Irish EU presidency outlines post-crisis agenda
The incoming Irish EU presidency says it will focus on jobs and growth in the next six months, echoing claims the sovereign debt part of the euro crisis has ended.
Foreign minister Eamon Gilmore told press in Brussels on Monday (17 December) there is still work to do on the banking union agreed by EU leaders last week as a long-term measure to quell market fears.
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He said Ireland will help draft plans for a pan-EU deposit guarantee scheme and failed bank wind-up rules as the "key to moving to the next phase - allowing the European Stability Mechanism [the Luxembourg-based bailout fund] to directly recapitalise banks."
But he noted that Ireland's main objectives - and its EU presidency motto - will be "stability, jobs and growth."
Its push to get the European economy back on its feet envisages agreement on the EU budget for 2014 to 2020 "early in the New Year" to enable "fit for purpose" spending on, for instance, aid to rural regions.
Ireland will work to clinch an EU-US free trade deal, which Dublin believes can contribute 2 percent growth to EU GDP.
It will promote a directive on pan-EU recognition of professional qualifications to help job-seekers move around. It will also try to help small businesses get access to credit and to "overhaul" EU data protection rules to make life easier for online companies.
Striking an optimistic note, Gilmore said: "We aim to be the first country to emerge from an EU-IMF [International Monetary Fund] programme."
He added that upcoming elections in Germany and Italy should not hold things back. "I don't expect that elections in Italy will delay the MFF [the multi-annual financial framework, or 2014 to 2020 EU budget]," he said.
His EU affairs minister, Lucinda Creighton, noted: "For the past 18 months, whenever something complex comes on the agenda we hear the refrain: 'No decision can be expected because of elections here or there.' But in fact decision-making has not been put on hold."
The Irish tone echoes recent remarks by some EU leaders.
"That period is over ... We did a lot of good work this year and that allows us to be confident for 2013," French President Francois Hollande said in Brussels last Thursday, referring to sovereign debt fears.
Meanwhile, Ireland outlined more modest priorities for EU foreign policy.
Creighton said it will try to get EU accession talks started with Macedonia and Serbia and to get agreement on signing a pre-accession pact with quasi-state Kosovo.
Gilmore noted he will also look to expand EU humanitarian aid programmes.
He said nothing on two of the biggest crises in the EU neighbourhood - the Arab-Israeli conflict and Syria.
With Israel piling on thousands of new settler homes in Palestine - it announced a further 1,500 homes in East Jerusalem on Monday - Dublin has no plans to push for punitive measures.
An Irish government spokeswoman told EUobserver last month that "Ireland would support a ban on the import of goods from Israeli settlements."
But she noted: "There is no consensus on this issue at EU level and no prospect of reaching agreement on this issue in the near term." She added that under the Lisbon Treaty: "The foreign council agenda is set by the EU [foreign policy chief] Catherine Ashton."