EU presidency displayed best of what Ireland can offer
Our seventh presidency of the Council of the European Union was not just about putting the best national foot forward: it was about regaining self-respect
All five have solid links with European parties and EU institutions, a key advantage for Ireland politically during this presidency. But the real work has been done by officials. The centre of gravity of the presidency has been the Irish Embassy to the EU in Brussels, which has hosted seconded staff from various Government departments. Irish officials and diplomats have found themselves at the very heart of high-level EU decision-making, be it staff from the Department of Agriculture thrashing out last-minute negotiations on single farm payments, or Central Bank employees drafting the latest clause in the 1,000-plus-page capital requirements directive.
In Dublin, presidency activities have centred on Dublin Castle, which has hosted a series of events throughout the presidency. Whether the boost to tourism and investment outweighs the €60 million-plus cost of running a presidency is debatable.
Ultimately, however, the success of this presidency was always going to be measured in terms of its benefits for the country nationally.
The confirmation early on in the presidency of a deal on the Anglo Irish bank promissory notes defined the tone. Despite the fact it had no direct connection with Ireland’s presidency of the council, failure to secure a promissory note deal threatened to sour public perception of the presidency and Europe.
The subsequent decision to lengthen the maturity of Ireland’s bailout loans and last week’s commitment to consider whether the euro zone’s European Stability Mechanism fund can be used to directly recapitalise banks retrospectively, also gave a welcome boost to Ireland’s pledge for debt relief.
The latest revelations about Anglo Irish Bank, however, threatened to overshadow the final week of the presidency.
As Ireland grows in confidence as it approaches the end of the bailout this year, the excruciating insight into the culture of Anglo was a timely reminder the root of the Irish bailout lay at the feet of its dysfunctional banking sector rather than being due to unfair pressure from Europe.
Successful European image
But ironically, the emergence of the tapes in the final weeks of the presidency underlined the reason why a successful, professional presidency was so important for Ireland. The contrast between the crude incompetence of senior Anglo executives and the professionalism of the Irish presidency machine is striking.
Through efficiency, drive and impeccable negotiation skills, the seventh Irish presidency showed the best of what Irish people have to offer. As Ireland continues to seek the support of Europe as it moves towards exiting the bailout, promoting this has never been so crucial.
Suzanne Lynch is the European Correspondent