The Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton TD delivered the keynote address at a joint PAI/European Movement Ireland conference on Wednesday entitled ‘Ireland’s Presidency of the EU, January 1 to June 30 2013:Priorities and challenges’. She was joined by a range of speakers including the President of the European Economic Social Committee (EESC), Staffan Nilsson who reflected on developments at an EU level and their likely impact on the Irish Presidency.
Minister Creighton outlined how the Presidency will provide an “opportunity to demonstrate that we are a constructive and committed Member State that belongs at the very heart of the EU decision-making process” and this will provide us with the chance to help address “the problems that the Union faces”.
The Presidency, according to the Minister, “offers Ireland a rare and valuable opportunity to manage the EU agenda and to seek ways of advancing legislation and policy that will positively improve the lives of citizens here in Ireland and across the EU”. Substantial “reputational benefits”, including “longer-term reputational benefits” can also be gained from the Presidency. In this regard, given the fact the international media spotlight will focus on the Presidency, this can be used to “convey important messages about Ireland, its economic recovery and its future potential”.
Discussing some of the challenges Ireland will face during its six months as President, the Minister mentioned how drastically the European Union itself has changed, particularly in size. Indeed, the presidency has itself changed “significantly in recent years (…) there is a new permanent President of the European Council, there is a High Representative for Foreign Affairs heading the European External Action Service and the European Parliament now has wider powers in the legislative area”. The international environment in which the EU finds itself in has also changed “following the financial and economic crisis and the Arab Spring”. Furthermore, the Union’s competencies have also evolved, so that all “Irish Government Ministers will have some direct involvement in the Presidency”. There are also increased “interlinkages between policy areas”.
Focusing on the Governments main strategic priorities throughout its six months at the helm of the EU Council, the Minister was keen to point out that “it is still early to be certain about priorities in some policy areas, and we will need to take into account the progress that the Danish and Cypriot Presidencies may make in many areas by the end of this year”. Ireland must “strategically plan for what might arise during the Presidency in 2013”.
Amongst the areas which the Minister stated “will be live during our Presidency and which will be important to us” include: the Annual Growth Survey, European Semester and Europe 2020, for which “Ireland has a specific role in assisting the delivery of this Strategy”; the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), something “of critical importance to the functioning of the EU from 2014-2020”; the “central theme” of creating jobs and promoting sustainable economic growth; the Single Market Act and Digital Single Market; and research, development and innovation, which is, according to the Minister “of very considerable importance, given its potential role in contributing to economic recovery, competitiveness and growth”.
Furthermore, the Minister continued, “the Commission is to propose further measures to reduce the regulatory burden, including possible sectoral targets, which will need to be brought forward into the Irish Presidency. Continued consideration is also being given to identifying and advancing policy and legislative issues that will boost the SME sector mainly through the Competitiveness Council.” The promotion of external trade will also feature as a key strategy for Ireland when it hosts the Presidency and “the decision to hold an informal meeting of Trade Ministers in Ireland during the Presidency which is intended to focus on EU-US trade, and to organise related business-focussed events, signals the priority that we give to this”.
The Presidency “will help to manage the implementation of the Union’s new economic governance arrangements, and our activities in this area will be very closely scrutinised by media and the markets.”
Social security coordination, pensions and fighting poverty will also feature on the Presidency agenda and poverty reduction targets (with related links to employment) are also included in Europe 2020.
“Priority will be placed on seeking ways of reducing unemployment across the EU by extending access to education and training and integrating the education agenda to a greater extent into the European Semester process to support economic recovery”
Given the importance of the agrifood sector to Ireland in its national recovery, “Ireland will seek to use its Presidency to promote innovation in agriculture, environmental sustainability and food security”.
Ireland will also “use the Presidency to focus attention on the application of new and developing technologies to boost energy efficiency, sustainability and distribution.” “The Transport, Telecoms and Energy Council will also provide Ireland with an opportunity to make progress on issues that will support the European economy including trans-European telecoms networks, a pan-European framework for electronic identification, authentication and signature, and proposals on web accessibility.” In relation to health, “the new Clinical Trials Directive and a new medical Devices Directive will be top of the agenda. On the top of the environmental agenda, “the main emphasis will be bringing forward the 7th Environment Action programme and making progress on discussions on climate change policy (post-Durban).” The Justice and Home Affairs agenda “will focus on making the EU safer for its citizens” including “proposals on tackling organised crime including through measures on criminal asset recovery”.
An informal meeting of Development Ministers early in 2013 “will link in with the environment agenda and will prepare the ground for a Conference during the second half of the Presidency on issues relating to climate change and development”.
Finally, as 2013 is likely to be designated as the European Year of Citizens, “this presents the opportunity to promote discussion of Ireland’s membership of the EU and Ireland’s place in Europe”, a debate, the Minister believes “we need at a national and local level”.
Concluding, the Minister added: “We want our Presidency to be viewed as fair, honest and workmanlike with a focus on results. We wish to work closely and cooperatively with our partners and the institutions, espousing the Community method which guarantees fairness to all Member States, regardless of size. Above all, we wish to constructively move the EU agenda forward through consensus.”