Media Library


Statement to the Media by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland at Joint Ireland-Greece Press Conference

Zappeon Megaron, Athens, Friday, 11th October, 2019

Good evening.

Today I attended the 15th meeting of the Arraiolos Group which has just completed in the last hour. 

It was an honour to take part in this discussion which was attended by the fellow Presidents of some 13 countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia.

This is the first time that a President of Ireland has taken part in the Arraiolos Group. I was pleased to receive the invitation last year from President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to attend the meeting as President of Ireland.

This multinational convention of Presidents of European Union member states, held once a year, is a political forum for the heads of state of parliamentary republics and also some semi-presidential republics, that deals with questions and problems concerning the current state and future development of the European Union, as well as how to approach the challenges of globalisation. These are important issues on which I have offered my views in a series of addresses over the past eight years asPresident of Ireland.

The purpose of our discussions this year was to actively and effectively contribute to our joint efforts in responding to European and global challenges, of drawing on shared values as we respond to these challenges, including such issues as migration, security and ecological issues. 

These are challenges that extend beyond the borders of Member States and beyond the border of the EU. They are challenges that can only be tackled through shared responsibility and action.

A key question that we discussed related to how we can better implement the fundamental European principle of solidarity in addressing the old and new challenges in internal and external security. 

We discussed the roots of insecurity, global poverty, conflicts that can be anticipated, all of which urge us to examine the structural solutions to those issues. This will enable us to understand the prevalence and recurrence of the prolonged migration and humanitarian crisis, be part of our shared building of a stronger, fairer, more socially cohesive European Union.

We discussed the means to achieve the protection of the European welfare state model – something we all agree is fundamental to our core values as Europeans. It is a model which has come under sustained threat for decades as a result of a prevailing, theoretically guiding and largely uncontested economic paradigm, one that has gained strength and encouraged an individualism without social responsibility, eroded social cohesion within and beyond borders. It not only asserts a rationality for markets but, in policy terms, has delivered laissez-faire markets with inadequate regulation and enforcement.  

All of the above discussions occurred within the context of an understanding of the need to protect the fundamental principle of solidarity as a key to the deepening of democracy in the European Union. Indeed, the Treaties are based on the desire to deepen solidarity between Member States while respecting their history, their culture and their traditions.

I believe the discussions today were very fruitful, and I was delighted to share a discourse that was so positive with my Presidential counterparts who attended today. The discussions that took place on these crucial issues facing the European Union were on issues that go to its very existential core, to the root of what we want the European Union to be in the future, its values and principles.

As President of Ireland I share my colleagues’ deep concern at what ishappening in northern Syria and the unilateral intervention by Turkey in that area. I am appalled by any possibility of coercion or forced returns of refugees and underline in the strongest terms that any attempt at demographic change is not acceptable. I urge Turkey to seek an alternative approach, one that avoids military intervention and its resulting humanitarian distress.

I believe we made significant progress on the topics we discussed, identifying areas of shared purpose, as well as possible areas in which we respectfully differ. 

Thank you.