'The European Commission will be at Ireland’s side...in the Brexit debate' - Frans Timmermans

Frans Timmermans

Colm Kelpie

All of our economies will suffer if we fail to counter the protectionist argument espoused by radical nationalists, one of Europe’s top officials has warned.

European Commission first vice president Frans Timmermans said that if the argument can be made that free trade is a driving force for an economy, there “will be a change of heart in the United States in that area”.

US President Donald Trump has pledged to put “America first” and bring US jobs back home.

“If we do not counter the argument that most radical nationlists use, which is to protect is to be protectionist, if we don’t counter that argument all of our economies will suffer,” Mr Timmermans told TDs, Senators and MEPs on a visit to Dublin. “Protectionism has never been an answer, will never be an answer. We need trade, we need trade agreements worldwide.”

Mr Timmermans also said that Ireland was a very special case in the Brexit debate.

“I’m here to stress very clearly that the European Commission will be at Ireland’s side when we need to take into account the very special circumstances that Ireland has to deal with in the Brexit debate,” he told the joint Oireachtas committees on foreign affairs and trade, defence and European Union affairs.

“Through it’s political ties, its historic ties, its geographic position, it’s economic structure, Ireland is a very special case in the Brexit debate. I want to pledge here today that the European Commission will take these interests to heart and will make sure that these interests are heard by everyone during the period of negotiations.”

But he said the Commission needed Ireland’s “active engagement”.

“All the creativity that Irish people can muster to make sure that we find the best possible solution, all the political energy we can muster together to ensure that we do the least harm possible to all parties involved in the Brexit discussions.”

He said there should be no bilateral negotiations between individual member states and the UK, as it would be “playing into the hands of the Brits”. He also said that there was a “political and moral” duty to maintain the Good Friday Agreement.

“All during my childhood and young adulthood, I was witness to terrible violence in the north of this island. We were all brought up with that, and many of us thought that this could never be solved,” Mr Timmermans said.

“I truly thought when I was young, that this is part of life and that people are going to continue murdering each other for generations to come. And then this miracle of the Good Friday Agreement came about. I think we have a political and moral duty to do everything within our power to maintain the Good Friday Agreement.”