Significant EU problems ahead for alcohol bill – Hayes
Dublin MEP, Brian Hayes has today (Sunday) expressed concerns about delays to the passing of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. The bill, which was published last October, aims to tackle Ireland’s ongoing problem with alcohol misuse as well as reduce consumption. Several EU Member States and the European Commission have submitted objections to the legislation stating that it would create trade barriers.
“The legislation is a landmark piece of public health legislation. It contains many measures including minimum pricing, advertising rules and restrictions on promotions. The most controversial element is the requirement to have health labels on all alcoholic drinks. This means all alcoholic drinks sold in Ireland must contain a label showing the grams of alcohol, calorie count, health warnings as well as an address to a public health website. No such laws exist in any other EU country.”
“If the legislation is introduced, manufactures who import alcohol into Ireland would be required to include health labels on their products. 11 EU Member States have submitted objections to the legislation as well as the European Commission stating that the legislation would create barriers to free trade.”
“I am extremely concerned that the European Commission or another EU Member State intervening would delay this important piece of legislation. Member states must be able to react to ongoing health concerns, which are particular to those Member States, in a determined and coordinated way.”
“Health concerns and a proper response to Irelands binge drinking culture – are best tackled at a local level irrespective of internal market concerns. The Commission issuing warning shots against Ireland on this issue denies the principal of subsidiarity and hampers public policy making in Ireland. It sets a dangerous precedent and must be opposed.”
Government should sell AIB as soon as practical – HAYES
Government should commit to selling 50% of AIB by 2019
Fine Gael Dublin MEP and former Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Brian Hayes MEP, speaking at a Fine Gael meeting said that the government should sell AIB as soon as practical but should commit to selling at least 50% of the state’s holding in the bank by 2019. When it comes to the final decision to sell AIB, the application of 5 key tests should be used as part of the decision.
“We all know the price of the government going into the banking sector in such an aggressive way. It must never be allowed to happen again. The country paid far too high a price for saving the banks. There was no simple solution to the financial mess that ensued. What’s important now is to recover as much as possible of the investment and the future sale of AIB is critical in this regard. The total state investment in AIB was €21 billion and by July close to €6.5 billion will have been recovered from AIB.
“The new government should sell AIB as soon as it is practical. In my view it’s not in Ireland’s long-term interest to have large state holdings in the banking sector. It doesn’t help competition in the sector. It discourages new entrants from coming into the banking market, offering new products and competing with the pillar banks for business. If ever we need new entrants it’s now.
“The government should make a firm commitment that the state’s holding in AIB should be no more than 50% by the start of 2019. It is important for the government to get out of the banking business because it often leaves the government entangled in the sometimes competing interests of corporate profit and customer protection.
“State ownership of the banking sector is simply a stop-gap measure. The key issue for the Minister for Finance is to maximise the taxpayers’ return by getting back as much of the costs of capitalisation. Another concern is obviously to see the banks functioning properly again – being an agent for growth in the economy and serving the people and business that operate within our economy.
“The disposal of the state’s shareholding in Irish banks is now very much a live political and financial decision for the new government. The sale of AIB is central to the debate. This decision is very much Michael Noonan’s call. His handling of the partial sale of Bank of Ireland, where the great majority of the states’ holding went back to the private sector, was in my view a turning point for the Irish economy. The sale of Bank of Ireland, coming as early as it did when the country was in a financial aid programme, represented an amazing boost for the economy.
“The gradual return of AIB to the private sector was always part of his thinking. He had previously indicated that he favoured selling a 25% share in AIB in the second half of 2016. Recently the Minister for Finance has indicated that late-2017 now represents a target date.
“In coming to a final decision to sell AIB to the private sector I think five tests should be applied.
“Test No 1 should be the question of fair value for government’s shareholding in the bank. Timing will be critical; selling into a rising market is obviously the optimum scenario. During the past year there has been a major fall in the value of bank shares in international markets. The most obvious Irish comparison is the value of Bank of Ireland whose shares which have fallen in value by about 40% from their previous twelve month high. I think Mr. Noonan is correct to postpone a decision to sell AIB shares in a depressed market. The value of Bank of Ireland is one potential benchmark. But the key requirement is to sell as the market rises.
