Many thanks for the invitation to speak to you here today at the DCU Brexit Institute.
This Brexit Institute has had very many seminars on a wide range of topics over the last number of months and congratulations go DCU President MacCraith, Deputy President Keogh, Professor Fabbrini and all involved for your great efforts in promoting this public discussion and debate.
I want to warmly welcome Linda McAvan, chairwoman of the Committee on Development in the European Parliament, to Ireland – we have met at Foreign Affairs Council meetings for Development Ministers in Brussels and it’s now good to see you on Irish soil.
Let me also thank Andrew and all at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) for your participation here today and the excellent work that you continue to do, which we are happy to support.
I am here during a busy political week – we had the budget on Tuesday, which is going through the Dáil, and which curtails my time here today. And, as you know, there is the UK’s departure from the EU, which continues to absorb huge amounts of political time and energy.
The UK withdrawal from the EU
It is to that topic, Brexit and International Development Cooperation, that I turn. The discussion here today is important, coming at a sensitive time, just as the terms of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union are being negotiated.
My remarks will look to the future prospects for the EU’s international development role: however, I will not be commenting on any specifics regarding the future United Kingdom involvement with the EU – these discussions will come once the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom on the terms of the UK withdrawal have concluded, hopefully shortly.
I would like to acknowledge the quality of British development assistance, both in terms of its impact on the ground and also the role the UK has played as thought leaders in development.
Ireland and the UK share many objectives and goals when it comes to international development: this strong like-mindedness will I am sure continue into the future on such critical issues as promoting good governance, responding to acute humanitarian needs, and advancing on gender equality.
Whatever the nature of the eventual withdrawal agreement, we look forward to continued strong bilateral collaboration with the UK on these and other issues – both at the global level and on the ground, for example in Sierra Leone and Uganda. The EU might be losing a member, but we can and will still be strong friends – as we together work for sustainable development, peace and security, equality, and human rights. This is in all of our interests. It remains our collective responsibility.
The EU and International Development
Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union and its Member States continue to be the world’s leading provider of Official Development Assistance with an overall amount of over €75 billion last year. Working together, the European Union and its Member State provide over half of total global development assistance, investing in people, stronger institutions and societies.
This investment by the European Union and the Member States amounts to 0.50% of EU Gross National Income (GNI), more than double the average spend of non-EU donors. This makes the EU’s collective contribution to global good a really important driver of change.
And in addition to development assistance, EU companies are massive investors in the developing world, creating jobs and paying taxes, helping underpin the futures of their countries of operation. In 2015, Europe was Africa’s largest trading partner, with our trade with that continent more than a third more than Africa’s combined trade with the US and China.
Against this background, I believe the EU and its Member States show, and must continue to show, leadership and responsibility. I want Ireland to continue to play its full part at the heart of the EU, as we collectively strive to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for all, whether in our European home or elsewhere on our planet.
Ensuring that Ireland is properly situated to play that role is one of the reasons why the Government decided to bring forward a new White Paper on International Development. Work on the new policy is at an advanced stage, with the final town hall meeting of the public consultation phase having taken place last week. We have had a thorough process of lesson learning, analysis and consultation. And our new Policy will set out in a clear way our priorities and our ambition in forging a world that is more equal, peaceful and sustainable. We will be doing so as a strong believer in multilateralism, as a committed member of the United Nations, and as a central player in the European Union.
A key question on which we are now reflecting therefore is how can Ireland better leverage both its seat at the EU table, and our contribution to the EU instruments such as the EDF, to ensure that EU development policy most effectively complements Ireland’s bilateral assistance? Our bilateral assistance targets the furthest behind and has been judged to be the most effective in the world at reaching those in extreme poverty.
Last year, the contribution of Irish taxpayers to the EU efforts on international development amounted to over €192 million, a quarter of our total Official Development Assistance for the year. We can expect this contribution to increase following agreement of the new EU budget from 2021. This is for a number of reasons – partly because Ireland’s economy is thriving and also because there is an emerging sense around the EU table that collectively we must do more to ensure that our neighbourhood, particular south of the Mediterranean, is assisted in achieving its full potential.
We will miss the British voice in shaping future thinking around the European Union table on development issues where Ireland, and others, are like-minded. Without them, Ireland will have to work harder, with our friends, to help shape the EU’s future directions. Already, with the Government’s Global Ireland policy, we are putting in place some of the elements which will help us increase our influence in this regard, in Brussels, in other European capitals, and also through a strengthened presence elsewhere. An extended Irish diplomatic network will help us better shape and influence policies in Brussels.
An Alliance with Africa, and elsewhere
A real strength of ours when discussion turns to international development is that we know well in Ireland what it means to receive assistance – because for many years we have ourselves been beneficiaries of EU funding for deprived areas and for critical infrastructural development.
We also know very well that development assistance can only work if it derives from an equal partnership rather than a paternalistic top-down relationship; if it fosters self-sufficiency and promotes livelihoods, jobs and investment; and if it is used in a transparent and accountable way.
This is why we are working hard together with the EU and our fellow Member States to redefine our relationship with Africa, and also the Caribbean, the Pacific and other regions where our aid has traditionally gone. That is also why Ireland emphasises not just the importance of quality EU development cooperation but also the quality of tone and engagement in our dealings with partners.
Allow me to quote President Juncker:
“We have to stop seeing this relationship through the sole prism of development aid. Such an approach is beyond inadequate, humiliatingly so. Africa does not need charity, it needs true and fair partnerships. And Europe needs this partnership just as much.”
This is why a new Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs between Europe and Africa has been proposed by the EU. An Alliance which will help create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next 5 years alone.
As we are about to commence negotiations for a successor to the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, the EU will be striving to find ways and means to catalyse more private investment in Africa.
A challenge will be to ensure that this investment is focused where it matters most. How can companies be encouraged to invest in what are sometimes fragile contexts?
An objective will be to increase trade between Africa and Europe – where already 36% of Africa’s trade is with the EU. To ensure that sustainable development is supported so that no one is left behind. And to respond to the new challenges of climate change, insecurity, and forced migration – in a responsible way, tackling the root causes.
Today, as we speak, the Africa Ireland Economic Forum is being held down the road in the Convention Centre, bringing together African and Irish businesses, support agencies and Governments – all with the aim of increasing trade and investment between Ireland and Africa. I am also pleased to see the African Development Bank Vice President present for this event, as we are currently in the process of becoming a member of this bank – and not before time.
We are also conscious of the need to ensure that countries, particularly English-speaking, in the Caribbean and the Pacific that might traditionally have had a strong affinity to the United Kingdom, have concerns about the impact of Brexit on them in the period ahead. I know that the United Kingdom will be working hard to maintain their strong links to these regions. And I am also committed to doing our part, at the EU table, to ensure that their needs and priorities continue to be reflected in European investment and support. Indeed, with our central role in the EU, and our strong ties to the UK, we are well placed to play the role of bridge-building in these important regions.
Finally, thank you once again for the opportunity to contribute to today’s seminar, and I wish you fruitful discussions.