Ireland's agenda for EU presidency


Ireland has outlined its agenda for its turn at the helm of the European Union, which began today.

Following are the top priorities for the six-month term.

CONSTITUTION:One of Ireland's toughest challenges will be trying to break the deadlock on a new treaty allowing the EU to cope effectively when it embraces 10 new mostly ex-communist east European states next May.

A Brussels summit on the charter in December foundered on a dispute over voting rights which pitted France and Germany against Spain and Poland, with the latter two resisting changes that would diminish their influence.

Most analysts are doubtful a breakthrough can be achieved during the Irish presidency but Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has pledged to do his utmost to take the process forward.

He is due to take soundings from EU leaders and deliver a progress report to the European Council in March.

ENLARGEMENT:Ireland plans a day of celebrations in Dublin on May 1st to mark the accession of the 10 new members. During its presidency Ireland will also oversee negotiations with Romania and Bulgaria on potentially joining in 2007, and support Turkey's efforts to fulfil membership criteria.

ECONOMY:Boosting economic growth, competitiveness and job creation across the EU will be Ireland's primary focus as the bloc prepares to expand to 25 members, creating a market of some 450 million people. Mr Ahern has said the presidency is committed to speeding up economic reforms set out in Lisbon in 2000, to enable the bloc to become the world's most competitive economy by 2010.

DEFENCE:Ireland will be responsible for putting in place the first phase of a security strategy adopted last month, which aims to make the bloc a more effective player in world affairs. Mr Ahern has said Ireland -- traditionally a militarily neutral country -- wants to see "a strong and effective multilateral order" with the United Nations at its centre, and is committed to putting the EU's weight behind UN reforms.

Ireland will also place emphasis on bolstering EU-U.S. cooperation in the fight against global terrorism, which will require efforts to smooth damage caused by acrimony over Iraq.

EU-U.S. RELATIONS:Ireland has identified the transatlantic partnership as a key dimension for its presidency, in terms both of security and trade.

Its close ties with the United States - the chief destination for Irish people fleeing famine and unemployment over the past two centuries - could give Ireland an advantage in repairing EU-US relations after strains over Iraq and the avoidance of a transatlantic trade war. Ahern, who has invested huge effort in bridging the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide in Northern Ireland, also wants the EU to be an equal partner with the United States in moving forward the peace process in the Middle East.

The next EU-US summit will take place towards the end of the Irish presidency, with hopes in Ireland that President George W. Bush might visit Dublin.

JUSTICE/IMMIGRATION:As new borders open up across the bloc, Ireland will focus on immigration policies and on measures to improve cross-border police cooperation in the fight against drug smuggling, organised crime and international terrorism.