Taoiseach puts on good show burnishing our European credentials

Leo Varadkar looks to build new alliances in post-Brexit world with well-received speech

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar responds to claims from British MEP Nigel Farage that the Irish government have helped delay the Brexit process. Video: EU Parliament TV

 

All roads, they say, lead to Rome. But in Brussels these days, they lead unerringly to Brexit.

Its consequences feed into and colour every debate, not least that instigated a few months ago on the future of Europe by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The European Parliament has now initiated a series of debates with national leaders under the theme “How will we prosper without the UK?”

Leo Varadkar’s contribution on Wednesday, the first of the series, went down well but was also clearly pitched as much with an eye to how Ireland can build new alliances in the post-Brexit world as it was about the shape of the union.

So there was a welcome commitment by the Taoiseach to safeguarding the cohesion funding that once did so much for the Irish economy from the likely squeeze that the post-Brexit budget will face when the UK’s funds are no longer available.

Offering extra cash

Ireland still believes in “solidarity” even though we are now a net contributor to the budget – and net contributors normally tend to be very chary of offering extra cash from national coffers. But Varadkar did so, reaching out to the central Europeans to assure them we will be on their side. He also had warm words for the Bulgarian presidency’s concerns about the western Balkans, not a cause that we have previously been known for embracing. And Ireland has embraced the launch of Pesco, the EU’s new defence co-ordination framework, determined to show that we are as committed to the whole European project in all its parts as the next man.

Even if it means what many of our opposition see as a somewhat Jesuitical redefinition of “neutrality”.

That will go down well with the French – allies on Common Agricultural Policy spending, but browned off with our corporate tax regime.

Varadkar has been engaged in fancy footwork on the issue, presenting Ireland as an ardent reformer, determined to make the big tech companies pay their fair share. But only through the slow-moving vehicle of the OECD, where unanimity will make progress most unlikely.

But we are willing.

In the Parliament on Wednesday, Varadkar put on a good show burnishing our European credentials – above all, in case you were confused, the fact that we are not British, though we love them dearly.

The future of Europe is another matter.