Article by Brian Hayes Fine Gael MEP published in the Irish Times on 30th October 2015.
The refugee crisis is now the biggest challenge facing the EU. The failure of Europe to find agreement and to act decisively on the issue has the potential to dismantle the EU from within. Migration is central to the British referendum on EU membership. It is the toxic issue that within five years could bring the European Union to its knees.
The EU is built on four fundamental principles, one of which is the free movement of people. This is enshrined in the Treaties. Any diminution to the right of EU citizens to move freely across the EU could lead to the breakdown of the Schengen free travel agreement. Once you start limiting free movement, which could be an outcome of this crisis – you start to unravel the EU. As the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar put it recently, “if we don’t deliver concrete action, I believe Europe will start falling apart”.
Very serious tensions have broken out between several EU countries, most recently between Germany and Austria. We have seen the erection of border fences between EU countries. Angela Merkel faces growing and vociferous opposition in Germany to her open approach to the refugee issue. If the flow of refugees and migrants into the EU continues at the current level into 2016 and beyond, the capacity of the EU to cope will be stretched to breaking point.
Be under no illusion; the EU sceptics see migration as an opportunity to break the EU. The latest Eurobarometer of British opinion shows that migration is now the main issue of concern to British voters. If Britain leaves the EU others may well follow. Foot dragging on the issue by European politicians opens the door to the extremes. A heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of the current generation of European politicians to respond to the ongoing crisis.
The debate so far in Europe is characterised by a failure of leadership; by a failure to act together; by a failure to properly engage with the scale of the crisis. Angela Merkel has shown an extraordinary willingness to confront the challenge of migration.
This issue will not go away just because the waters of the Mediterranean turn cold at the onset of winter. People will still come to Europe. They will find new routes and even more dangerous journeys to take.
Isn’t it rather ironic that the very leaders, who challenged communism in Eastern Europe 25 years by tearing down walls, now want new walls and fences erected to stop people entering free Europe.
Europe is getting older, less competitive and emerging from the financial crisis at a much slower pace in comparison to the US. In any understanding of the real problems that confront Europe, from slowing growth to demographic pressures, it is obvious that the EU needs to attract people from outside of Europe to Europe. That’s either going to be done in a planned way or in a chaotic way, as is happening now.
Ireland is a case in point. Twenty years ago we had a labour force of 1.1 million people. That nearly doubled as the economy grew to two million people at work. The amazing turn around in Ireland’s economic performance, even with the economic crises, could not have happened without inward migration. If Europe wants the very social market economy continuing for future generations, then increasing our population is a crucial requirement.
I am not suggesting for a moment that we have an open door policy. That would be as irresponsible as doing nothing. But we must recognise that population growth in Africa over the next 30 years will see an additional billion people being born in that continent. That’s twice the size of Europe. By 2050 the population of Nigeria in 10 years could be over 400 million people. The pressures of population growth in other parts of the world will inevitably bring more people to Europe. We need to turn it to our advantage.
In Ireland we need a national conversation on migration and an honest discussion on our responsibilities as a rich country that has benefitted from EU membership. I welcome the government’s commitment, to take 4,000 people as part of the wider EU plan on resettlement programme. We should be prepared to review this number as the situation develops. Our own history of migration should encourage us to be generous. After the initial assessment, providing for the needs of refugees is best done at local level. Direct provision in large centres is bureaucratic, expensive and does not result in good outcomes.
I believe that each local authority in the country should now be tasked with establishing a refugee settlement committee. Under the direction of the local authority the resources of local communities, Church groups, voluntary groups and individuals willing to help could be effectively mobilized. While funding will be needed from central government, local effort and local engagement will result in better outcomes for all.
Europe needs to do a lot quickly on this issue.
– The move towards binding quotas for the resettlement programme must happen.
– A safe return policy has to be coordinated and paid for at a European level.
– More naval vessels are required and more support for Frontex is badly needed.
– We need to find a workable replacement to the Dublin convention which is no longer fit for purpose.
– Europe should work towards a common green card for migrant workers which would apply across the 28 member states.
