Friday, 4 January 2013

The Irish EU Presidency

Today’s edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [4 January 2013] carries the following editorial comment on page 2:

The Irish EU Presidency

On 1st January, the Republic of Ireland took up the six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union, succeeding Cyprus in this rotating role. As well as the continual round of summits, meetings and constant consultations in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg between now and the end of June, media attention is likely to focus on the hundreds of visitors to related events in Ireland. These present an opportunity to showcase a diverse programme of Irish culture.

This is the Republic’s seventh Presidency and coincides with the fortieth anniversary of it’s accession to what was then the European Economic Community on 1st January 1973. A day after the Irish Presidency ends, Croatia becomes the 28th member state of the EU – an illustration of how the EU remains attractive even the former Yugoslav republics as a way of healing Europe’s latest bloody conflict. A year from now, Greece assumes the Presidency – a reminder of how the EU is teetering on an economic and social knife-edge.

Government ministers in Dublin have been keen to emphasise that the Irish EU Presidency offers opportunities for a new phase in the EU’s drive for economic recovery and social cohesion, and that the Irish Presidency is prioritising economic stability in the hope of creating jobs and growth. However, even as the EU basks in the glory of receiving the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for establishing and maintaining peace, democracy and respect for human rights across the continent, it is difficult to see how in just one, short, six-month period any member-state could deliver the hopes of millions for jobs, stability and growth.

Europe’s recovery cannot happen in isolation, and so this new Presidency must also attend to development, humanitarian policy, EU-UN relations, the threats to security and peace that hover constantly in neighbouring North Africa and the Middle East, the continuing global hunger crisis, and climate change. The next six months will also be quite crucial in terms of the ongoing debate in the UK with regard to a pssible renegotiation of its terms of EU membership. Prime Minister David Cameron has indeed a delicate juggling act to perform if he is to find a consensus for the way forward.

The Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, has spoken of a “people-centred recovery, designed to last.” The present crisis shows how closely linked all the EU economies are, with common problems that need common solutions. However, it will take more than a confident Irish Presidency to steer the EU towards a return to shared prosperity, but the new Presidency has the opportunity, nonetheless, to make its mark.