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Speech of An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, at visit to the CSU, Bavaria, Germany

4th January 2019 - Fine Gael Press Office

Guten Abend,

Es ist mir eine Freude, hier zu sein und zu Beginn eines neuen Jahres Kollegen zu treffen, die eine ähnliche Vision über die Zukunft Europas haben, um die vor uns liegenden Herausforderungen zu besprechen.

Goethe erinnert uns daran, dass wir unsere Freiheit und unser Dasein nicht als selbstverständlich betrachten können.  Sie müssen täglich neu errungen werden.

Dieses Jahr, mehr noch als sonst, können wir uns nicht den Herausforderungen, denen wir gegebenüberstehen, entziehen.

I want to thank Alexander and the CSU for the invitation to speak to you today.  It is my first time in Bavaria. I have been looking forward to it and to engaging with you.

Over the last seventy years the CSU has made an enormous contribution to the success of Bavaria, Germany and Europe.

Bavaria has been transformed over those years into an economic powerhouse whilst also retaining an attachment to important values such as family, industry and an education system the envy of the whole of Germany.

You have become global but you have not abandoned your proud culture, traditions and distinctiveness.

The fact that you, the CSU, have been in power for all but a brief period in the 1950s is testimony to your ability to provide strong leadership and to stay close to your electorate and their concerns.  I know that’s not easy what the CSU considers to be a bad election result, would still be a triumph for most of us!

I was struck by the comments of Minister President Soder at your September Conference where he spoke of the need to focus on the needs of the ‘normal people in the middle. That’s one of my mottos too.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the outgoing leader of your sister party, the CDU, Chancellor Angela Merkel.  During a time when Europe has been wracked by division, when bonds have been damaged by deceit, and when global challenges have arrived on our shores, Chancellor Merkel has stood up and defended our European values.

She has provided more than leadership: at times she has been the conscience of Europe, and has been a voice for reason on the world stage.  We thank her for it.

I also congratulate her successor as party leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, on her victory, and look forward to working with her in the years ahead, on continuing that close relationship between Fine Gael and the CDU.

Over the decades, German leadership in Europe has provided the engine and the ideas that have helped the EU be a force for good across the continent.

You have helped countries like my own to develop economically, socially, culturally, and politically.  You enabled us to finally achieve our destiny. To take our place among the nations of the world.

History has shown that the greatest progress is made in times of greatest crisis, challenge and uncertainty.  This was true at the birth of the European Union and it is still the case now.

The world is changing, global power and wealth are shifting east and south, and we will experience massive demographic changes.

To preserve our way of life and advance all our values we need more Europe not less.

Issues such as climate change, terrorism, cyber-security, illegal migration, international trade, and the regulation of major corporations are transnational.  On these we need to think and act together.

We must stand together or we will fall one by one.

The European Union succeeded in bringing peace and prosperity to a continent.

By creating the circumstances for economic growth and opportunities, it also brought freedom to our people – individual, economic, political.

Today one of the biggest challenges we face as the EU is the challenge of Brexit.  For the first time an EU member state is leaving.  So we need to get it right.

Peace on our island was born out of the European ideal, by communities coming together not growing apart. In many ways, the EU is a Franco-German peace process.

In Ireland, the EU was a fundamental pre-condition for our peace process sweeping away borders and differences without threatening anyone’s nationality or loyalities.

We cannot allow that to falter now.  Despite the ever-shifting sands on the trek towards a settled Brexit destination, two things have stayed constant.  The first is European support for Irish concerns and safeguarding peace on our island.  The second is our understanding of what must be defended.

We are determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement: peace in Britain and Ireland; power sharing in Northern Ireland, and ever closer co-operation North and South.

We are determined to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border on our island.

At the same time, we want the future relationship between the EU and the UK to be as close, comprehensive and ambitious as possible, provided there is a level playing field and the integrity of our single market is upheld.

People often say that a divorce can be like a death in the family.  It can also bring those left behind closer together. The Brexit divorce has at times been traumatic, but it has not proven fatal to the European family.  Indeed, support for EU membership and the single currency has increased not decreased across the continent.

In the midst of all the arguing in the search for an agreement, we have found strength and we have found solidarity from each other.  We need to take this with us as we deal with other challenges.

Migration is one of the greatest facing our continent.  This is an EU challenge and one that we need to work together on.  We need to act, but we cannot risk losing the middle ground.  We need to win the argument, or we lose everything.  So I believe that we need a degree of burden sharing and the resettlement of migrants within the EU, and I support the new framework agreed late last year based on new principles.

A small number of countries are shouldering the responsibility of providing refugees with a fresh start in Europe.

All of us can and must do more. Ireland has accepted migrants from Greece and our navy is participating in Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean sea.

We also need to tackle the root causes of illegal migration, lack of democracy, lack of security and lack of economic opportunity in source countries.

The EU is the biggest aid donor in the world.  And we are also the world’s largest trade bloc.  So we can offer leadership and partnership through aid, trade and security.

Next week, I will visit Mali where the Irish Defence Forces are participating in the EU peacekeeping mission there and I will go on to Ethiopia, one of our development partners. Ireland, once again, is in a position to increase our ODA budget and we are.

We also need to be mindful and respectful of the concerns of our own populations, particularly in this time of disinformation, confronted by the consequences – actual and alleged – of unplanned large scale migration. We need to reassure people that there is no threat to our culture, security or prosperity and we need to mean it.

I believe, leadership and partnership can be the hallmarks of the Europe of the future.

