independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Presidency! More like a six-month sentence

What: The Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Oh yes, that's the smiley fella Herman van Rompuy. Or wait, isn't it yer man José Manuel Barroso?

Neither. Herman's president of the European Council, and José Manuel is the president of the European Commission. Nor is it Martin Schultz, president of the European Parliament.

What a preponderance of presidents – so who's head of the EU then?

We are. Or to be precise, the Irish Government got a grip on the reins of power on January 1 and for the next six months is in charge of the 27 countries of the union.

How thrilling. Does this mean we can get up to all sorts? Like order that dreadful Italian cartoon Silvio Berlusconi to abandon his attempted return to politics and instead devote his twilight years to pestering showgirls? Or can we insist that Angela Merkel abandons her love affair with austerity and gives us the keys to the vaults of the Bundesbank?

Alas and alack, the power of the EU presidency is a bit more prosaic than that. The main task for the holders of the presidency is to organise and chair almost all the council meetings, and set out the agenda by deciding what legislation and policies take priority. Oh, and then there's the schoolyard monitor element to the job, as it now falls to Ireland to sort out any spats, squabbles or name-calling that breaks out between member states.

That all sounds a bit tedious. So, basically the Taoiseach and his colleagues will be spending the next six months shuttling from one talking shop to another?

Well, there will be a hell of a lot of meetings, both here and in Brussels. But actually, Ireland has been landed with a couple of extremely tricky situations to try to deal with, both of some importance.

At a guess, one involves money?

Doesn't it always. There was intense haggling in November at the last leaders' summit over the €1 trillion budget needed to run the EU for the next seven years, but no agreement was reached. And so it's now up to Ireland to hammer out a deal at the next summit on February 7 and 8. And it isn't going to be easy, particularly with the level of moaning emanating from Britain.

So Britain's causing trouble – they're not entirely convinced by this union lark, are they?

Therein lies the second headache for Ireland. David Cameron this week threatened to throw a massive spanner in the EU works by announcing he would hold a referendum on Britain remaining in the union if the Conservatives win the next election, which has seriously cheesed off EU bigwigs Germany and Italy.

So the whole EU could go to hell in a handcart on our watch?

Yep. And the Irish will be blamed. As usual.

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