Irish Times view on Ursula von der Leyen’s visit: Edging out of Brexit’s shadow

European Commission president’s visit to announce post-Covid investment package shows EU and Ireland are moving on

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was in Dublin on Friday to announce commission approval for Ireland’s Recovery and Resilience post-Covid package of investment and reforms. Above, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was in Dublin on Friday to announce commission approval for Ireland’s Recovery and Resilience post-Covid package of investment and reforms. Above, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The EU and Ireland are moving on. Only months ago the relationship between the union and this member state, and their political preoccupations, were dominated by the fallout from severing the UK link.

Today, as evidenced by the Dublin visit on Friday of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Brexit and its ramifications remain high on the agenda but what might now be termed Brexit legacy issues – whether the Northern protocol or the post-Brexit €1 billion Irish financial aid package – no longer define the relationships or preoccupy leaders to the exclusion of all.

Von der Leyen was in Dublin to announce commission approval for Ireland’s Recovery and Resilience (RRF) post-Covid package of investment and reforms that will see Brussels contribute €989 million of its €750 billion NextGenerationEU fund to Irish projects.

It is expected to raise GDP between 0.3 per cent and 0.5 per cent by 2026. The fund, much raised for the first time through common EU debt issuance that some see as a landmark transformation in the nature of economic union, was compared by von der Leyen to the Marshall aid programme that helped lift Europe from the ashes of war.

Forty-two per cent of the cash coming to Ireland will go to climate-related projects – €164 million for Cork’s commuter train electrification, €108 million for rehabilitation of peatlands – while digital projects will take up a third, including the digitalisation of public administration and services, development of a shared government data centre, and a schools IT infrastructure. Social and educational projects such as housing and technological education are also in the pipeline.

Ireland’s shopping list, submitted in May, dovetails with commission priorities, most notably its ambitious green agenda that was also central to Friday’s discussion. And so approval was largely unproblematic – 12 other states have already been given the nod. Not so, however, with Hungary whose defiance of rule-of-law obligations, currently subject to multiple court cases, has held up agreement on its RRF over concerns about the weakness of its anti-corruption system.

The approval of the Irish RRF also represents a noteworthy landmark in the State’s evolution from cohesion-dependent laggard to economic high performer – alone among EU states, this one recorded positive economic growth last year at the height of the pandemic, and so saw its per capita RRF share cut to assist those more in need. Not a poor reflection on the State’s negotiators, as some have tried to imply, but a compliment, albeit costly, to its economic performance.

The protocol and its enforcement were mentioned at the press conference, with a passing reference to the urgent need for British flexibility. But it was almost an afterthought. The EU is moving on.

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