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Think in

September is a month for think-ins and reflection on policy priorities for the year ahead.

In my days in the Dail, there were two famous Fianna Fail think-ins in Inchydoney in Cork and in the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway. It is better that such events are forgetable and are only usually remembered for the wrong reasons.

Later this week, the Fianna Fail parliamentary party will meet in Cavan.

Earlier in the week my fellow MEPs in the Renew Europe group met together in Paris to discuss aspects of policy for the year ahead. We were very lucky to be invited to meet President Macron at the Elysee Palace.

One of my MEP colleagues told me that the Palace was originally built by a very rich Parisian for his mistress but that, despite this, the place is extremely uncomfortable to live in. But no politician is prepared to splash out the public funding required to update the building to more modern standards.

I spoke briefly to President Macron who recalled his visit to Ireland in August. He was full of praise for President Higgins who he described as a thinker and a philosopher. He also spoke warmly of Micheal Martin describing him as a moderate in a world of extremes.

President Macron gave an excellent speech in which he outlined his ambitious agenda for the European Union and in particular for the French Presidency of the European Council which kicks off for six months from January 1st 2022.

He also, more controversially from an Irish point of view, had a lot to say about what can be achieved by advancing a European Defence Union.

The lessons of Afghanistan will emerge in due course. But improving the EU’s defence capability, which can happen anyway under PESCO, is surely not the only one.

The logic here is that the US has given up on its role on policing the planet. In the face of Russian aggression in the EU neighbourhood, the sense is that EU Member States can no longer rely on NATO. The US will not come to our aid and we need a single command military capability.

There is even an argument afoot that the deployment of such a capability would be triggered by the Qualified Majority Voting method. There is obviously no way that a non-aligned country like Ireland could take part in something like this. And in case, in my view, there is almost no chance that the Irish people would support a proposal like this at a referendum.

Foreign Policy should be about the three D’s - diplomacy, development and defence.

In so far as any objectives were achieved in the last 20 years in Afghanistan, they were development objectives. Also humanitarian aid can be achieved without military intervention and for decades now development objectives all over the world have been achieved without the need for invasion or without the need for a massive security infrastructure.

In fact, international NGOs will not work in any environment where their presence requires military protection. Acceptance in the community is something that NGOs work on very carefully.

EU Diplomacy requires a major reboot - the humiliation of the EU Foreign Minister Borrell in Moscow earlier this year shows how weak we are in the face of Russian tactics. Surely this should be the area that we would emphasise.

The Conference on the Future of Europe is about to begin. I would be surprised if anyone brings up the need for a single command or for improved.

The visit to the Elysee was a very memorable one and underlines the crowded political agenda that lies ahead. I look forward to keeping you informed in this column in the weeks and months ahead.

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