Von der Leyen says Ireland’s pandemic response has been ‘exemplary’

Commission president also says Britain needs to show flexibility on Northern Ireland protocol

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, speaking during a visit to Technological University Dublin, has praised Ireland's Covid-19 pandemic response as "exemplary." Video: EU Commission

 

Ireland’s response to Covid in the last six months has been “exemplary”, the President of the European Commission has said.

During a visit to Dublin to formally approve the Government’s proposals for projects to be funded under the European recovery and resilience plan, Ursula von der Leyen said that there had been an “excellent performance where the delivery of vaccines is concerned”.

Among the projects in Ireland to be funded as part of a €1 billion package is an upgrade of Cork commuter rail, restoration of Bord na Móna peatlands, and retrofitting of buildings.

Ms von der Leyen said she had recently reviewed the “numbers and the development” over the last six months, and “Ireland is exemplary in the way it has approached this pandemic,” observing that “all the difficulties we have faced together we have overcome together”.

Asked if Ireland was an outlier on travel in the European Union, she said that there are common rules in Europe but “they have to be flexible insofar as you have to look at the specific epidemiological situation of a region”.

“All our member States… have always the possibility and the responsibility to look at the individual regional epidemiological situation and to adapt the approvals to that situation,” she said.

She said in the context of the Delta variant, the most important thing is that “we are vigilant of the development of the epidemiological situation all over Europe,” With different pictures evolving in different regions, she added that the most important thing was “public health safety first”.

“The individual epidemiological situation has to be respected in different countries.

Model scenarios

Protocol

Elsewhere, Ms von der Leyen and Mr Martin suggested it was for Britain rather than Europe to display flexibility on issues relating to the Northern Ireland protocol.

She emphasised that it was the only solution to the impact on Brexit on Northern Ireland and also on the single market.

“It is certainly not the problem, but it is the solution,” she said. “It’s the only solution to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland, and to protect the integrity of the single market.”

“We are convinced that to achieve these objectives, the protocol needs to be implemented. We have shown as the European commission huge flexibility, and creativity, and pragmatism” in recent years and weeks.

“Flexibility and pragmatism has been shown on our side, I cannot imagine that our British friends will not show the same flexibility and the same pragmatism because we all share the same purpose that we want to have peace and stability on the island of Ireland.”

Mr Martin agreed flexibility had been shown by the Commission, as had “generosity of spirit”.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way, in our view,” Mr Martin said. “The mechanisms are there to resolve any outstanding issues and we believe the mechanisms should be used to the full by the UK Government and indeed the EU, and we believe the generosity that has been shown by the European Union should be reciprocated.”

Flooding

In light of serious flooding events in several European countries, including her native Germany, Ms von der Leyen said the science indicated with climate change, more extreme weather events would occur which would last longer.

Such events had been seen in the past, she said, “but it is the intensity and the length of these events. Science tells us this is a clear indication of climate change, and that this is something where really believe it shows the urgency to act.”

She said, however, that there are huge opportunities for economic growth as the fossil fuelled growth model had reached its limits.

She and Mr Martin did not discuss issues around global tax reform in detail, but she welcomed in general agreement between finance ministers in principle had been reached.

“The number of 15 per cent is a proposal to the leaders, there are many details that have to be worked out.”

“The broad architecture or the broad frame that is put on the table, we welcome that frame, but there are a lot of details that has to be worked on,” she said.