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Remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press point with Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of Ireland

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 15 januari 2020.

Thank you so much Taoiseach,

It is such an honour and a pleasure to be here tonight and thank you very much for the very warm welcome and I can reply exactly to the same three topics you chose because indeed, this is exactly what we are going to discuss tonight. I am looking forward to the dinner, so there we will have a broader conversation, too.

But first of all, I want to elaborate a bit on the Brexit topic, indeed. It is going to be in two weeks now that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. As we could hear from your words, there is almost no other country in the European Union that is more affected by this decision than Ireland. That is the reason why Ireland and Northern Ireland were one of our top priorities during the withdrawal negotiations.

As you have mentioned, we have said ‘We do not want a hard border'. We delivered. There will not be a hard border. We have said that Ireland will stay at the heart of the European Union - and so it is now. So I think the withdrawal negotiations and the Withdrawal Agreement were very successful what Ireland and the island of Ireland are concerned. And it is in the process of being ratified now on the UK's side and the European Parliament will ratify it at the end of the month.

The European Union has negotiated respectfully, fairly, because we wanted an orderly exit. For us, it was and is very important to protect citizens' rights. There are 3.5 million European Union citizens working and living in the United Kingdom and vice versa roundabout 1 million UK citizens working and living in the European Union. It is very good that we have in the agreement the reassurance that those people can live and work until the end of their lives in the respective part, either the United Kingdom or the Member State of the European Union they are in right now. This was very important. And of course one of the top priorities was to ensure peace and stability on the island.

Now we have legal certainty with the Withdrawal Agreement. And I must say: I listened a lot to the negotiation team. I have listened a lot of course to all the stories and anecdotes, but also details Michel Barnier told me. And one thing is clear for me: It would not have been possible to reach this agreement without the very hard work, the patience and the unity of everybody here in Ireland. So you referred to that, and it is the same experience on the side of the European Commission. Without the work of the government, without the work of the politicians in the Parliament, the civil service, the whole country coming together, this would not have been possible. Therefore, Leo, thank you a lot for your leadership and the cooperation. That was excellent and I think we see now the results - they are excellent, too.

We do have quite a lot of work ahead of us. The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland now needs to be implemented and I say very clearly that we will watch over the implementation very closely, and of course, the Northern Ireland institutions have a crucial democratic role to play. As you have said, we are very happy about the recent agreement on restoring power sharing in Northern Ireland. Now we enter a new phase of negotiations. We are going to be ambitious and we want to have a very close partnership with our British friends. We are neighbours. We share a lot of experience, 45 years of experience together. We share a common history, we share the geography and we will share our common destiny. So we are looking forward to these negotiations and we are looking forward - thank you very much for saying that - that you will show the same level of engagement and support in this new phase of negotiations.

Indeed, last week I have been to London, too and saw Boris Johnson and I think we are in a very good spirit to go as fast as possible, to work as hard as possible day and night to move forward quickly. A lot in it is the UK's choice. Because the United Kingdom knows: the closer they want to be to the Single Market, the more, of course, they have to align to the rules of the Single Market. The lesser they want to abide by the rules of the Single Market, the more distant they will be, the more difficult it will be to have access. So I think this is now the time to figure out the room that we will have between the UK and the European Union's Single Market. It is mainly their choice, but with every choice comes a trade-off and that was what we discussed last week.

On the budget, the European Union needs a fair budget, a balanced budget and a modernised budget. If we look back to the time the budget that we finish right now has been agreed on, it was in 2013, at that time, there was no annexation of Crimea, the word ‘Daesh' was not present at all in our areas. There was no Paris Climate Agreement. We were not talking about 5G or artificial intelligence. So we need to modernise the budget we will have now for the next seven years, because there is a lot coming ahead of us. Therefore, we count on you for this part. I think we will also have to think intensively about new own resources, we have been discussing that. But I am positive that now that President Michel, together with the Croatian Presidency, has taken on that task, we will move forward.

On the European Green Deal, indeed, climate change is one of the biggest challenges we do have. Today, the World Economic Forum published the yearly Global Risks Report - Davos is coming up next week - and interestingly they define the five biggest risks for our economy to be all related to climate. And we know we have to act. So thank you very much Leo for putting forward a very ambitious climate action plan.

We share the same goal: climate neutrality in 2050. Thank you very much for the support last time at the European Council, for having the whole European Council backing the goal of climate neutrality in 2050. But more important is - and I listened carefully to you - that we both share the same conviction that yes, on the one hand there is the risk of course of global warming, but on the other hand there is a huge economic opportunity in it for the European Union. Because we are a frontrunner right now. We are the ones who are the most ambitious. We do have to act and if the rest of the world will come along, I want the European Union to be the one who is the exporter of knowledge, of procedures, of standards, of new technologies, of green financing. So therefore, not only for the planet but also because we know this is an enormous opportunity for the European Union in the future and it is going to be the topic for the globe, we are pushing so hard to move forward.

Indeed, as you said, there will be a transition and if we do not want to leave anyone behind, we need to make sure that it is a just transition. Therefore, yesterday, we presented not only the European Green Deal Investment Plan but also the Just Transition Fund. And indeed, it is targeted to specific regions, for example the Irish Midlands with the peat production there. So we are very well aware that - this is the function of the European Union - if we move forward in this big topic, we have to support, we have to assist. And therefore, yesterday, we presented these funds. Finally, thank you so much again for having me here, I am looking forward to our talks and it is good to be here.

Thank you.

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