Speech by Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD, at ‘Ireland and the Single Market’ EU50 Conference, 27 October 2022

29 November 2022
Taoiseach Micheál Martin's headshot.

A chairde,

Tá ríméad orm an deis seo a bheith agam chun an chomhdháil seo ar Éire agus Margadh Aonair an Aontais Eorpaigh a oscailt.

Tá imeachtaí an lae inniu ar cheann de na gnéithe aonair is tábhachtaí inár gclár náisiúnta EU50 faoina ndéantar comóradh ar bhallraíocht chaoga bliain na hÉireann san Aontas Eorpach.

Is meabhrú tábhachtach iad ar na hidirspleáchais dhoimhne atá idir teacht chun cinn an Mhargadh Aonair agus forbairt gheilleagrach na hÉireann.

Agus is cuid thábhachtach iad sa chomhrá ilghnéitheach atá ar bun faoin Aontas Eorpach a athbheochan do na deicheanna de bhlianta atá amach romhainn.

Your discussions today are on a topic of strategic significance for Ireland and the wider European Union alike.

It is with events like this, that we can continue to develop the shared understandings that are necessary to underpin effective engagement with twenty-first century economic challenges and opportunities.

EU50

It was just over fifty years ago, on 10 May 1972, that the Irish people made one of the most consequential decisions in the history of our State – voting by an overwhelming majority to join the then European Communities.

Few events in our history have been so transformative.

Close reciprocal cooperation with our European partners has become – in the five decades since – a defining feature of Ireland’s emergence as a modern, open society and economy.

The generations since accession have enjoyed opportunity on a scale perhaps unimaginable to our predecessors in the Ireland of 1972.

This transformation has been realised with the support of our European partners, including through substantial structural funding.

It has also been underpinned by the vital role that our EU membership has played in the journey towards peace and reconciliation on this island.

We should never forget that in 1972, when the European Communities opened the door to Ireland, it was the very worst year of violence during the ‘Troubles’, with nearly 500 men, women and children being killed in a single year. 

Far from diminishing the sovereignty of the Irish people, our EU membership has unequivocally strengthened it.

It gives us a reach and an influence that we would not otherwise enjoy.

And it plays no small part in the standing of our modern Irish state as a significant hub in the most sophisticated networks of global economic and political cooperation.

When I visited the National Archives in January to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Accession Treaty, I made the point that those convinced that Ireland’s future lay in Europe showed the courage to imagine a new Ireland, and a more confident and optimistic future.

Then Taoiseach Jack Lynch described it at the time as “responding to the call made by the founding fathers of the EC to other countries of Europe who shared their ideals, to join in their efforts to establish the foundations of an ever-closer union among the European peoples”.

This included at its core the ideal of “a vital force for peace in the world”, and “an ever-increasing contribution to the economic and social progress of developing nations”.

I believe the same spirit of optimism, aspiration and hope that is reflected in those words should remain a powerful guiding force today, including in unlocking the full dynamic potential of our Single Market.

Single Market

A Single Market of 27 countries and over 450 million people is at the heart of today’s European Union, and among its finest achievements.

It enables free movement of people, goods, services and capital; reduces transaction costs for cross-border trade; facilitates the market-based competition that delivers greater quality and choice to consumers; and sets the strategic context and regulatory standards for innovation and productivity growth.

It was during the Irish Presidency in 1984 that then Senator James Dooge was appointed chair of an ad hoc group to make suggestions for the improvement of

European cooperation.

The backdrop to this report was an extended economic crisis, and a recognition that Europe was falling behind in the face of increasing industrial and technological competition.

We should acknowledge the ambition of then European Commission President Jacques Delors in producing an action programme in 1985 seeking to abolish, within seven years, all physical and technical barriers to free movement within the Community.

The aim of stimulating industrial and commercial expansion within a large, unified economic area led to a revised Treaty – the Single European Act – that came into force in July 1987. And the Single Market that we know today took legal effect from 1 January 1993.

Since its inception, the Single Market has generated millions of jobs and significant added value for the European economy, along with its unambiguous consumer dividend.

Some here today may recall the price of telephone calls and air fares in the 1980s!

But it is also clear that modernising and deepening the Single Market is a not a one-off event.  Rather, it is a continuous exercise of adapting to changing socio-economic realities, to new technological imperatives, and of course to our strategic political objectives in advancing the twin climate and digital transitions.

