Tuesday 20 March 2018

EU lauds our presidency as country set for €2bn boost

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek (centre) and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy after the deal was struck
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek (centre) and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy after the deal was struck

Michael Brennan Brussels

IRELAND will gain €2bn from the new EU budget deal over the next seven years – with farmers, researchers and young people on the dole all set to benefit.

Bid to secure agreement hit a late snag at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels after Britain objected to accounting changes that threaten to eat into its cherished budget rebate. But insiders said this would be resolved.

Although Ireland will be contributing €10bn to the €960bn budget, it will receive an estimated €12bn back in EU grants over the period.

Speaking in Brussels, Taoiseach Enda Kenny hailed the "long and torturous" negotiations that led to the agreement of the EU budget for 2014-2020.

And it has also provided a boost for the country's reputation in Europe, with senior EU figures praising the Irish presidency for securing agreement on the deal in its final week.

"What we now have to do is see that these monies are channelled into effective programmes so that people all over Europe have the opportunity to have jobs and careers," said Mr Kenny.

A key measure is the €6bn in funding for the youth guarantee – which means that from next year on, the State will get EU cash to provide work placements or training for people under 25. With 30pc of young people out of work, the Government is expected to be able to claim significant youth guarantee funds by sending in proposals later this year.

As well as the €1.2bn in grants for Irish farmers, there will also be €100m for the hard-hit border, midland and western regions and €150m for a new cross-border peace programme.

And Irish college researchers have the potential to win €1bn from the EU's expanded €70bn research fund.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the successes of the Irish EU presidency would also strengthen the Government's hand in the negotiations on getting a bank debt deal.

Having previously been accused of claiming success on the negotiations too early last week, he acknowledged that the budget still has to be approved by a majority of the 754 MEPs in the European Parliament next week and by all EU leaders.

"I believe what we have concluded is a fair compromise and I hope it will be accepted by both sides," he said.

The six-month Irish EU presidency is estimated to cost €60m compared with the €110m cost of the previous one in 2004.

And Government figures said it had involved sending ministers across Europe for one-on-one meetings, as well as endless meetings with EU officials and MEPs.

European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton said great credit was due to the country's civil servants – including the 180 based in Brussels for the presidency.


"I think this is a real example of what public servants can achieve and how hard they are prepared to work when motivated. People were absolutely exhausted after endless hours of negotiations," she said.

Ms Creighton, who clocked up 120,000 air miles and visited 44 countries for the presidency, said its value in restoring Ireland's reputation could not be underestimated.

She said there had been weekly reviews of whether the presidency's negotiating targets were being achieved, with Mr Kenny and cabinet ministers being pressed into service to phone or meet their counterparts in other EU countries if there were diplomatic logjams.

Ms Creighton also highlighted a group of around 80 graduates, who were praised for their hard work during the presidency, and are now being let go after the end of their contracts.

But they have the benefit of having worked on a presidency which has been praised by senior EU figures for having reached agreements on the Common Agricultural Policy, banking union, the youth guarantee, and the Common Fisheries Policy.

And it also included getting negotiations on a trade agreement between the EU and the US – after a 20-year freeze.

European Parliament president Martin Schultz said Ireland did a great job. "I make an appeal to all the member states to follow their wonderful example," he said.

Irish Independent

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