Opinion: From Leinster House bruiser to subtle master of diplomacy
"Big EU negotiations begin with a flourish of high diplomacy and end with a big dirty row about fish quotas." That old Brussels maxim ain't old for nothing.
Some 25 years ago the then EU Agriculture Commissioner, Ray MacSharry, learnt the relevance of the maxim when he concluded the first major overhaul of the Common Agriculture Policy after 48 hours of straight-through negotiations in Brussels. When it seemed everybody was done and could live with the outcome, the Italian Agriculture Minister popped up to seek a special deal for his country because they had not bothered implementing milk quotas for many years.
Squalid though it looked to some, the Italians had to get a special deal. There was no other way round things.
Such thoughts came to mind again this week reading of the exploits of EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan, in his role concluding the world's biggest trade deal between the EU and Japan. In the end it all came down to a soft Japanese cheese from the island of Hokkaido which is called "Sakura," flavoured with cherry leaves, and apparently a famous delicacy in that part of the world.
The cornerstone of this deal would appear a delight to Irish farmers: it is a trade-off between opening Japan's market of almost 130 million people to EU farm produce, and allowing Japan sell more cars into Europe. You would say it was a "win-win" for an Irish dairy farmer who likes to drive a Toyota.
Japan's agriculture minister, Yuji Yamamoto, said he had nowhere to go on this one. He had the powerful Japanese farm cooperatives on his case.
Happily, Phil Hogan, recalled around Leinster House as something of a political bruiser when the going got tough, played a subtle hand, telling the Japanese Minister he knew the potential wrath of Irish dairy farmers in such circumstances. He offered to cut the quotas for EU soft cheese sales in Japan - provided quotas for hard cheeses like cheddar and other dairy products were increased.
Everyone sat back and held their collective breath. The Japanese delegation accepted and the deal was well on the way to being done.