Emer Costello MEP interviewed by Niall Crowley
Collaborative, optimistic, garrulous but careful
‘It has to be about people – about more and better jobs, about equality, and combating poverty and social exclusion, about climate change and sustainable development, and about tackling discrimination’
‘I won the support of the MEPs for my call for the European Council to make good on the June 2012 commitments in relation to Ireland’s legacy bank debt.’
Emer Costello MEP represents the Labour Party as a member of the Socialist and Democrats Group in the European Parliament. She was a member of Dublin City Council from 2003 until 2012 at which point she replaced Prionsias De Rossa in the European Parliament. She served as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 2009/2010. She is conscious of the need to “work to ensure more coordination between the national decision-making structures at Government and Oireachtas level and at EU level in relation to current and upcoming European laws and programmes”.
Garrulous but careful, she sees the European Parliament as the guardian of the citizen at European level. “The role of an MEP is firstly and fundamentally to represent the citizen. The European Commission promotes Europe’s “general interest”, the European Council is where the Member States’ governments meet, but the task of an MEP is to ensure that the citizen’s interests are fully taken into account at European level”.
She emphasises a European Union that is about markets and people, noting the importance of Europe since “approximately 60% of everything that we produce is exported to other Member States, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs”. She stresses that “Europe has to be more than just an internal market, a place to do business. It has to be about people – about more and better jobs, about combating poverty and social exclusion, about climate change and sustainable development, and about tackling discrimination in all its forms and promoting equality”.
She identifies the role of the European Union as a source of funding as relevant in her commitment to “work to ensure that we access EU funding that maximises job creation. To that end I will work specifically with small and medium businesses to help ensure their access to funding”.
Costello is optimistic: “Ireland’s recovery is now heading in the right direction”, but is equally clear that challenges remain for the European Union. “Europe can and must do more to prioritise sustainable growth and jobs, and raising living standards”.
She is particularly critical of the role of the Troika. “An even deeper democratic deficit has opened up at European level with the Troika. The Troika’s actions in Ireland and other Programme Countries were not decided or approved by the European Parliament. The European Parliament’s recent report of its inquiry into the role and operation of the Troika in Ireland and the other Programme Countries was extremely critical of this democratic deficit. It recommended the abolition of the Troika and its replacement with a European Monetary Fund that would support Member States in difficulties entirely in accordance with the Treaties and fully accountable to national and European parliamentarians”.
She points to a personal success within this inquiry. “I won the support of the MEPs for my call for the European Council to make good on the June 2012 commitments in relation to Ireland’s legacy bank debt. This was the first time the European Parliament has explicitly supported Ireland’s campaign”.
Politics is important in ensuring the European Union “lives up to its core values and aims”. She points out “Social Europe is ‘gone off’ the European agenda simply because those who lead Europe at present are not keen on Social Europe. The last time the European Commission was led by someone from the left was with Jacques Delors, almost twenty years ago. Europe’s centre right parties – the EPP, Liberals and Conservatives – form a majority within the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament”.
She is not defeatist about Social Europe despite this situation. “This is not to say that progress cannot be made on Social Europe. This can be done by building cross-party alliances within and between the institutions on individual issues. I managed to do this by working with the Social Affairs Commissioner, Laszlo Andor (who came from Labour’s political family), with Greens, Christian Democrats, Liberals and others in the European Parliament on the new anti-poverty programme, the Fund for the European Aid to the Most Deprived. By building a broad majority of over 500 MEPs, we succeeded in overcoming the blocking minority within the European Council, to increase the proposed budget for this programme from 2.5 billion Euro to 3.5 billion Euro and to put a much greater emphasis on implementing this programme in partnership with anti-poverty NGOs on the ground”.
“I think that the role of national parliaments in European matters can and should be improved, including in Ireland where the Oireachtas has yet to get to grips with its enhanced role in European decision-making. Too few European proposals are being properly scrutinized, if at all, by the Oireachtas. This needs to be improved”.
She offers a broad programme of political priorities in seeking election. “My top priority is to get Europe to do more to promote employment, particularly for young people. I want to see the European Youth Guarantee implemented in full so that young people are not lost to a future of long-term unemployment or emigration. I also want to see Europe adopt a similar European Up-Skilling Guarantee for people aged over 30 who are long-term unemployed, who may have left school early, or who need training”.
She emphasises, however, that “the best way Europe can help to create employment is by prioritising sustainable growth. Labour’s political group in the Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats, has prepared plans showing how a €200 billion European ‘Green New Deal’ of investments in energy, transport and telecoms would create at least 3.4 million jobs across the European Union within three years, and move Europe towards its climate change targets”.
A third priority is “to see Europe do more to ease the cost of living for people. Too many people are struggling just to get by, never mind get ahead. One of the ways Europe could assist here would be through helping Member States implement its 2011 energy efficiency plans. The European Commission has estimated that the full implementation of the energy efficiency plans by 2020 could save households up to €1,000 a year off their energy bills”.
As an MEP she is committed to working to “ensure that the citizen’s interests are fully taken into account” and “closely with communities across Dublin to address their needs on all areas where the EU has influence”. She sees her role as an MEP as including taking steps “to explain, inform and work with my constituents, local businesses and interest groups on current and panned European laws, programmes and funding opportunities – to connect what is needed in Dubin and Ireland with what is happening in Brussels”.
She notes the importance of the “rebalancing of decision-making powers towards the European Parliament” on foot of the Lisbon Treaty in pointing to the potential of MEPs. “MEPs now play a full part in deciding European laws and programmes. MEPs are equal partners with national ministers when it comes to EU decision-making The Lisbon Treaty reforms mean that virtually no European law or programme can be adopted without our approval. This de facto ‘veto’ gives us a strong hand when it comes to negotiating with European Commissioners and national Ministers”.
She concludes: “I have a vision of Dublin as a smart, sustainable connected city with full employment and a creative and innovative people – the jewel in the crown of European cities. I believe that Dublin needs a champion to represent its interests and its people in Europe. If elected, I will strive to be that champion”.