“Test No 2 should be the strength of the competition in the banking market. AIB should not be sold until there is clear evidence that there is strong competition in two critical markets – mortgages and lending to businesses, particularly the SME sector. At present the Irish mortgage market is seriously dysfunctional. There is also evidence that interest rate gouging is a factor in lending to the SME sector with lending rates to this sector running at 80% above the eurozone average. While AIB remains in state ownership the Minister can still exert a significant degree of influence in setting general policy guidelines for the bank. For example AIB has been more responsive to public concerns regarding variable mortgage interest rates. Before he decides to sell AIB the Minister should be satisfied that there is effective competition.
“Test No 3 must be about favourable market conditions. The Irish economy grew by 7.8% in 2015; it is expected to grow by 5% or more in 2016. The Ratings Agencies now give Ireland an A grade investment rating; Moody’s having done so very recently. Two or three years of steady growth at 5% or higher will further reduce Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio and further increase investor confidence in Ireland. 2017 will be a year of political uncertainty in the EU with major elections in German and France. A sustained economic recovery in Ireland and a stable political environment in Europe are all desirable conditions supporting a bank sale. These tests would indicate that an early sale is not advisable.
“Test no 4 must be a rigorous cost/benefit analysis. The test must be the national interest. Take the state’s 14% shareholding in Bank of Ireland, currently valued at around €1.2 billion. BoI has indicated that it will start paying a dividend in 2017. Which is best – sell the shares and reduce the national debt or retain the shares and continue to receive an annual dividend for the state? The same argument applies to the disposal of AIB shares.
“Test No 5 concerns the customers of AIB. There will be a temptation for management to concentrate on the sale process and fatten bank profits in anticipation of a future sale. These profits will only come at the expense of AIB customer base. The test to be applied here should be – how are AIB customers and the Irish economy best served. Is the country’s best interest served by having AIB management focus on its customers, thereby helping domestic recovery to take hold, rather than the future sale of the bank and all the demands a privatisation process will place on the bank’s management team? That is a question that needs to be answered before any sale takes place.
“Minister Noonan has many issues to take into account in coming to a conclusion on the disposal of AIB.The international financial system remains volatile; timing the sale of bank shares will take judgement and a measure of luck. It’s a big call for Michael Noonan and his advisors, but if ever a politician knew the right time, and had the sound judgment and experience to make that call – it most certainly is him.”
ECJ’s Vnuk Judgement will have disastrous impact on Irish motorsports if it goes through – Hayes
Mondello Park could be shut down following the ruling
Brian Hayes MEP today said that the ECJ’s Vnuk judgement from 2014 which has to be implemented by October 2016 will have a disastrous impact on Irish motorsports and could potentially shut down Irish and European Motorsport.
“The Vnuk Judgement which was adopted in 2014 effectively means that by October 2016 all EU Member States are required to make unlimited third party motor insurance compulsory for all vehicles wherever they are used in the EU.
“Currently, under Irish law compulsory motor insurance only covers the use of vehicles on a road or any other public place. The Vnuk judgement will have massive implications, potentially requiring that compulsory motor insurance covers all private places, including private farmland, racetracks and private carparks.
“Many Irish racetrack representatives have said that this ruling will effectively shut down Motorsport in Ireland as there is no market availability for such mandatory insurance. Their concerns are very real and the risk is that places like Mondello Park will be closed down if these new rules are forced upon EU Member States. Many insurers have said that unlimited third party ‘competitor to competitor’ insurance is effectively uninsurable and will not be made available.
“The effect of this ruling will be disproportionate and will badly impact many private businesses that need to use motor vehicles without unlimited third party insurance.
“There is a solution. The judgement, which will come into force in October 2016, reinterprets the EU Motor Insurance Directive to make these new rules applicable. However, the European Commission can make an amendment to this Directive before October to ensure that these consequences do not come to pass.
“I have made contact with Commissioner Jonathan Hill about this and I am informed that the Commission will come forward with a proposal on this very soon. However, this is subject to the EU decision-making process which can be timely. I will be working with fellow MEPs to ensure that this issue gets resolved as soon as possible.”
