At a ceremony at Dublin Castle on 31st December to mark the handover from Cyprus, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny said that Irish Presidency will bring new hope to people of Europe. He underlined the beneficial role of Ireland in the European Union and its predecessor organizations.
Mr Kenny referred also to the austerity measures his government has implemented, and the huge sacrifices made by the Irish people. “We know all too well here in Ireland the huge sacrifices the crisis has meant. The people of Europe and Ireland need to know there is progress. That there is a next step to recovery”.
Minister for foreign affairs and trade, Eamon Gilmore said that 2013 would be about “recovery, both for Ireland and for Europe. As we become the first country in the euro zone to exit an EU-IMF programme, Ireland can – and will – be a success story for Europe again”.
The last Irish presidency was in 2004. Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach, was widely admired for securing agreement on the EU Constitution. However, the constitution was then rejected by the French and Dutch in referenda, and subsequently Irish voters rejected its successor, the Lisbon Treaty, although they relented and agreed it in a second referendum.
But times are very different: Ireland spent €110 million on the 2004 presidency. This time round they expect to spent a little over half that amount, though that will not affect negotiations in the Council.
In addition, there is now a full time president of the European Council: Herman van Rompuy was appointed to chair summit meetings, instead of leaving it to the rotating presidency (which still chairs other ministerial meetings) to steer the discussions.
Mr Gilmore said a major priority will be to reduce youth unemployment, now reaching 26 million across the EU. In order to achieve this the Irish priorities will include working to conclude trade agreements with the US, Canada and Japan in order to boost economic growth.
In November 2012, EU leaders failed to agree on the size of the cuts to the €1 trillion budget, which will run until 2020, this will now have to be resolved during the Irish presidency.
Leaders need to bridge a gap of about €30 billion between UK demands for a smaller budget and calls by France and other countries for the budget for programmes such as the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and Cohesion funding to be maintained.
It is anticipated that a deal will be reached at the summit on 7 and 8 February, but there are rumours that it could drift into March.
An early deal on the long-term budget, or Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) will give the presidency some momentum, but a further failure will set back progress on other issues.
Irish Farm Minister Simon Coveney probably has the biggest challenge, securing agreement to reform both CAP and the Common Fisheries Policy.
Mr Coveney wants a political agreement by June on CAP reform but this will be depdent on early agreement on the MFF budget.
If a key vote in the European Parliament is delayed, there is virtually no chance for Mr Coveney to succeed.
Holding the presidency is a double-edged sword: What is good for Europe may not be good for Irish farmers. Success in secuuring a deal will not necessarily help Mr Coveney in his ambitions to become Fine Gael leader, according to Tony Connelly of Irish broadcaster RTE.
Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte will chair meetings on developing Europe’s single energy market, on a possible strategy for renewable energy post 2020 and on the sustainability of biomass as a renewable resource. A Commission communication on sustainable biomass is expected during the Irish Presidency, and governments are likely to come under pressure to prevent the possible over-exploitation of viable food producing farmland by the biofuel industry.
The Commission is keen to promote the further development os renewables such as wind energy, but progress on a future strategy is hampered by lack of agreement on “standby payments” to producers to even out the peaks and troughs of wind energy.
An informal meeting of EU energy ministers will take place in Dublin on April 23 and 24.
Meetings of the 17 eurozone finance ministers, known as the eurogroup, are chaired on a full-time basis by Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. Mr Juncker is due to retire at the end of the Irish presidency.
Eurozone heads of government have concluded that the ESM cannot directly recapitalise banks until a new EU bank supervision system, the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) is in place. SSB is to be run the ECB, but is unlikely to be operating effectively before 2014. Decision to inject money into banks will be taken by the 17 finance ministers, who act as board of governors of the ESM.
Mr Noonan will chair meetings of the Ecofin, attended by all 27 finance ministers, who will be considering key steps towards a banking union.
Eamann Gilmore (video): www.euractiv.com
Tony Connelly in RTE: www.rte.ie