– The EU must provide extra funding for the UN Refugee Agency so that support can be given in need of humanitarian aid.
– Plans to establish an EU border guard should also be advanced.
The EU is good at many things. That is especially the case when it comes to development aid and humanitarian relief. Europe leads where others follow. But on providing a pathway to citizenship of non-Europeans, we have failed miserably. Europe should not forget its own past of large scale displacement of people. The same values that brought Europe together after the second World War; tolerance, respect for diversity, freedom and effective multilateral action, are the values that Europe needs to show now.
The EU moves slowly; that is its nature. In contrast Germany’s response to the refugee crisis was swift and decisive. Germany adopted a can do attitude. Their decision to take so many refugees is a response to its own history but also a sign of its new place in the world. There are also economic reasons given Germany’s demography. But one thing is certain; its willingness to offer a home to the refugees from Africa and the Middle East is in stark contrast to the fortress mentality of many in Europe. We could learn a lot from their example. Responding with generosity is the right response from a humanitarian point of view and also the right response from an economic point of view.
Brian Hayes is a Fine Gael MEP.
Only 33% of UK citizens trust the EU
Fine Gael Dublin MEP, Brian Hayes today said that British people’s trust in the EU is worryingly low. MEP Hayes made the comments following the publication of the latest Eurobarometer survey.
“The latest Eurobarometer survey of opinion across the EU shows that trust in the EU is lower in the UK than in all other 28 EU countries with the exception of the Czech Republic. The average level of trust in the EU in the UK is 33%.”
“The survey covered eleven regions in the UK. Levels of trust in the EU ranged from 25% in the West Midlands to 43% in London. The level of trust in the EU in Northern Ireland is 40% which is the second highest of the eleven regions surveyed.”
“The high level of support in Northern Ireland is somewhat ironic given that it only narrowly passed the European Union membership referendum in 1975. This may be a reflection of the importance of the farming sector in the economy of Northern Ireland and also the on-going strong financial and political support given to the Peace Process by the EU.”
“Within the next 2-3 weeks Prime Minister Cameron will outline his views on EU reform ahead of a European Leaders summit in December to deal specifically with the British Referendum. It’s important for Ireland that the UK remains part of the EU. They are our closest neighbour with more than €1 billion worth of goods crossing the Irish Sea every week” concluded MEP Hayes.
Dublin MEP, Brian Hayes has today welcomed the passing of the Travel Package Directive. The European Parliament voted on the Directive today in Strasbourg which will provide greater protection for up to 120 million EU citizens each year.
“The passing of the Travel Package Directive will provide greater financial protection for EU citizens when purchasing holidays online. The Directive defines what a travel package is. The internet has made it extremely easy for travellers to log onto a single website and purchase flights, book a hotel, rent a car or purchase tourist attraction tickets.”
“This is all very convenient for the consumer but prior to today’s vote very little protection was in place should one of the providers such as the hotel go burst. The Directive introduces new rules that will require consumers to be better informed about the products they are purchasing and the level of protection that they have.”
“The Directive also gives the traveller the right to cancel the entire travel package should the price increase by more than 8% without incurring additional charges.”
“The Directive does not cover purchases made via an advertisement on a website such as a car rental deal advertised on an airlines website. However the Directive does require such adverts to state clearly that the rental is not part of a travel package.”
“The passing of the Directive is a win win situation for EU citizens. It provides great financial protection and additional consumer rights” concluded MEP Hayes.
European Parliament stamps its position on the EU’s Mandatory Exchange of Information Directive today.
Brian Hayes MEP today said that tax authorities in the EU, including Irish Revenue, will now have to share sensitive tax details about companies operating in their territories with other tax authorities.
“This agreement sends an important signal. When it comes to EU action on corporate tax issues, transparency is the area we should be pushing. Cross-border tax avoidance is a problem. But this Directive will ensure that tax authorities now have to be transparent with one another about tax deals with companies in their territory.
“It is often the case that some Member States issue a cross-border tax ruling without sharing the necessary information with other Member States that may be impacted. This will now change. Member States will now be obliged to automatically exchange information on their tax rulings.
