This article is a summary of the speech of the Irish PM, Enda Kenny, to the European Parliament on the 16th of January, to present the hopes and priorities of this new Irish EU Presidency, during the first semester of 2013, 40 years after the Irish accession to the EU.
“A spirit of doing … of renewing”
PM Enda Kenny started by reminding how much Europe had evolved since Ireland became a member in 1973 and how his country had evolved with it, starting as an agriculture-dominated economy to become nowadays a country with high-tech industries and many foreign companies. Nowadays, the EU should continue to evolve, to renew itself.
He also underlined the very recent “history”, with Ireland being subject to a support programme of the EU and the IMF since November 2010 and suffering from austerity, which “brought pain and suffering to many families, many homes. But the Irish people have borne that weight, that pain with remarkable courage and patience and quiet dignity” and “Ireland is taking steps on the road to recovery”. Indeed, exports are thriving and the economy is growing again. Moreover, the latest bond sales have seen lower yields on government bonds, which may be a sign that investors are slowly becoming confident again in Ireland.
Enda Kenny hopes that Ireland will be able to exit the programme by the end of this year.
“Ireland’s Presidency will be all about Stability, Jobs and Growth”
It is not only Ireland that needed reforms, “Europe too needs to steady itself after this crisis driven period, and return to stability”.
PM Enda Kenny identified the biggest challenge, “the deepest hurt” to be “that of unemployment… particularly for young people”. He declared that “no unemployment figure is acceptable” and that it was the duty of this generation of politicians to give “the chance of work” to the young people “who are our democracy’s future, our future, Europe’s future”. Therefore, even if “there is no simple solution”, he committed himself to give priority to the Youth Employment Package.
Moreover, another source of growth should be the completion of the Single Market, by removing remaining barriers to business and improving competitiveness and trade opportunities. Concretely, the Irish PM intends to achieve progress on several issues such as the Professional Qualifications Directive, the Posting of Workers Directive, pensions’ portability, the Public Procurement Package and the “Digital Single Market” (e-signatures, high speed broadband, data protection…).
What is more, the EU needs also to reach an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) to have “a stable basis for its challenging work”. PM Enda Kenny reported that “the European Council has made considerable progress in narrowing the very large differences between Member States. But more work and negotiation is needed, and soon”. He hopes to reach an agreement as early as possible, even if imperfect – but it must be fair –, so as to be able then to focus on other topics, such as the reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and CFP (Common Fisheries Policy), as well as the structural funds.
Finally, stability requires also continuing the reforms on economic governance and of the banking sector. The Irish PM called upon the Council and the European Parliament to adopt the Two-Pack very soon. In addition, he indicated that the Irish Presidency would discuss with the EP “shortcomings in terms of democratic accountability” of the European Semester Process. Moreover, the realisation of a banking union will also figure among the top priorities, “including early adoption of the Single Supervisory Mechanism and the other elements of Banking Union”. But there were no words about the idea of fiscal or social harmonisation, nor about the possibility to establish new EU own resources such as a carbon tax or a tax on financial transactions.
PM Enda Kenny did not address only internal problems, but discussed foreign relations as well.
In matters of foreign policy, he announced his intention to use this EU Presidency “to strengthen the Union’s approach to fighting global poverty and hunger”. He also intends to strengthen the role of the European Union in bringing peace to troubled regions such as Syria, Iran, Mali and Somalia”, in cooperation with the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.
As regards trade, there are “high hopes for the opening of Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the US” and negotiations will continue with several countries and regions such as Japan, India, Canada and the countries of ASEAN region.
The EU neighbours were not forgotten. The Irish PM expressed support for enlargement, reminding that the EU would welcome Croatia as its 28th member on July 1st and announcing that the Irish Presidency will “work to advance the process with Iceland, Turkey, and Montenegro”. In addition, “important decisions may also be possible on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, and Kosovo”.
Do not forget the achievement of the past…
Both at the beginning and at the end of his speech, PM Enda Kenny insisted that the European integration was a success and that “in this Year of the Citizen, we must be ready to argue the very “Why?” of Europe” remembering that “what we have done well together has been outstanding”. In the words of the Irish PM, “the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Europe last year recognised that achievement [bringing peace and unifying Europe]”.
He also reminded that “Europe remains among the best places to live not just economically, but culturally and socially. Above all because we have peace, a precious peace, we committed to and made together.” And therefore, it is “no wonder so many countries aspire to join us to become part of our European family”. He believes that “in 2012 we saw the passing of possibly the worst of the economic crisis” and that “we now move onto the challenges of the recovery of Europe”.
Finally, against the idea that the EU is a distant, technocratic construction, PM Enda Kenny opposed the vision of “a family – at times boisterous, anxious, fretful, joyful, always compassionate, always faithful”.