Irish neutrality not affected by EU security plans, says Kenny

European leaders gather in Bratislava for first major meeting since Brexit vote

Speaking at a gathering of EU leaders in Bratislava, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny has insisted that any forthcoming plans on EU security will not affect Ireland's neutrality. Video: EU Commission

 

Ireland’s neutrality will continue to be protected in any future deepening of the EU’s common defence and security co-operation, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Arriving in Bratislava for a one-day meeting of EU leaders at which plans for further EU cooperation in security and defence will be discussed, Mr Kenny said that Ireland “has always contributed -taking into account the red line issues we have in terms of neutrality — to European co-operation and we will continue to do so.”

He said that the Northern Ireland border issue was a key focus for Ireland in the upcoming negotiations on Brexit and any discussion on securing the EU’s external borders.

“We have pointed out in a series of diplomatic initiatives in the last few weeks the extent of just how critical the border issue in Ireland is,” he said.

“I think the Europeans understand the contribution they’ve made to the peace process in Ireland has resulted in the border that used to be there – one of the most heavily militarized borders for many years – being moved.

“They understand the contribution they have made. In that sense what we want to do is maintain our cooperation with our European colleagues and at the same time maintain our contact and close relationships with the United Kingdom.”

Developing enhanced co-operation between EU member states in the wake of recent terrorist attacks is topping today’s agenda, as EU leaders – without Britain – gather for their first major meeting since the Brexit referendum.

Minister for European Affairs Dara Murphy, who is in the Slovak capital for today’s meeting, said that the idea of a European army was not on the table.

“Talking to other member states, there is a sense that is not desirable or deliverable,” he said.

Military headquarters

France and Germany have been pushing plans for a stronger EU defence policy in the wake of Brexit , and have backed a proposal for a EU military headquarters and greater coordination on defence spending by member states.

Arriving in Bratislava, French president François Hollande said that France, along with Britain - the only EU member state that holds a permanent seat at the UN security council - did not want to act alone in prioritising defence, and wanted the support of other member states.

Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite said an EU army was not up for discussion and stressed that greater EU co-operation on defence would not constitute a rival to Nato.

She said today’s meeting was only an informal discussion on the next way forward for the EU and few concretes measures could be expected.

Speaking ahead of the summit, European Council president Donald Tusk said Europe could not “deny the real challenges” it faces.

He called for a “sober and brutally honest assessment of the situation”.

While the Bratislava summit was convened in the wake of the Brexit referendum on June 23rd, there is expected to be little discussion of Brexit, with the EU insisting that no negotiations will commence until Article 50 is invoked.

The meeting also comes amid simmering tensions between east European countries and western member states over the EU’s migration policy.

Earlier this week, Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn said EU countries such as Hungary, which build fences to keep out refugees, should be ejected from Europe. His comments, in an interview with German newspaper Die Welt on Tuesday, sparked a furious reaction from Hungary.

Migration crisis

Mr Tusk visited Warsaw and Budapest in the last few days in an effort to build consensus ahead of today’s meeting, at which the EU’s response to the migration crisis will be discussed.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, whose relocation proposal for refugees sparked huge opposition from east European member states, appeared to strike a conciliatory note in his keynote speech in Strasbourg on Wednesday, by suggesting that solidarity on the refugee crisis must “come from the heart” and could not be forced.

Also on Friday’s agenda will be discussion on increasing investment in Europe and a discussion on the effects of globalisation on European citizens.

While Mr Tusk said last week he does not expect taxation to be on the agenda, EU leaders could raise the recent Apple tax judgment with the Taoiseach the sidelines.