independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Little scope for fancy gestures, just hard work

A soldier raises the EU flag over Dublin Castle, to mark the beginning of the Irish presidency of the European Union.

ENDA Kenny may well not get to stride the EU stage with those practised, slightly comic Napoleonic gestures employed by Charlie Haughey over 20 years ago.

EU presidencies are not entirely what they were – even since the last Irish one in 2004 when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern formally welcomed 10 new member states, eight from the old communist East Bloc, at a ceremony in the Phoenix Park.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore have promised us six months of 'workmanlike application' between today and June 30. In an EU where up to 20 million people will soon be out of work, and in a country where one in seven workers is unemployed, their low-key aim is appropriate.

The EU, like Ireland, is right now a socially unjust place and it is time to work for change. There is a big agenda topped by the need to get a deal on a €1 trillion EU Budget plan for the seven years 2014-2020 inclusive.

Since Ireland's last EU presidency eight years ago there has been an important change in the way the EU does its business. Enda Kenny will not chair any summits as the European Union now has a permanent summit chairman, former Belgian Premier Herman Van Rompuy, who also heads a strengthened secretariat of officials in Brussels.

Mercifully for drivers in Dublin, neither will Dublin Castle host an EU leaders summit over the coming months. But there will be a total of 15,000 officials from the 27 member states attending the 180 other meetings in the capital over the next six months.

Ireland's team of Kenny and Gilmore will be boosted by other people of ability and ambition such as EU affairs minister, Lucinda Creighton, to make a go of it. Doing everything possible – including dealing with British opposition – is vital for an early Budget deal as the detailed work needed to implement it is exceptionally time-consuming.

The next priority is an EU-wide bank regulatory system, central to restoring stability to the eurozone. Ireland has an additional motivation here as a successful roll-out of a so-called banking union will decide hopes of a deal in 2013 on the country's bank debt burden.

These issues are in turn central to Ireland's plans to exit the EU- IMF bailout by the latter end of 2013. The Government's scope to influence these matters in a low-key but effective way is greatly enhanced over the coming six months.

The success of other specific measures like 'European Year of the Citizen' and initiatives such as one to tackle youth unemployment depend much on the Government and its officials projecting the right image and giving the right lead. As on the previous six occasions, there is much at stake in this Irish EU presidency.

Irish Independent

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