Thank you for the kind introduction, and for this opportunity to set out Ireland’s priorities for the first six months of next year.
Five weeks from now, Ireland assumes the Presidency of the Council for the seventh time.
As you may know, the Party I lead, Fine Gael, has had a long standing and strong relationship with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and I am glad to have this opportunity to meet you again.
Five weeks from now, Ireland also celebrates 40 years as a member of the Union.
I was first elected to the Irish parliament in 1975, the year of our first Presidency when we hosted the first European Council meeting in Dublin among many other initiatives. I have participated in all of Ireland’s Presidencies, as parliamentarian and as minister, in government and in opposition.
Our 1990 Presidency managed Europe’s common approach to the historic reunification of Germany. Our 1996 Presidency, when I was Trade Minister, took some of the key steps leading to the euro.
In May 2004 in Dublin at our President’s residence, the Union made its most significant enlargement from 15 to 25 member states.
The Union has changed radically in these 40 years. The challenges today are different but as we know, very significant. And the role of the Presidency has changed. But the Irish approach in 2013 will have some important elements in common with our previous ones:
First, we’ll give the Presidency 100% determination and seek to make a difference in the time we have in the chair. Our 2013 priorities that I’ll set out today are selected on the basis of the difference they’ll make.
Second, on top of what we do as Presidency there is the important second dimension of how we do it. We’ll get more done and more agreed if we do business with our partners, our EU institutions and our stakeholders as leaders, yes, but also as a provider of solutions. As a Presidency which listens as much as it speaks.
This will fundamentally be a Presidency which will play its full part in a recovering Union which builds from Stability to Growth and Jobs.
Those three words are the slogan of the Irish Presidency because frankly, everything follows from growth and jobs. I don’t need to spell that out in detail here but in simple terms it means this:
If Europe and its economies can get on a sustainable path, if we can stabilise the euro and can fix our banking problem, then we’ve laid the foundations for recovery that lasts.
If the Union can be an enabler for European job-creators to create jobs, then our people and our families have what they need to consume goods, pay taxes and have the quality of life they deserve.
If people have jobs and our businesses export more and earn more, governments have more revenue to fund vital public services, incentivise innovation and education, and so on.
And if we export more and consume more while building a robust financial system, credit flows again. Growth and jobs flow and continue to flow. Good, innovative ideas get a chance to come to life, for everyone’s benefit.
Before I start into the individual, concrete policies we intend to deliver in our Presidency, I might say this. Ireland will bring to this Presidency our own national experience in securing economic stability, recovery and a return to growth.
Ireland’s recovery is in Europe’s interests and Europe’s recovery is in Ireland’s. Now, in the important year that 2013 should be, Europe’s recovery is Ireland’s business not only as an individual member state, but as Presidency.
So, as 1 January approaches, where is the Union at?
The Union’s economy does continue to remain resistant to growth more than four years after the start of the crisis. Unemployment remains far too high. The Union’s members appear divided on issues including the Union’s future financing, which we are discussing today. Critics of the EU suggest that the EU is not doing enough to revive the European economy.
I can also assure you today that the Irish Presidency sees the challenges facing the Union not as burdens, but as opportunities.
Opportunities to be tackled and addressed to make the EU more globally competitive and to promote stability, economic growth and job creation across the Union.
We will work to restore stability in the EU economy through effective implementation and management of initiatives such as the European Semester process which demonstrate that the Union and its Member States are serious about reform.
This can only increase stability and confidence in the European economy, laying strong and solid foundations for sustainable economic recovery and new growth.
The Presidency will also work to make progress on the banking union proposals. We need to design this well but we have an urgent crisis to settle. I hope we will succeed in getting the legal framework in place for the Single Supervisory Mechanism by January and move ahead on other elements then.
We cannot expect our economies to develop or that investors will finance growth, if they lack confidence in the financial system. Moreover, our SMEs and other enterprises cannot innovate, grow and create jobs if they are starved of credit.
A healthy banking system is a prerequisite for a growing economy. Promoting a more secure banking system is also necessary so that citizens know that their investments are safe and that through monitoring, the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.
The Irish Presidency will also place a strong focus on facilitating economic recovery in Europe through a number of initiatives which are designed to stimulate growth and job creation.
We will work to secure agreement on outstanding measures under the Single Market Act I, such as the Professional Qualifications and Posted Workers Directives.
Ireland attaches a strong priority to new technologies as a driver for strengthening competitiveness, and promoting stronger growth and jobs creation.
This is why we will seek to equip the Single Market by placing a strong focus developing the digital economy.
We will work to advance policy and legislation in a range of linked areas including Intellectual Property Rights, cyber security, e-signatures, Data Protection, and high-speed broadband rollout.
On the innovation front, the Irish Presidency will seek agreement on the Horizon 2020 programme that can support Europe in becoming a world leader in global innovation and competitiveness, and also act as a major source of growth and employment.
We will also work to ensure that SMEs also have easier access to European supports for research and innovation through programmes such as COSME.
Youth unemployment is one of the major challenges facing Governments across Europe today. Following the publication of the Youth Transitions package, the Presidency will work to reach agreement on a Youth Guarantee.
Ireland, as Presidency, also plans to make significant progress on strengthening the Union’s trade links with third countries to open new markets to EU exporters and to boost jobs and growth. I chaired Trade Ministers during Ireland’s 1996 Presidency and I retain to this day the strongest of beliefs in the potential for Europe to be a winner in opening trade opportunities with our major partners to our west and our east.
Many of the programmes that I have just outlined can underpin recovery and support economic growth.
But to fund these programmes we need an EU budget that is fit for purpose and focussed on stimulating growth in the European economy.
Programmes such as cohesion funding and the Common Agriculture Policy already underpin the livelihoods of millions of Europeans.
Ireland’s third main Presidency priority will be therefore to take on the tasks that remain in relation to the EU budget at the end of the Cyprus Presidency, and to work to promote agreement on a budget that can make a positive difference to Europe’s future.
Before concluding I also wish to briefly touch on the way we intend to do business.
As with our six previous Presidencies, we will endeavour to deliver tangible results for citizens and we will work in a fair, impartial and pragmatic manner to move the Union’s agenda forward.
As a small Member State we strong believe in the Community Method of decision-making, and in strong and close cooperation with partners and the institutions to ensure that the Union functions as it should.
We have worked hard to develop closer links with the institutions, our fellow member states and in particular the European Parliament, in preparation for the Presidency.
As for our domestic challenge, I am delighted at the support that we are receiving to bring Ireland’s economy back to health.
In this regard, the stability, jobs and growth agenda that forms the backbone of our Presidency programme correlates to our national political agenda.
As recent economic news reveals, Ireland’s economy is slowly moving towards recovery and confidence is beginning to return. The reforms that we have implemented have not been easy, and tough decisions lie ahead. But the Irish people have made sacrifices for the national good.
Most recently, in endorsing by referendum the Fiscal Stability Treaty earlier this year, they also reaffirmed that Ireland’s future lies firmly in constructive and close cooperation with our partners for future peace and prosperity in Europe. Our Presidency, involving as it will some tough decisions by all of us, will reflect that spirit of constructiveness and determination.
We look forward to welcoming at least 15,000 people to at least 180 Presidency-related events in Ireland from January-June 2013.
We look forward to sharing the best of Irish culture with you through a programme of events in Ireland, here in Brussels and in other European centres.
We look forward to contributing to progress across all policy areas as we chair negotiations in the Council, represent EU governments in discussions with other EU Institutions and in all other capacities we will have as Presidency.
In short, we’ll give it everything we’ve got; our circumstances as a Union demand nothing less.