“Ireland is in a good position to deal with the new rules. We have a very transparent tax system which is recognised by the OECD. Ireland was one of the first countries to sign up to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) arrangement with the United States which sets a high global standard on the exchange of tax information. Ireland is firmly committed to the OECD BEPS guidelines which were published in October 2015. Ireland also has an extensive number of bilateral tax treaties with other countries dealing with the issue of double taxation.
“Ireland generally does not issue formal tax rulings; instead it offers non-binding opinions to taxpayers in Ireland. Through this new Directive, Irish Revenue is expected to exchange information about these opinions with other tax authorities.
“Now that the Parliament has given its opinion on the Mandatory Exchange of Information Directive, the European Council will give final sign off at an upcoming Council meeting.”
Brian Hayes MEP today said that the European Central Bank needs to completely redesign its Quantitative Easing programme before any expansion of QE is considered. Mr. Hayes made his comments following a statement by ECB President Mario Draghi that QE will be re-examined in December.
“President Draghi has kept an open door policy to expand QE even further than the approximately €1.1 trillion originally planned. While expanding QE might be helpful, I do not believe this should be considered until QE is redesigned and we see inflation moving in the right direction. QE has so far not had its desired impact; inflation should be increasing on the back of QE yet in recent months it has been steadily falling and now stands at -0.10% for the whole Eurozone.
“In my opinion the QE programme needs to be completely redesigned. First of all, there needs to be more risk-sharing between central banks. At the moment, only 20% of asset purchases are subject to risk-sharing through the ECB, the other 80% fall onto the shoulders of national central banks. This makes it more difficult for some central banks to inject money into the economy knowing that they bear responsibility for any potential default.
“Secondly, there needs to be a much greater level of public and private investment through Public Private Partnerships. For QE to work properly, it needs to be mixed with adequate levels of stimulus. Jean-Claude Juncker’s €315 billion EU investment plan will have an important impact but Member States themselves need to take ownership and get investment going again in their economies. Germany is a prime example of a country that needs a radical increase in investment.
“Finally, there needs to be a quicker implementation of the EU’s new Capital Markets Union plan. The idea behind this plan is to open up new forms of lending to businesses and households, rather than relying on traditional bank lending. QE will only work when households and businesses are borrowing sufficiently. At the moment, households and companies across the Eurozone are busy trying to pay off debts and are not in a strong position to take out new loans. The Capital Markets Union plan is expected to be completed by mid-2019 but we need a quicker timeframe for the essential components of the plan.”
Article by Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes published in the Irish Independent on Monday 26th October 2015.
In politics, as in life, timing is everything. This time last year, we were in the midst of the water protests. For the hard Left, the water protests represented the golden cow that kept giving. From the Socialist Party to the AAA and everything in between, water was gold. People on the streets, a Government that was retreating and loudhailers galore. What more could the fragmented Irish Left want?
Alan Kelly’s package in response to the protests did steady the nerves of backbenchers in both Fine Gael and Labour. Water is still an issue and will no doubt resurface during the upcoming general election campaign, but the poison that it once represented is no more.
Judging by the latest published opinion poll, a lot has changed over the past year. In polls, as in politics, the trend is your friend.
During the past year combined support for Fine Gael/Lab is trending higher, while support for Sinn Féin is trending downwards.
All that pretend anger and fake indignation, so common this time last year, hasn’t paid off.
SF must be scratching their heads. What has gone wrong for them? In effect, during the past year, SF has lost more than a quarter of its support. I think the reasons are straight-forward enough. Try as Sinn Féin might to move on from the criminality of the IRA, the public just don’t believe it. That sense of disbelief also occurs every time Gerry Adams tells us he wasn’t in the IRA. The legacy problem hasn’t gone away. SF still walks in the shadow of the gunman.
The other problem they face is that their flip-flopping on water has been badly exposed by the hard Left. On water, three things come to mind. First, the major about-turn on water was brought about on the back of the Dublin south west by-election. Until that point, SF said very clearly that the issue of abolishing water charges would not be a red-line issue for their participation in government.
Being honest, their finance spokesman had a very balanced position. Realising that the party might lose the by-election, which they eventually did to the Socialist Party, they flip-flopped in the middle of the campaign and declared that the charges would have to go before they would enter government. A new red line was created.