We need a full audit of ECB accountability – Hayes
Brian Hayes MEP today said that the Eurozone needs a complete audit of the ECB’s accountability and transparency procedures, similar to initiatives in the US Congress which proposed to ‘audit the Fed’.
“The ECB is not accountable in any serious way. We know all too well in Ireland that the ECB did not provide a proper account of their actions during Ireland’s banking crisis, despite a number of attempts to get Mario Draghi or other current members of ECB staff to appear before the banking inquiry.
“The ECB claims that it is accountable only to the European Parliament. Yet, when it sees fit it has appeared before national parliaments such as the Bundestag in Germany and the Spanish Parliament. Mario Draghi has said that the ECB does not appear before parliamentary inquiries – a position which is completely wrong and completely unjustifiable.
“MEPs have serious issues communicating the ECB. Mario Draghi appears before the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee four times per year, where only a select few MEPs get a five minute slot including the question and an answer. It represents the most minimal engagement possible.
“Even where MEPs submit written questions to the ECB it takes 8 weeks before getting a reply.I struggle to see how this is presented as adequate accountability for the European Parliament.
“The ECB is a relatively new organisation, founded in 1998, and since its inception its powers have increased dramatically. It is now the single supervisor for all systemically important banks in the Eurozone. Its membership has gone from 11 countries to 19. It has recently begun its quantitative easing programme in order to stimulate the Eurozone economy by pumping huge amounts of money into it. The ECB has also decreased interest rates to rock bottom levels.
“Given the huge increase in powers and responsibilities, it is time that we examine ECB accountability. In the US this is an issue constantly under discussion in the Congress and Senate. In 2009, a bill commonly known as ‘Audit the Fed’ (Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009) was passed through the US Congress and Senate. This gave the Comptroller General the authority to complete an audit of the Fed’s decision making. While the bill may not have gone far enough, other attempts to introduce further audits of the Fed came before Congress and Senate in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
“We need an audit of ECB accountability and transparency. It is quite astonishing that this issue is rarely discussed in EU institutions.
“A full audit of ECB accountability and transparency is possible under the EU Treaties. The European Court of Auditors, while it does not have the power to examine the ECB’s budget and accounts, it does have the power to examine the ECB’s operational efficiency. The European Commission can also propose amendments to the ECB’s statute and could propose legislation to allow an independent body undertake an audit of ECB accountability and transparency.
“While I do understand that the ECB needs sufficient independence to carry out its activities, their powers cannot be blindly accepted by European politicians. Following the disastrous financial crisis, it is time we had a proper in-depth examination of the ECB’s procedures to be accountable to European citizens and their representatives.”
Why I believe Fianna Fáil deserves credit for its role in forming a Government
Article by Brian Hayes MEP which was published in the Irish Independent on Wednesday 18th May 2016
After the longest gestation period in Irish political history, we finally have a government. While many criticised what happened last Friday, one thing is absolutely clear, Irish politics remains the art of the possible.
Who would have predicted it? A government elected with 59 votes out of 158. A government facilitated by the leading opposition party, a party that actually doubled its seat tally in the recent election. And a government where independent members of the Dail make up a significant presence and hold key ministries. All in all, quite an achievement given the real prospect of another election that could have resulted in a plague on all houses from the electorates´ viewpoint.
Enda Kenny deserves his place in history. He is now the longest serving and most successful Fine Gael leader since WT Cosgrave. History will also be kind to Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton, and especially Brendan Howlin – the unsung hero of the last administration.
The process of forming this government was a complex operation. It took time and considerable patience. Real political skill was shown by all of the negotiators to try to form a stable government after the most indecisive electoral result ever. Nobody knows how long it will last, but if it genuinely reforms the way that decisions are taken and reforms the Dail – there is no reason why this government cannot be successful. Actually some of the best governments in the history of the state have been minority governments.
Now the government is in office it needs to hit the ground running. While Fianna Fails approach to water charges reminds me of the young St Augustine – in favour of chastity but not now. Fianna Fail will continue to exercise a large measure of influence over the government, the Dail and the political agenda.
I am going to make just two predictions at the start of this government.
