Tuesday 20 August 2019

Close post-Brexit ties with UK and fighting climate change are Ireland's priorities as EU leaders plan Europe's future

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives for the informal meeting of European Union leaders in Sibiu, Romania
REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives for the informal meeting of European Union leaders in Sibiu, Romania REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

ENSURING close post-Brexit ties with the UK and action on tackling climate change are among Irish priorities as EU leaders meet today to discuss the future of Europe.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is in Sibiu, Romania today for an informal summit of 27 EU leaders where Brexit is not on the agenda for a European Council meeting for perhaps the first time in almost three years.

British prime minister Theresa May is not attending the summit.

The remaining EU leaders are to outline a strategy for the next five years.

Irish priorities are said to include ensuring the EU “maintains a close and comprehensive partnership” with the UK after Brexit.

Deepening the EU single market and “making the EU a leader on climate action” are also on Ireland’s agenda, as is ensuring the views of EU citizens are “foremost in EU priorities”.

The European Commission has recommended that the EU’s strategy up to 2024 focuses on key areas including promoting peace, investing in the “technologies of tomorrow”, upholding the rule of law and fighting climate change.

Mr Varadkar attended a meeting of the European People’s Party (EPP) this morning along with leaders like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis welcomed them.

He hailed the importance of the summit to his country and noted that it was 30 years since the fall of Communism in Romania.

The EPP is Fine Gael's sister party in the European Parliament.

While Mrs May is not attending the summit, the UK's Brexit secretary Steve Barclay did deliver a speech in Sibiu today.

He said the meeting is an opportunity to “consider the sustainable future relationship between the UK and the EU”.

He spoke of the security threats facing the continent, the risk posed by climate change and economic challenges.

Mr Barclay said: “These challenges we share are actually bigger than the issue of Brexit, they are more significant, more complex than the challenges we are looking at in the Brexit context.

“And they demand that we continue across Europe to work together in terms of our future relationship.”

He said his job title - Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union - “does not reveal what its real focus is, which is to help position the UK to meet its future challenges – and those challenges sit alongside and in common with those being addressed here in Sibiu.”

“We have always said we are not exiting Europe, but we share the same values, nor can we opt out of the challenges identified by the Commission leading up to this conference in terms of security, cyber and the environment.”

He said he looks forward to working with the EU as “the UK continues to be an active partner in meeting those challenges head on.”

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