On March 13, the Chamber hosted Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar for a member’s roundtable discussion and a public event highlighting Ireland’s growing role at the heart of the transatlantic relationship. Varadkar is in Washington as part of his annual St. Patrick’s visit to the United States.
In light of the UK’s pending departure from the EU, our bilateral relationship with Ireland—and our reliance on Ireland to be a pro-business voice in the EU—is more important than now than ever. The Taoiseach underlined the pivotal role that U.S. investment and U.S. companies have played in transforming the Irish economy, now one of the wealthiest and most innovative in Europe.
He has three key goals for his visit to the U.S.:
- Solidify our longstanding bilateral relationship and position Ireland as the go-to bridge between the U.S. and Europe in light of Brexit;
- Underline Ireland’s commitment to its place in the EU and its desire to preserve close ties with the UK, preserving peace and close economic links; and
- Emphasize Ireland’s cross-party consensus on free trade and the free enterprise system to show U.S. companies that Ireland is the best place to invest in Europe
Understandably, much of the discussion centered on Brexit. Ireland is resolute in its commitments to avoid a hard border and to preserve the Good Friday Agreement. The government is skeptical, but willing to listen, to proponents in the UK who say that border checks could be replaced by technology. Much of this technology remains unproven, underlining the need for a Withdrawal Agreement and transition period to determine the future terms of trade between the UK and the EU.
On the future of the EU, Varadkar made clear that the political conditions that led to the Brexit vote exist across Europe. While it seems likely that the Eurozone will further integrate and that progress can be made on the Capital Markets Union and Digital Single Market, the next European Parliament and Commission will have to do a better job ensuring that all Europeans reap the benefits of openness. Populist movements have scaled back their messaging on leaving the EU—witnessing the chaos in the UK—but that doesn’t mean the EU shouldn’t reform itself.
Finally, the Taoiseach emphasized a strong desire to work closer with the United States. On trade, it is clear that the two sides need to take concrete steps to open our markets to one another, rather than continue to implement new tariffs. Additionally, there is an urgent need for more effective U.S.-EU cooperation on our shared challenges from China’s state capitalist model, including ensuring the WTO is fit for purpose.
As ever, the Taoiseach underlined his commitment to working closely with the Chamber and our members to ensure our economies continue to grow and succeed on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the ongoing global uncertainty.