In terms of what we can achieve, the Europe of the future, I believe, must:

1st. Continue to do well what it currently does well;

2nd. Focus on the big new challenges facing Europe and its citizens;

3rd. Where appropriate, devolve some powers back to member states, municipalities and regions; and

4th. Engage citizens more and engage in greater democracy.

In recent years Ireland has moved from being a net beneficiary of the EU Budget to a net contributor. Nonetheless, we are open to contributing more, but only if it is spent on things that contribute to the advancement of the European ideal.

For example, structural funds for Central and Eastern Europe to enable them to unlock their economic potential.

Also, the EU should continue to fund well programmes and policies that work like the Common Agricultural Policy, and provide funding for research, innovation, Erasmus, Interreg, TEN, among others.

Budgets for these should be protected.

Europe can do new things. And for new programmes, we should use new money.

Ireland is a founder member of the euro, and a founder member of the Single Market and PESCO.  We were among the first to open our labour market to Europeans from Central and Eastern Europe.

We now call for the completion of the Single Market and the digital Single Market and above all a Single Market that serves the interests of all our citizens and not just corporations.

In terms of improving democracy within the EU, I support a Europe-wide list for the European Parliament.  Let’s get people in beer-halls in Bavaria and cafes in Cork talking about the same election choices.

Let’s make permanent the Spitzenkandidat system, and democratise choosing candidates for other leading positions within the EU.

In May we have European-wide elections that will determine the future shape of the EU for the next decade.

The EPP offers an electoral programme and a range of candidates to take us forward to the next stage – Europe as a force for good in the world as well as in our own countries.

Thanks to the leadership of Manfred Weber the EPP has played a leading role in European affairs.  His skills as a bridge builder have made connections where previously there were differences.  He has been able to balance competing interests and channel them for the greater good.

Europe is stronger for his leadership.  And he has more to offer. My party Fine Gael supports him as the Spitzenkandidat for President of the European Commission, and we welcome his campaign to bring new ideas, new thinking and youth to the challenges facing us.

Today, populists of the left and right condemn us and seek to divide our societies and our continent.

They will not succeed.

I believe we must fight to protect human dignity, personal and economic freedom, democracy, equality before the law, the rule of law and human rights.

These are the shared values that underpin our Union alongside a commitment to peace and multilateralism.  They only survive as long as we are prepared to defend them when they come under attack.  We must fight for them now.

Thanks to Europe we are joined together by mutual interest, trust and affection.

European values are the values that we in Fine Gael advance in Ireland, within our European family, and in our relations with the wider world.

Europe is one of the most successful political projects of the last century.

So much has been achieved that once seemed the stuff of dreams.

Decades of peace, the single market, European citizenship, enlargement, the euro and the defeat of Communism.

In the next twenty years we can do so much more.  I believe that we can provide strong direction for Europe, creating more opportunities for our citizens and a better future for all.

Ich glaube, dass gewisse Werte fundamental und unabdingbar sind und immer wieder verteidigt werden müssen. Es sind europäische Werte und es sind unsere Werte:

  • Respekt vor der Würde des Menschen
  • Persönliche und wirtschaftliche Freiheit
  • Demokratie
  • Gleichheit vor dem Gesetz
  • Rechtsstaatlichkeit und Menschenrechte
  • Einsatz für Frieden und Multilateralismus; sowie
  • Freier Handel und freie Märkte

Sie können nicht als selbstverständlich betrachtet werden.

Und wir können es nicht zulassen, dass sie im In- oder Ausland gefährdet werden.

Dieses neue Jahr bringt viele Herausforderungen.

Wie ich gesagt habe, der Brexit steht bevor und zum ersten Mal wird ein Mitgliedsstaat die EU verlassen.

Mit dem Erstarken des Populismus verurteilen uns Menschen und versuchen, unsere Gesellschaft und unseren Kontinent zu teilen.

Wir haben das Problem der Migration und andere Herausforderungen.

Und dennoch bin ich optimistisch.

Manfred Weber hat uns daran erinnert: Wir können nur morgen eine bessere Zukunft haben, wenn wir heute daran arbeiten, sie zu erschaffen.

Europa ist als Idee ein Erfolg, denn es ist der beste Weg, um Hoffnung in einer ungewissen Welt zu wecken. Es existiert nicht trotz, sondern wegen dieser Herausforderungen.

Ich glaube, dass wir sie zusammen erfolgreich bestehen werden und in den Jahren, die vor uns liegen, noch sehr viel mehr erreichen werden.




Opening translated

Good evening.

It is a pleasure to be here, at the start of a new year, to meet with colleagues who share a similar vision about the future of Europe, as we discuss the challenges ahead.

Goethe reminds us that our freedom and existence cannot be taken for granted.  They must be conquered daily anew.

This year, more than ever, we cannot shirk the challenges we face.


Conclusion translated

I believe that certain values are fundamental and inalienable and must always be defended.  They are European values and they are our values:

  • respect for human dignity;
  • personal and economic freedom;
  • democracy;
  • equality before the law;
  • the rule of law and human rights;
  • commitment to peace and multilateralism; and
  • free trade and free markets.

They cannot be taken for granted.

And we cannot allow them to be compromised at home or abroad.

This new year brings many challenges.

As I have said, we have Brexit and a member state leaving the EU for the first time.

With the rise of populism we have people who condemn us and seek to divide our societies and our continent.

We have the problem of migration and other challenges.

And yet, I am optimistic.

As Manfred Weber has reminded us, we can only have a better future tomorrow if we work to create it today.

Europe succeeds as an idea because it is the best way of providing hope in an uncertain world.  It exists because of these challenges, not despite them.

I believe that together we will face them successfully, and in the years ahead we will achieve so much more.

Thank you.


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