European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said a positive conclusion can be reached on the Northern Ireland protocol “if there is the political will in the UK”.
Ms von der Leyen, who later delivered an address to the Houses of the Oireachtas to mark 50 years of Ireland’s membership of the European Union, said “we are in difficult times” due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but promised “iron-clad” co-operation on Brexit and the Northern protocol.
She said that the EU will “always have a constructive approach” on the protocol. “We, the European Union, have been listening very carefully to the concerns of people and businesses in Northern Ireland where the issues of the protocol are concerned and we have always shown flexibility, we will always have a constructive approach to these issues,” she said.
“If there is the political will in the UK, I am very confident that we can reach a positive conclusion.”
She was greeted by Taoiseach Micheál Martin on the steps of Government Buildings in Dublin on Thursday afternoon, and both briefly addressed reporters but took no questions. Mr Martin said the pair would discuss the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, the slowing global economy and the green transition. He said relationships with the United States and the United Kingdom would be discussed, adding that “we all want to have a constructive and solid relationship with our neighbours in the United Kingdom”.
Ms von der Leyen said Mr Martin had “steered very skillfully Ireland through the pandemic and out of the pandemic”, saying she appreciated his strong support of the European vaccine strategy and Ireland’s “excellent” national recovery and resilience plan.
“Now indeed, we are in difficult times because Russia unleashed an atrocious war against Ukraine, and first and foremost I want to thank the Irish people for opening their hearts and their homes to Ukrainian refugees, this is outstanding,” she said. She said Europe was feeling the knock-on effects of the war and was working to diversify away from Russian fuel imports.
“We have saved a lot of energy, we have filled out storages so we are safe for the winter, but of course there needs to be an answer for the mid and long term. And here I want to underline how impressive the Irish investment in renewable energy is,” she said, adding that Ireland could become a “clean energy superpower in the European Union”.
She was also due to meet President Michael D Higgins and have a working lunch with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Ms von der Leyen is the second president of the European Commission to address the Oireachtas, after Jean-Claude Juncker did so in 2018. The German politician delivered her speech to the Houses of the Oireachtas at 2pm.
The European Union’s response to ongoing war in Ukraine and Brexit including efforts to resolve the dispute with Britain over the Northern Ireland protocol were expected to be on the agenda.
Among the topics Ms von der Leyen and the Taoiseach were expected to discuss were the war in Ukraine and its impact on the cost and security of energy supplies. Other anticipated issues were the outlook for the EU and global economy, as well as the need to strengthen the EU’s partnerships with key allies, including the US and UK.
Mr Martin was also set to thank Ms von der Leyen for her constant solidarity with Ireland, and especially with people and businesses in Northern Ireland, as part of the efforts to find a pragmatic solution to the issue around the Northern Ireland protocol.
Speaking ahead of her visit, Mr Martin said: “I am delighted to welcome President von der Leyen to Dublin as we celebrate 50 years of membership of the European Union.
“Our EU engagement has been transformative for the country and the decision to join was amongst the most important taken in the history of the State.
“President von der Leyen has provided exemplary leadership at EU-level through several very difficult years, including on the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
“She has helped to shape and deliver effective EU responses, supporting our citizens and our enterprises.
“I greatly look forward to discussing the many issues on the EU’s agenda in my meeting with her – we are together in our commitment to finding common EU solutions to shared challenges,” Mr Martin said.
“I will also, of course, take the opportunity to thank her for her constant solidarity with Ireland, and especially with people and businesses in Northern Ireland, as we have worked to find a practical and pragmatic way forward on the protocol.”
She is the second leader to have received an invitation to address the Oireachtas in 2022 – Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed a joint sitting on April 6th, via video link from Kyiv.
Ms von der Leyen has been president of the European Commission since 2019, having held several ministries in governments led by chancellor Angela Merkel.
In 2017, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, appeared before a joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad for what was described as “an exchange of views”. – Additional reporting: PA