From a business perspective and as an example of where more needs to be done, it is clear that the reality of the Single Market for services, in particular, has fallen short of expectations.

The Copenhagen Economics report commissioned by our then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in 2018, in collaboration with its counterparts in Czechia, Denmark, Finland, showed that the Single Market has on average reduced trade costs by 20 percent for goods, but only 7 percent for services.

This means that intra-EU services trade has grown more slowly that it should have, effectively constraining business and entrepreneurial opportunity to scale up and expand across borders.

It also means that productivity in EU services sectors has grown three times more slowly than in manufacturing, and is significantly out-performed by the US services sector over recent decades.

This trend has also become established against a backdrop where digitalisation is making traditional distinctions between goods and services markets less relevant.

The EU has maintained its position as second in the world’s regions for corporate R&D investment over the last decade – a period that saw global industrial R&D investment grow by more than two-thirds.

But despite this relatively good investment performance, the corporate R&D intensity gap compared to the US has increased over the past decade, while the corresponding intensity gap compared to China continues to shrink.

Policy responses here must include ensuring the right framework conditions for accelerated rollout of 5G infrastructure; sufficient funding for the basic research that will support technological innovation; and creating deeper capital markets to ensure that Europe’s start-ups have the finance they need to grow and scale and to compete across its borders and beyond.

We are also seeing that digital technologies are now at the core of geopolitics, and reinforce strongly the strategic importance of Europe’s relationship with like-minded global partners.

The EU-US Trade and Technology Council, launched last year, has already proven its value as a forum to address global challenges based on common values and interests.

I look forward to tangible progress in the period ahead that will, I hope, see greater transatlantic convergence on overarching matters such as AI standards and the fundamentals of supply chain resilience.

Also very welcome in this context is the digital partnership with Japan that the European Commission launched in May; the proposed establishment of further such partnerships with South Korea and Singapore; and the proposed launch of a Trade and Technology Council with India.

Ukraine and Leaders’ Agenda

It is impossible to talk about Europe today without reflecting on the appalling events unfolding in Ukraine.

As we meet, Ukraine, a European country, a sovereign democracy, continues to be subject to the most horrific and violent assault.

Russia’s illegal and immoral aggression against a peaceful neighbour has had a devastating impact on the Ukrainian people.

Visiting Ukraine in July, I heard first-hand accounts from civilians of the brutality and violence visited upon men, women and children by occupying Russian forces.

We have seen the wanton destruction, and the uncovering of mass civilian graves. We have seen the targeting of nuclear facilities and of civilian infrastructure, most recently energy infrastructure, in a cruel and reckless attempt to – if it can’t win - simply make Ukraine uninhabitable.

As I said when I addressed the United Nations, these actions, taken collectively, show Russia behaving as a rogue state.

The impact of Russia’s aggression reaches far beyond Ukraine and has been felt in every home and business in Europe.

The refugee crisis, the energy emergency, and the impact on supply chains are all being keenly felt as inflationary pressures on the cost of living and the cost of doing business.

In the face of this destruction and devastation, the Irish people have been at the forefront in terms of humanitarian assistance, including opening their communities, their homes and their hearts to more than 54,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Ireland since the end of February; and as a country we have been at the forefront of showing political support for Ukraine, in terms of tough sanctions on Russia and in our support for Ukraine’s EU candidacy.

Indeed, I have consistently advocated that Ukraine is part of our European family and belongs in the EU.

The government there is firmly committed to working hard – even despite the awful circumstances they face – to meet the high bar required for accession to the EU.

It was a historic event when they formally became a candidate in June. The Single Market, in time, will be key to integrating what will be a free, sovereign and democratic Ukraine, as it has been in every EU enlargement.

I warmly welcome that the European Council last week agreed that the full potential of the EU’s existing Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with Ukraine should be used to the full to ease Ukraine’s access to the Single Market now.

Conclusion

The Single Market is a core foundation of Europe’s peace and prosperity.

It is the economic foundation upon which the highest level of ambition for our shared strategic objectives will be established.

It is critical to the ability of the European Union to absorb external shocks, leverage our geopolitical power, and provide practical expression to the principle of open strategic autonomy guided by shared values.

Please accept my very best wishes for your deliberations here today at this important discussion on the strategic direction for its future.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.