In light of the economic and financial crisis Europe finds itself in, the motto chosen by the Presidency – “stability, growth and jobs” - should come as no surprise. One of the main goals behind the slogan is “creating the conditions for economic growth and job creation”. An additional objective will be “to restore confidence in, and stability of, the European economy”, through increased supervision of the banking sector and greater political cooperation.
Finding a way out of the EU budget gridlock will be the first big challenge of the presidency. Back in November, EU leaders failed to agree on the size of the cuts to the €1 trillion budget, which will run until 2020, so it has fallen onto the Irish presidency to help reach a consensus between UK demands for a smaller budget and calls by France and other countries for funding of the Common Agriculture Policy and Cohesion Policy to be maintained. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (which makes up more than one third of EU spending and is a constant subject of dispute) is due to be finalised during the first half of 2013, and Ireland will chair both the technical and ministerial discussions during a crucial period of negotiations.
While solving the budget crisis tops the EU agenda, the Irish presidency will also address other issues of vital importance.
Restoring stability in the eurozone is another important task as the banking union and deeper economic coordination are indispensable to the stability of the EU. Irish officials said they would carry out the implementation of the Single Supervisory Mechanism for the eurozone’s 6,000 banks, agreed by finance ministers on 13 December. Ireland has warned that it will run an austerity presidency (serving tap rather than bottled water) without low costs compromising its effectiveness. The government believes the current presidency will cost some €60 million, compared to the €100m for its last presidency in 2004.
Since the Irish presidency’s slogan is “stability, jobs and growth,” a big emphasis will be placed on ways of reducing the bureaucratic and administrative obstacles holding up the EU’s single market in goods and services and making it easier to do business across the EU. Special attention is paid to easing access to the SME market which is at the heart of 98 per cent of EU business. The completion of the digital single market and strengthening of data protection will also be a high priority for Ireland’s presidency, given the importance the government attaches to the hi-tech sector for economic recovery.
Another goal set by the presidency is opening talks on an EU-US free trade deal, which Dublin believes can contribute two per cent growth to the EU’s GDP.
Youth employment will also be a priority of the Irish presidency in view of the rising unemployment rates in the Union (around 20 per cent). Improving training, skills and access to education will play a critical role in equipping citizens, particularly young people, to find work and in attracting investment into the EU. The presidency aims to make progress proposals such as the Youth Employment Package, in particular reaching agreement on the Youth Guarantee aimed at providing training, further study or employment for young people.
Dublin wants to see the energy issue in terms of the overall theme of “jobs and growth” and will be anxious to promote areas where information technology can be developed within the energy sector in order to create jobs.
As far as enlargement is concerned, the aim is try to get EU accession talks started with Macedonia and Serbia and to get agreement on signing a pre-accession pact with Kosovo. Ankara is hopeful that long-stalled membership negotiations with the bloc will regain momentum with the opening of at least two chapters that have so far been blocked by France. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore noted he will look to expand EU humanitarian aid programmes. He has remained silent, however, on two of the biggest crises in the EU neighbourhood - the Arab-Israeli conflict and Syria.
The timing of this Presidency undoubtedly poses a number of challenges but also creates substantial opportunities for Ireland. The presidency will give the Irish government the opportunity to ensure that the key priorities of jobs and growth dominate the European agenda for the coming six months. Holding the presidency will provide Ireland with the chance of making a positive impression on the EU stage and in turn raise EU’s recently damaged profile as a competitive global player.