions to account, facts matter.

The European Commission has been steadfastly making the case for a sustainable solution to Ireland's acute economic problems.

There is a proverb in Irish which speaks a lot to the sprit of this debate. "A friend's eye is an excellent mirror". In other words, a friend who isn't afraid to tell you the honest truth is a most valuable asset to have. It is a great proof of true friendship when people feel free to be honest with one another, and when they are there to offer you assistance and advice in the hour of need.

I strongly support the recent comments of President Barroso and the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, calling for a reduction in the interest rate as part of the EU/IMF package. The Commission President's comments that "we can't impose costs which are very, very difficult for our citizens to pay" are worth recalling.

Turning to the other side of the recovery coin, to the state of the innovation economy – the real economy in Ireland - there is room for optimism. I believe that Ireland, with an open economy and valuable know-how in operating in highly competitive global markets, is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the transformation of Europe in the age of the innovation economy.

In 2010, Ireland had the second largest goods trade surplus in the entire EU after Germany, to the value of 43 billion Euro. Multinational pharma, chemicals and life-sciences firms account for most of this trade surplus, however, other export sectors where domestic firms predominate, particularly food and drink are also seeing rising exports. This bodes well.

Ireland's outstanding track record in attracting foreign direct investment is playing a key role in strengthening Ireland's export base at this time.  And let me be very clear and unequivocal about one issue raised in this respect. There can be no change in the rate of corporation tax in Ireland or in any other EU country without the unanimous agreement of all 27 Member States of the European Union.  This is the clear legal position as set out by the EU Treaties.

Countries like Ireland, with a uniquely well-positioned globalised innovation base, can and will emerge out of the crisis with an improved economy that is ready to compete globally. And with Dublin as the European City of Science in 2012, there is an opportunity to showcase the open, skilled, competitive aspects of the economy, serving as an example for other Member States.

On 9th May, Europeans are invited to remember that European integration is ultimately an expression about our commitment to peaceful coexistence.

The road to peace on this island was forged with courage and determination. The EU has strongly supported and underpinned the peace process through the Interreg cross-border programme, large contributions to the International Fund for Ireland, the PEACE programmes and mainstream Structural Funds.

And research and innovation also have their role to play in fostering better cooperation across the island. Last November I was honoured to address the Trade and Business Development meeting of the North South Ministerial Council which aimed to develop cross-border cooperation in applying for funding from the Seventh Research Framework Programme.

The political and economic interests of Ireland and Europe are interlinked and interdependent.  If we are to maintain and create jobs, and push forward to sustainable growth, we need to do this together.

By 2020, if we have worked together effectively, Europe will have a world-class innovation economy providing more and better jobs for Europeans. We will also be well on the way to finding solutions to key societal challenges of our time such as healthy ageing, energy security and climate change.

And if Europe is to reach these goals, we need Irish ideas, Irish talents and Irish determination more than ever.

The long history of the relationship between this country and Europe shows the richness of our culture, our language, our economy, our society and our lives, as it shows that relationship to be interwoven, solid and deep.

United we stand, and together we grow.

Thank you.

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