EU membership crucial for our economic future
In so many ways, the Ireland of today is barely recognisable from the one that joined the EEC in 1973. As we begin our seventh EU presidency, it is clear that our place in Europe remains central to our economic future and recovery.
We are taking over the presidency at a time when, like us, Europe is still coping with the aftershocks of the economic crisis – the difficult questions thrown up for the single currency and the problems faced by the European economy.
As an EU/IMF programme country, Ireland continues to negotiate with the troika to improve our bailout conditions, and, in particular, to reach agreement on the problem of our banking debt.
But as a country whose greatest challenge is still to create employment, it is vital for all of us that Europe as a whole responds to the crisis with an agenda for stability, jobs and growth. Important steps have already been taken in that direction, but we need to do more.
There are several strands to that agenda for the Irish presidency. Perhaps most crucially, we will push ahead with talks on Europe’s banking union. With agreement reached earlier this month on the single supervisory mechanism, we will focus on agreeing deposit guarantee schemes, bank resolution and recovery.
These are key steps on the way to allowing the European Stability Mechanism to directly recapitalise banks. It is imperative that we move ahead as quickly as possible with this, making it a priority both for Ireland nationally and our presidency of the EU.
Secondly, the Irish presidency will prioritise the issue of youth unemployment. With more than 20 per cent of young Europeans out of work, this must be our priority. We will push for a comprehensive EU approach to the problem, starting with the youth employment package. We aim to get consensus among member states on the principles of a youth guarantee which would seek to ensure that everyone up to the age of 25 would receive a job, education or internship offer within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.
We will aggressively pursue a mandate for a comprehensive EU-US trade agreement. Once in place, it is anticipated that trade agreements with strategic partners, including the US, Canada, Singapore and Japan, could add 2 per cent to Europe’s GDP. As one of the most open economies in the world, this would be even more advantageous to Ireland.
We will also be working to expand trade within Europe by further developing the Single Market. The potential for growth in the digital economy is immense, and the Irish presidency will focus on ways to ensure that the EU – the world’s largest consumer market – is in a position to capitalise on this. Finalising legislation on intellectual property rights, cyber security, e-signatures and data protection is top of the digital agenda.
To support small and medium-sized enterprises the Irish presidency will be working on a range of legislative measures to improve access to public procurement opportunities, credit facilities and EU research funding.
This is a moment when the Government can – and will – influence the direction that Europe is taking.
Doubtless, the EU has played an integral role in creating the Ireland of today, and will continue to dovetail with our economic future. Throughout this presidency, Ireland’s voice will be heard, and our influence felt, as we look to the next 40 years of EU membership.
Eamon Gilmore TD is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade