21st July 2016: Hollande arrives in Ireland to meet Kenny and Higgins

French president shares Taoiseach’s belief in liberal economic policies

French president François Hollande has arrived in Ireland to visit Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins, one week after a Tunisian lorry driver killed 84 people in Nice.

The meetings will focus on security, and on Europe after Brexit.

The invitation was extended by Mr Kenny during his September 2015 visit to Paris and Lyon. In the last year of Mr Hollande’s term of office, they wanted to mark the centenary of the Rising and the sacrifice of Irish lives in France during the First World War.

Those events now take second place to the slaughter in Nice, but may be mentioned at a press conference, or in Mr Hollande’s speech to the French community at Dublin Castle.

 

Mr Hollande shares Mr Kenny’s belief in liberal economic policies, but has encountered great difficulty putting them into practice in France. A controversial reform of the labour law was definitively passed by decree on Wednesday, after months of unrest.

Mr Hollande shares President Higgins’s commitment to fighting global warming, as well as his fascination with history.

As the two closest neighbours of the UK, French and Irish leaders wanted to consult each other before Brexit negotiations started. The Elysee has shown sensitivity to Irish concerns regarding Northern Ireland, the free travel area and economic ties.

British prime minister Theresa May will travel to Paris for a working dinner with Mr Hollande on Thursday evening, after his return from Dublin.

Paris has shown more impatience than Dublin for Britain to invoke Article 50, notifying the EU of its departure. Both governments want the closest possible relations between the EU and UK, but France is moving towards presidential and legislative elections and Mr Hollande fears that uncertainty about Brexit will complicate the situation.

The sooner the prime minister, Mrs May, begins the procedure for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the better future relations between Europe and the UK, and the better our own situation,” Mr Hollande said in his televised interview on Bastille Day.

Mr Hollande promised to make proposals to “relaunch” Europe following the Brexit vote, and has asked French prime minister Manuel Valls to come up with proposals.

Mr Hollande told the military on July 13th that, as a nuclear power and Nato member with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, France “must draw conclusions from her position and call for a European defence initiative”.

Following the jihadist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris last November 13th, France appealed to European partners for support under Article 42.7 of the Treaty of European Union.

Despite official neutrality, Ireland participates on a practical level in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

In response to the French request, Ireland increased the number of military trainers in Mali, who will number close to 20 by the end of this year. French officials also appreciate Irish participation in Unifil, southern Lebanon, where Irish soldiers will increase from 200 to 350.

Ireland sent the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, to Paris last month, to demonstrate support for French efforts to restart an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Though he is at a disadvantage within the “Franco-German engine” of Europe, Mr Hollande’s “major contribution” through the economic crisis “was to keep insisting on moving into the phase of investment, moving away from austerity and rules-based obligations, towards promoting job creation and growth,” a diplomat said.

In recent speeches, the French president emphasised the need for unity within France and the EU, and the need for both the French government and the EU to provide protection for their citizens.

Source: www.irishtimes.com

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