Varadkar to seek EU €1bn fund for North and Border area after Brexit

Taoiseach tells EU summit that Ireland will strongly support European Green Deal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Europe Helen McEntee arriving for the European Council summit in Brussels. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Europe Helen McEntee arriving for the European Council summit in Brussels. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will seek a billion euro fund to support Northern Ireland and the Border counties of the Republic after Brexit in the negotiations on the EU’s next seven-year budget.

Mr Varadkar is attending a summit of EU leaders in Brussels where the EU’s climate action plan and the next budget are being discussed. The leaders are also waiting for the results of the British general election.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland would be strongly supporting Ursula von der Leyen’s European Green Deal and the objective to make Europe a climate neutral continent by 2050. Yet he confirmed the Government would also seek funding under the proposed “just transition fund”.

Mr Varadkar said EU leaders would also discuss the next seven-year EU budget. He has previously indicated that Ireland is willing to increase its contribution to the budget.

“I’m very much of the view that we should have a well-funded EU budget so that we can protect funding for CAP, Horizon, Erasmus, cohesion – all those long-standing programmes.

“But also we’ll be looking for additional funding for migration and security, for climate action, and as well for Peace Plus – one of our objectives is to have a new programme for Northern Ireland and the Border counties worth up to a billion euro during that seven-year period. So they’re the kind of things I’ll be pressing at this meeting today,” he told journalists.

The Finnish presidency has already proposed a much lower figure of €100 million to promote peace and cross-Border co-operation.

Peat harvesting

The Taoiseach also said Ireland would be seeking funding under the EU’s “just transition” fund to help the move away from peat harvesting in the midlands, although he accepted that most of the focus was likely to be on the heavily coal-dependent countries of central and eastern Europe.

“We understand that their countries and economies are very coal-dependent, but coal is a very dirty fuel,” he said. “We’re going to say to them that this is a problem that the EU can solve together, and they will be supported and they will be assisted with European funds to make that transition – just as we have to as well.”

Mr Varadkar said he was strongly supportive of the way Ms von der Leyen has “pitched how we need to proceed on climate action... that it’s not about apocalypse, it’s about opportunities, and how we can deliver green growth, and how we can invest in new industries, create new businesses and new jobs, from renewable energy to electric vehicles ...”

He said that in the 1940s and 1950s the European project was about “ending war on the continent of Europe”.

“We know that 30 years ago it was about bringing down the Berlin wall, defeating communism and bringing democracy and prosperity and human right to central and eastern Europe.

“What’s Europe about in the next 20 or 30 years? I believe it’s about countries coming together to deal with the kind of challenges that countries can’t deal with on their own – climate action is first among those, other issues as well like migration, like security, like the regulation of big corporations that are bigger than states now.”

Action forum

Later Mr Varadkar addressed the climate change discussion in Irish, aides said, with specialist translators for other EU leaders.

Earlier Mr Varadkar joined with the prime ministers of Sweden and Denmark to form a “climate action forum”.

“The aim is to pool experience, offer leadership and encourage others to take action on global warming at European level,” a statement said.

“The forum will bring together government ministers, experts and officials who deal with climate action. All three countries face similar challenges from climate change, and this forum will allow common solutions to be developed.”