EU budget diplomacy to mark Irish presidency

03.12.12 @ 08:32

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - Exactly 40 years after it joined the EU, Ireland will take on the day-to-day running of the EU including overseeing the almost 70 laws needed to get the currently-disputed longterm budget up and running.

The debt-ridden country - it was bailed out by the EU and the International Monetary Fund in 2011 to the tune of €85bn - joined the EU on 1 January 1973.

When it starts its task at the beginning of next year, the clock will be ticking to get the 1 trillion euro 2013-2020 budget agreed at the political level so that the laborious legislative agreements - ensuring that the budget programmes have a legal basis - can be wrapped up.

Having failed to reach a deal on spending levels at a summit in November, EU leaders are expected to revisit the issue in February or March of next year.

"The real work on this begins once there has been political agreement," Irish EU ambassador Rory Montgomery said Friday (30 November). Then the European Parliament has to agree - with an absolute majority of its members - to the regulation on the spending commitments made by member states.

Fans of greater EU spending, MEPs have threatened to veto any budget they consider too measly.

After the regulation has been secured, a myriad other laws have to be finalised with parliament too.

"There are no fewer than 67 pieces of legislation underpinning the various spending programmes," Montgomery said. These include legislation governing how money for farm subsidies, regional aid, external relations and infrastructure is spent.

While much of the work is already underway, "the reality of it is that it will not be possible to bring them (the legislation) to conclusion until we have the figures. The longer it takes to get the figures, the later that process of final negotiation will begin."

The other major issues for Ireland's six month presidency include plans for a banking union - a key and highly complex part of the EU's progress toward profound monetary union - and an overhaul of the EU's data protection rules, agreed at a time (1995) when 1.5 percent of the EU's households had access to the internet.

Montgomery noted that the economic crisis - now in its fifth year - had resulted in a "certain scarcity of mutual trust and goodwill in the EU."

But still, he said he believed there was "broad consensus" on the overall objectives such as a "stable currency."

"Obviously there is always great interest in detecting the differences of opinion between people or countries. But what strikes me is the extent to which people do manage to iron out their differences and move ahead," said the ambassador.