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Irish Prime Minister Addresses EU Leaders

by Robert Lee,, London

16 December 2008

Irish Prime Minister Cowen addressed members of the European Union (EU) at a recent working lunch; at the meeting he clarified Ireland’s position regarding the Lisbon treaty and climate change, and underlined how he planned to bring Ireland out of the ongoing crisis.

He began by thanking the French President Nicholas Sarkozy for his hospitality and providing energetic leadership to the EU in the past six months.

Turning to the economic and financial crisis Cowen said:

“I would open my comments with the observation that the downturn is becoming more pressing. I think it is fair to say that we are in a uniquely difficult situation internationally. Ireland, as a small open economy, has found itself particularly exposed to many of the challenging economic developments which are affecting all economies around the globe.

“The fiscal outlook in Ireland is particularly bleak. We have seen a significant contraction in a number of sectors, and this has had a far worse impact on government revenues than our estimates could predict. Government expenditure is in line with budgetary expectations due to the rigorous control of expenditure which we have introduced in response to the fiscal outlook. But revenues are sharply down.

“The stimulus package published by the Commission is a welcome initiative and we endorse much of its contents. Our priority will be a sustainable consolidation of the public finances over the medium term. This must be achieved without depressing investment and consumer demand through increases in the tax burden on labour and business, which would weaken the economic outlook. The government’s actions to cut gross government debt during the past decade while funding very large public investment from tax revenue means that we are in a better position than any of our predecessors at this point in the economic cycle.”

Cowen also touched on the issue of the Lisbon treaty and expressed his desire to continue with talks to achieve a satisfactory conclusion.

He stressed his concerns with the legislation at present, emphasising that the future composition of the Commission, and issues related to taxation, would need to be clarified before finalising the agreement and hoped that leaders understood his reasoning.

“For my part, I can assure you that if a satisfactory response to the Irish people’s concerns is forthcoming, then I will not be found wanting. We are fully prepared to meet our responsibilities to our partners across the European Union. Europe is a 27 way street: we all have responsibilities to each other," Cowen said, adding:

“Progress of this kind requires leadership and flexibility. I believe that we have sufficient quantities of both in relation to the Lisbon issue to have a successful resolution.

“A key strength of the Union has been its ability and willingness to work on the basis of accommodating the interests of all member states. There has been great readiness on the part of other member states to work with us in the search for solutions. We appreciate greatly the constructive and cooperative spirit which all partners have approached the seeking of collective solutions. We are counting on your continued understanding. My contacts to date have been very supportive and encouraging in that regard.

“Urgency, vision and innovation have been the hallmarks of the French Presidency and Europe has been all the better for that. I’m confident that these strengths will define the outcomes of our meeting next Thursday and Friday in Brussels also. Ireland is determined to play our part in reaching agreements that will stand the test of time and meet public approval here at home.”

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