Next, they flipped on Irish Water itself – first saying that Irish Water would have to go, then saying that they would keep it. And then, in the most bizarre twist of all, their MEPs voted for “progressive charges” for water in a report in the European Parliament, charges not just for Ireland but for all of Europe!
The truth is that SF were late on to the water pitch by comparison to others. Up until that point, they were doing their best to appeal to the middle classes. Suddenly, they wanted to be trusted on the economy. But the water protest put paid to that and ensured that they had to reverse engines and fight the Left. In short, they were being outmanoeuvred.
On legacy issues, there is no doubt that the cases of Mairia Cahill and Paudie McGahon over the past year, exposing cover-up, abuse and intimidation within the republican underworld, cost the party significantly. Last week’s Report on Paramilitary Activity has legitimately asked new questions about the continuing and murky relationship between the IRA and SF. The issue for SF is not what they believe about that relationship; it’s what the public believe.
I have no doubt that many of the young public representatives who have been elected for SF are good people. Many are idealistic and see in the party a radical alternative. But their failure to confront SF’s past, to ask hard questions, denotes a real danger that the party is too controlled by a group that lives in the shadows.
Mary Lou McDonald never asks a hard question of the man who sits beside her in the Dáil every week. While many of those councilors, and indeed MEPs, are genuinely looking for something radical, can they find it in SF? What exactly does the party stand for? Is it a genuine party of the Left or just some opportunistic populist nationalist party of the ugly European variety?
Politics in Northern Ireland is not like politics here in the Republic. Our election is not some sectarian headcount, as is the case in the North. So the idea put forward by SF that they would only serve in government if they were the largest party, thereby representing a majority within the make-up of that government, may well be sending out the wrong signal to the people who would vote for them.
Unlike northern politics, where you are never punished for sitting out of office or for showing no responsibility whatsoever, our politics is different. If you constantly sit it out, believing that you can continue to grow in opposition, frequently you find that someone else comes and takes your place.
It is the danger of being outflanked. This strategic position was adopted by SF this year. Whatever the argument of other parties not wanting to be in government with SF, that’s another question entirely. But basically saying to your own support base that the priority is building up the party by staying out of office, until you have reached a critical mass, gives the clear impression that the party is more important than the people you want to represent.
I suspect SF know that if they went into government, within six weeks half their support base would go. So they will continue to sit it out.
The net effect of last week’s report is that no political party in the Republic can touch them. They are still in quarantine.
Almost 1,000 complaints in first 9 months of 2015
Dublin MEP, Brian Hayes has today (Sunday) said that action taken by the EU will help reduce the amount of car rental complaints. MEP Hayes made the comments following a series of questions he posed to the European Commission which showed that in the first nine months of this year 988 complaints were made in relation to car rental.
“In the first 9 months of this year a total of 988 complaints were received by the European Commission in relation to car hire in Europe. Almost 50% of these complaints related to additional charges faced by consumers.”
“Since my election to the European Parliament I have been contacted by many Irish citizens who experienced problems while renting a car abroad. It is an industry worth in excess of €10 billion per year in Europe. Yet the number of complaints relating to the industry continues to increase each year.”
“I recently raised this matter with the European Commission who has informed me that negotiations with the car rental industry had resulted in five of the biggest car rental providers committing to improve their practise for consumers.”
“The new improvements focus on transparency of online booking with car rental companies committing to provide clear information about prices, including all mandatory charges and options. It also includes improved fuel options such as the option to purchase a half tank instead of being obliged to purchase a fuel tank. These improvements are being implemented gradually by each of the rental providers with the aim to have them all in place by early 2016.”
“The trade association “Lease Europe” which represents a number of car rental providers will also introduce guidance for its members so that the whole sector adopts the same principals.”
“I welcome these improvements but I’m disappointment that only 5 rental providers are committed to these improved practices. While I recognise that this accounts for over 70% of the market in the EU this is not always in the case in individual countries such as Spain and Italy where the majority of the market is small independent providers,” concluded MEP Hayes.