Thursday 29 September 2016

Eamon Delaney: It's time to park the self-pity and be proud of our six-month stint in EU spotlight

Published 10/01/2013 | 05:00

THERE is no doubt that Ireland's latest presidency of the EU, which runs for the next six months, comes at an awkward and distracted period for us as a country, with the Government and officials up to their eyes in dealing with cutbacks and getting the country out of bailout territory.

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Nevertheless, it is a very important honour and stewardship and we should respect it.

We should not groan about the VIP traffic hold-ups and the big dinners and how there's "nothing in it for us".

That's the selfish attitude that got us where we are, with Charlie McCreevy and the last government deriding the EU and thinking we were just fine "doing it our way". And how we were so much "closer to Boston than Berlin".

The fact is that the rotating EU presidency is not about us and what we are getting or can get from the EU.

It's about us being a team player and being chairman for six months, just like the other countries. On the previous occasions when we held the role we did a very good job and presided over momentous events.

In 2002, we oversaw the accession of the new eastern European member states to the EU, with a wonderful, open-air flag-raising ceremony at Aras an Uachtarain and Seamus Heaney reading poetry.

Some years before, in 1990, we held the presidency when the Iron Curtain came down and Germany reunited.

Remember Charlie Haughey inviting Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher to Dublin Castle, and how Ireland's final World Cup game against Romania was held on the day of the EU summit?

I worked on all of that as a humble official, and they were halcyon days which restored our national confidence.

The fact is that by doing a good job we can restore our international reputation which, in terms of our diplomats and our United Nations peacekeeping soldiers, is always separate to our economic reputation, and happily so.

This needs to be said because there have been some extraordinarily ignorant dismissals recently of our foreign duties.

For example, our chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was criticised, but this is actually a big international honour and costs very little.

The critics also had a moan about Eamon Gilmore being at the UN General Assembly in New York last September, yet this is an annual fixture attended by all foreign ministers.

Pundits, who should know better, said Gilmore "should have been at home" answering questions about his restless TDs.

The reality is that we still have international responsibilities and are not a closed-off isolationist country thinking only of itself.

Far from it. In fact, the EU presidency is a reminder that we are very much a part of a wider international community and, in terms of the EU itself, of a tightly bound club which has been going through a serious fiscal crisis – from which, encouragingly, it has started to emerge – and which still represents the most lucrative economic market in the world.

Okay, the EU has not exactly given us a break yet on the bank debt, but that will come, we hope. Acting stroppily on the EU presidency will not help. The presidency, which is a chairing of all the member states' EU activities, is quite distinct from the European Commission or the ECB, after all.

So let us step up to the plate.

The six-month presidency will absorb a lot of our ministers' and officials' valuable time at a crucial period domestically, but at least we will be firmly in the European spotlight and, hopefully, be accorded the respect we deserve.

Irish Independent

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