Opportunity for our presidency to deliver this week
This week is an important one for the Irish presidency of the European Council
When Enda Kenny travels to Brussels today, included on his agenda is a visit to the historical Irish college in Leuven, some 20 minutes outside Brussels.
The Taoiseach this morning officially opens the refurbished Irish college, founded over 400 years ago by Irish monks.
This step into history will offer a brief hiatus from what promises to be a particularly intense week in Europe.
This week is an important one for the Irish presidency of the European Council.
On Thursday and Friday the summit of EU leaders takes place, the first since Ireland assumed the presidency.
In preparation, the Taoiseach is meeting the heads of the three European institutions, the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council, this morning in Brussels.
General Affairs Council
Separately, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will chair today’s General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels, with Lucinda Creighton representing Ireland at the meeting.
The primary function of the General Affairs Council is preparatory – ministers from all 27 European Union states will discuss the agenda for Thursday and Friday’s summit.
Other issues to be discussed include trade, a key focus for Europe during the next few months as it tries to progress talks with the US and Canada, among other countries.
However, the main focus of the week is undoubtedly the summit which takes place later in the week.
Here the focus will be on the European budget, known as the Multi-Annual Financial Framework.
A special budget summit in November failed to deliver a deal, nudging the issue into Ireland’s presidency period.
Signs are a deal on the seven-year budget will be done this week, with some EU sources expecting a deal in the early hours of Friday .
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has also expressed confidence that agreement will be reached.
She will meet her French and Spanish counterparts for discussions this week.
Securing a deal is crucial, not only for Europe generally – failure to reach agreement in November left Europe standing accused of even more delay and dithering – but also for Ireland.
With the Irish presidency entering its sixth week, this is the most significant event so far of the presidency as the leaders of the 27 member states convene. (Three more summits are scheduled to take place during the six-month presidency).
While Kenny will not be chairing the meeting – since the Lisbon Treaty all summits are chaired by European Council president Herman Van Rompuy – Irish officials will play a crucial role in managing the implementation of any agreed deal.
They will also be involved in negotiating its passage as it changes from agreement into legal text.
In addition, the adoption of the budget needs the agreement of the European Parliament – this is by no means a done deal.
Many of the other priorities on Ireland’s presidency agenda also hinge on the budget.
For example, the budget allocation for the Common Agricultural Policy needs to be in place for CAP discussions to move forward.
With the Government strongly pushing for agreement on CAP by the end of June, securing a budget deal is vital.
Ireland has consistently emphasised its reputation for delivering when it comes to its previous tenures as president of the European Council.
This Thursday and Friday will be this presidency’s opportunity to prove it.