McAleese to stress commitment to EU on Netherlands visit

 

PRESIDENT MARY McAleese is to stress this evening that Ireland’s relationship with the EU remains healthy, despite controversy over demands by France and Germany for an increase in the 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate.

While not rowing back on unusually direct remarks to a Dutch newspaper in which she dismissed the French and German tax demands as “a nonsense”, Mrs McAleese is expected to tell political leaders in The Hague that Ireland’s commitment to the ideals of the European Union remains firm and unwavering.

The President begins a two-day official visit to The Netherlands today. Her keynote speech this evening to a dinner in the medieval splendour of the Ridderzaal banqueting hall is scheduled to be attended by Maxime Verhagen, the deputy prime minister, and Jan Kees de Jager, the finance minister.

Privately, the reassurance is likely to be welcomed in Brussels, after Mrs McAleese’s clear rebuke to Paris and Berlin in the interview with NRC Handelsblad on Friday, in which she declared that Ireland’s low corporation tax regime long predated our EU membership – and was simply “not up for negotiation”.

In the interview, she also described the 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate as “one of the most important tools that will enable us to pay our debts”.

In that context the President is expected to emphasise – at the Ridderzaal dinner and at a business lunch in Amsterdam hosted by the IDA, An Bord Bia and Tourism Ireland – the speed with which Ireland has moved to confront the serious economic challenges posed by the downturn.

She will stress, in particular, the positive indicators which she will tell the Dutch are now emerging, particularly the strong growth in Irish exports during 2010 – by 18 per cent to our largest market, the US, and by 27 per cent to Canada.

That is despite the Government’s downgrade at the weekend in its forecast for economic recovery this year from 1.8 per cent to just 0.8 per cent, with fewer jobs likely to be created and the national debt expected to rise further.

On Tuesday, Mrs McAleese will have an hour-long audience with Queen Beatrix, followed by lunch at Noordeinde Palace in the heart of The Hague, where the queen has her private office.

Queen Beatrix is facing a motion which is due to be tabled in the Dutch parliament before the summer recess by right-wing politician Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), seeking to remove her remaining political powers and reducing her role to a ceremonial one only.

Mrs McAleese will also visit the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.