One, it will last much longer than people think. Taking a government out in this political climate is not as easy as some in the populist part of the opposition might think. The agreement reached with Fianna Fáil should last for three budgets – otherwise they will look foolish and could pay a heavy price if a snap election is called for purely political reasons.
And my second prediction is that the new political environment will be as challenging and difficult for the opposition as it will be for the government. Because the government cannot govern on their own, it requires openness to new ideas and an ability to do things differently. In Regina Doherty the Taoiseach has selected one of the most impressive TDs for the crucial role of Chief Whip. If the opposition just plays normal opposition politics and refuses to meet the government at least half way, then it’s the opposition who may well be exposed. Also the competition within the opposition should be fascinating to watch.
I for one believe that Fianna Fáil deserve great credit for what they have agreed in facilitating the formation of this government. In many respects they had most to lose from a second election. And be clear – reelecting Enda Kenny and Fine Gael last week is not without risks for Fianna Fáil. They will forever be attacked for effectively putting FG back into government, the old enemy, and more importantly keeping us there until a time of their choosing.
I know many in Fine Gael would have been happy for a full partnership government between us and Fianna Fail. It certainly would have been stable for a five year term. But at what cost for the future of democratic politics in Ireland?
That government would have included a rotating Taoiseach and effectively a 50/50 share of government between both parties. Had Fianna Fáil gone for the grand coalition it would have been the end of centre ground politics in Ireland. It would have handed Sinn Fein the mantle, leaders of the opposition and presumptive government in waiting. Why would any party who genuinely cares for the future of Irish democracy hand that advantage to Sinn Fein
Fianna Fail were not prepared to do that. They saw, like the rest of us what happened to the SDLP in Northern Ireland when people didn’t stand up to Sinn Fein’s brand of aggressive bully boy politics. Sinn Fein will say anything and do anything to win populist votes. Sinn Fein as leaders of the opposition would have been a lethal cocktail facing into another election. Fianna Fail have stood their ground against Sinn Fein and in doing that have served Irish democracy well. In staying in opposition they have also helped to preserve the advances the country has made in coming out of this crisis. We are well positioned to come back strongly as a country but the government must be prepared to share and also prepared to give credit to the role that FF especially are playing.
Now some in my party are deeply suspicious of FF. But we shouldn’t underestimate the serious risks they have taken to help this government be formed.
One other lesson that recent Irish politics teaches us is that parties that seem to be annihilated by the electorate can and do come back. Both the Green Party and Fianna Fáil have shown that in the recent election. The same can happen in my view for the Irish Labour Party. Sinn Fein won’t have it all their own way now. From the genuine hard left – who call SF politics sectarian – to the centre left, SF will find it increasingly difficult to simply say NO in a Dail which will demand genuine solutions. But in Fianna Fáil staying out of government and in refusing to move aside for SF, a hugh step has been taken. It’s a courageous act on the part of Fianna Fáil.
Transatlantic trade deal: EU needs a deal more than the US
Article by Brian Hayes MEP which was published on Monday 16th May 2016 in the Irish Examiner
Canvassing a voter at the recent general election in Dublin I was told that TTIP was responsible for water charges. When I tried to dissuade the person, in explaining that actually TTIP wasn’t in place and had nothing to do with water charges, I was told; “that I wouldn’t believe you anyway.” It’s a hard one to explain. When undisputed facts are simply not accepted.
One of the benefits of the leaked documentation from Greenpeace on the TTIP talks is that it has helped to raise public awareness of the issue. The truth is that in the leak we didn’t learn anything new from either the US or the EU side of the negotiations. But that hasn’t stopped people deliberately misrepresenting what’s going on. All trade negotiations take place in private. That’s why it’s a negotiation. But a negotiation is not the same thing as an agreement and unfortunately this point is lost in the debate.
In the minds of some people TTIP represents a kind of new conspiracy where the corporate world, aided and abated by the European Commission, has hatched a masterplan to impoverish us all by, wait for it, more trade! I would of thought that more trade and investment is good for economic development and new jobs. Not so according to the keyboard warriors. In their mind TTIP is a sellout to capitalism and everything else for that matter.
