French PM Manuel Valls to meet Enda Kenny in Dublin

Talks will center on the economy, agriculture, the British EU exit and Greece

French Ambassador to Ireland Jean Pierre Thebault with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls outside the new French embassy on Merrion Square in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

French Ambassador to Ireland Jean Pierre Thebault with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls outside the new French embassy on Merrion Square in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

Ever since French general Jean Joseph Amable Humbert tried to liberate Ireland in 1798, big France and little Ireland have usually ended up on the same side, particularly when defending their agricultural interests.

Diplomats say French prime minister Manuel Valls’s visit to Dublin, where he will meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny today, will raise co-operation to a new level.

They will sign agreements on energy, education and technological research. In the context of the transition towards renewable energy, they will work together to produce electricity from sea tides. The EU’s €300 billion Juncker investment plan will fund an undersea cable to carry electricity produced in Ireland to the continent.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for Kenny and Valls to assess each other’s economies. Because France is the second economic power in the EU and fifth in the world, her recovery is crucial to the stability of the euro zone.

Ireland has a stake in the French economy too. Sixty Irish firms employ 12,000 people in France. If CRH’s buyout of assets of the French company Lafarge and the Swiss company Holcim goes through, it will be the biggest foreign investment ever by an Irish company. Some 350 French companies are present in Ireland.

Valls will salute Ireland’s success in exiting the bailout programme. He is expected to stress that France is reforming its economy and meeting EU expectations that it reduce budget deficits. He might quote a headline from Le Monde: “The French economy is better; management is regaining confidence.”

Although they come to the issue from different perspectives – a severe dose of austerity in Ireland followed by the highest growth rate in the EU, versus France’s rejection of austerity and slow-starting growth – both governments have arrived at the same conclusion: it’s all about investment, jobs and growth, and nothing must be done to endanger the fragile recovery.

Kenny and Valls will also discuss what they can do to prevent Britain leaving the EU and Greece leaving the euro.

When he visited London last October, Valls said forcefully the UK must stay in the EU. He is well aware of the damage Ireland could suffer from a “Brexit”.

Though Ireland’s economic exposure to Greece is small, the effect of a “Grexit” on the euro zone could be catastrophic. French banks are heavily exposed to Greek debt. There is strong agreement between the two governments that Greece must remain a member, but also that it must present credible reforms quickly.

Agriculture

Europe

Dublin is more eager than Paris for a rapid conclusion to the negotiations. Paris is cautious, emphasising any accord must be “balanced and global”.

The UN conference on climate change, to take place in Paris next December, is also on the agenda. Because agriculture fulfils a global human need, Ireland argues methane releases by livestock – flatulent cows – should not be counted in s its emissions quota.

Valls will visit the Long Room and Book of Kells at Trinity College, where he will be shown Samuel Beckett’s French-language manuscripts.

His meeting with the Taoiseach will be followed by an appointment with Tánaiste Joan Burton. He will have lunch with Irish investors in France, and visit Enterprise Ireland and Connect Ireland.

The prime minister is particularly interested in Enterprise Ireland’s success in promoting Irish business abroad.