Presidency of the European Council gave us the opportunity to restore our reputation
We have built a network of contacts that will put us at the heart of the Union’s decision-making
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and Lucinda Creighton, Minister for European Affairs, at a conference at the start of Ireland’s presidency. Photograph: Alan Betson
For a country like Ireland, where our living standards depend so much on our capacity to trade and to attract investment, our international reputation is a vital economic asset. More recently, rebuilding and restoring our reputation in Europe has been a key plank in our strategy to renegotiate the EU-IMF programme. The troika programme we will exit in December is fundamentally changed from the flawed and unworkable programme that Fianna Fáil negotiated, because we have been able to rebuild our reputation as a reliable partner in Europe, and to bring that enhanced reputation to bear when negotiating improvements to the programme, such as with the Anglo promissory note.
It is in that context that Ireland approached its presidency of the Council of the European Union, which concludes this week. Ireland has always seen presidencies as an opportunity to enhance our standing within the European Union, but, on this occasion, we have seen it as a vital component in our wider strategy of reputational repair. Our aim is not just to bring Ireland back into the European mainstream by running a successful presidency, but also to demonstrate our longstanding capacity to influence and shape the direction of the EU through the quality of our diplomacy.
Once again, we have succeeded. Through the outstanding efforts of many officials, and a presidency team based both in Dublin and Brussels, we have met our overarching goals.
This has been a presidency of real results. I could fill this article with the progress we have made on key issues that matter to Europe, and its people. (If you are interested, check eu2013.ie). Any list of the highlights would have to include reaching agreement on a European budget for the next seven years, which unlocks a €960 billion stimulus for Europe including accelerated funding for youth employment, achieving a mandate for Europe to open talks on an EU-US trade agreement, and agreeing to open another chapter in the accession process for Turkey. We have highlighted the issue of hunger and climate change, welcoming Al Gore to Dublin in April, delivered major reform of the on Common Agricultural Policy, agreed new financial regulation – including curtailing bankers’ bonuses – and progressed legislation to boost e-commerce across the EU.
These are important achievements in themselves, but the whole is more than the sum of the parts. I wrote here last January that I believed Ireland’s presidency must mark a decisive shift from the necessary securing of Europe’s stability to a relentless focus on jobs and growth. Today, as the presidency draws to a close, I believe we have made important progress in that direction.
In 2010/2011, crisis management was the order of the day in Europe, with Ireland and the Irish people worst affected. Eighteen months ago, the stability treaty was being agreed, and 12 months ago the key decision to break the link between the banks and the sovereign was made. Earlier this week, as I chaired the final mee ting of EU affairs and foreign ministers of the Irish presidency, the discussion focused on concrete steps and substantial funding to tackle youth joblessness.
This presidency has extended well beyond the conference chamber. We have welcomed 15,000 delegates to Ireland for more than 180 events, and we have taken the opportunity to showcase Ireland, including our artists and musicians, whose works projected a modern, creative Ireland in the 400 presidency-linked events at home and across the world. Meanwhile, our embassies, consulates and trade offices across the world have used the presidency to open more doors, spreading the Irish message further – particularly on trade.
Network of partners
The task for us now is to build on what we have achieved. Over the past six months, we have built up a critical network of partners across member states and institutions which puts us firmly at the heart of EU policy-making for the months and years ahead. In the coming weeks, I will present to Government a plan to maximise Ireland’s influence in the EU, including the placement of a new generation of officials and diplomats in the EU institutions. We are also looking at how to increase and redouble our efforts in order to expand our trading links using all the resources available to us.
The past six months have been an important opportunity to put in place another building block in our path back to economic normality. It is one which we have grabbed with both hands, and on which we now intend to build.