Listening to some people you would think that a deal is already in place. In fact at this stage, given the opposition of Mr Trump, Ms Le Penn, Mr Farrage – not to mention our own brand of Irish populists – the prospects of a deal between the EU and US is increasingly looking unlikely. The truth is that Europe needs a deal more than the US.
It’s time that we had a more rounded debate on TTIP. It’s time to dial down the exaggerated claims and the political posturing by the hard left and the hard right, by engendering a more rational discussion on TTIP. Something that Victoria White unfortunately was unable to do when she claimed recently in this paper that I was sent out to “sell” TTIP by some unidentified group or individual.
Are there challenges to Ireland if a TTIP deal comes off? Of course there are. But there are real benefits too given the fact that 40% of all international trade is between the US and the EU.
Why would any sane thinking person not want a trade deal between the EU and the US. We in Ireland have about 700 US businesses employing 130,000 people and amazingly Ireland is the 4th largest investor in the US. If there is one country within the EU that can benefit from a deal it must be Ireland given our existing links with the US.
Whether the nay-sayers like it or not, Ireland today is one of the most international economies in the world. We do exporting like no other small open EU economy. The modern Irish economy depends on our ability to trade and win new markets for our goods and services. Nearly 40% of the net new jobs created in the years post-crash came from the exporting sector.
So where is this massive trade deal right now? The negotiation between the EU and US sides is ongoing. Ultimately if a deal ever comes out of this process, the European Parliament will vote on it and all Member States would also have to endorse it.
I understand that people are suspicious of the new globalised world in which we live. People feel that their Governments no longer control of events. But we are not going to improve standards or accountability, by withdrawing into an EU state of protectionism. Globalisation is a reality. We either work with it and try to shape it or others will shape it for us. Would it not be better for the EU and the US to set the trade standards of today rather than let China and Russia do it instead?
The only independent study – produced by Copenhagen Economic Studies – has realistically set out the threats and the opportunities for Ireland. They have said that the economy will grow and that jobs will be created if a deal is done. They have also highlighted the need for adjustments across some sectors that could be negatively affected by a trade deal. But the key issue here is that this independent report is measured and balanced.
TTIP is not about lowering our food or environmental standards. It is not about opening the EU market to hormone fed beef from the US. It`s not about given up on Europe’s precautionary principal when it comes to basic standards. It is not about changing our laws in respect of GMOs. It is not about having public policy within the European Union written by large corporates. It is not about the creation of a new super state built exclusively for corporate greed.
The only question that we have to ask about TTIP is whether it can help Ireland`s recovery. That should be the yard stick upon which any deal should be assessed from Ireland’s perspective. If ever there was a need for a balanced, broadly based, national debate on an issue of public policy – it is on this. Thanks to Greenpeace we might now get that.
MEP Hayes Visits Irish Partnerships in Eritrea
Dublin MEP and Member of the European Parliaments Development Committee, Brian Hayes is today (Sunday) visiting Eritrea, where Irish Aid, Teagasc and Irish development partner VITA have created a number of agricultural partnerships. MEP Hayes is being accompanied by Larry O Loughlin, Teagasc, John Weakliam, CEO of VITA and Ray Jordan, CEO of Gorta SHA. Together they will visit a number of partnership programs that have been funded by Ireland. MEP Hayes will also visit a number of EU funded programmes and meet a member of the Eritrean government and officials.
“When it comes to agriculture we have so much expertise and experience in Ireland. What Irish Aid, Teagasc and VITA are achieving in Eritrea is evidence of this as well as an example of what a small country like Ireland can do to support developing countries. Their programmes such as the dairy and potato projects use Irish agricultural skills to teach and support Eritrean farmers, making them commercially viable. This practical assistance is valuable to so many Eritrean families.”
“Over the past 5 years Ireland has committed over a million euro to projects in Eritrea. Over 20,000 Eritrean families have been directly helped. It is great to get the opportunity to visit Eritrea and see first-hand these programmes in action. I believe that enabling sustainable livelihoods is a critical factor in determining Eritrea’s future.”
“As a member of the European Parliament’s Development Committee, the visit to Eritrea is also a good opportunity to view EU funded projects and meet EU officials working in the country. I look forward to reporting back to the Development Committee in the European Parliament,” concluded MEP Hayes