Ireland's second in command, or Tánaiste in Gaelic, said at the Council yesterday (17 December) that the priorities for the Irish presidency were banking supervision, an agreement on the EU budget, and unemployment, especially amongst the youth.
With EU leaders failing to agree to an EU budget for 2014-2020 in November, the burden of pushing it through also falls on the Irish.
“We will assist [Council President] Herman Van Rompuy in any way we can”, Gilmore said.
The deputy prime minister said his country would take a “glass half full, not half empty” approach to its presidency, which begins on the 40th anniversary of Ireland’s accession to the European Union.
The debt-ridden country, which received an €85 billion bailout from the EU and the International Monetary Fund in 2011, takes over the six-month rotating presidency from Cyprus on 1 January 2013.
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has called it a “recovery country driving a recovery agenda for Europe.”
Ireland's problems mirror those of the EU, attempting to boost economic growth and job creation while driving down its deficit, Gilmore said. He added that Ireland hoped to become the first country to emerge from the EU/IMF bailout programme.
‘Tús maith, leath na hoibre’
Irish officials said they would make sure to carry through the implementation of the Single Supervisory Mechanism for the eurozone's 6,000 banks, agreed on by finance ministers on 13 December. Gilmore said the banking union and deeper economic coordination were vital to the stability of the EU.
The minister quoted the Gaelic phrase “Tús maith, leath na hoibre” - “a good start is half the work” - outlining his desire to carry on the momentum created by developments that took place under the Cypriot presidency, including the SSM.
The SSM is viewed as a major step towards a full banking union and closer economic integration within the eurozone.
“It is imperative to move quickly,” Gilmore said. “We need to coordinate economic policies in response to the crisis”, he added. He also expressed hopes an agreement on the EU budget would be agreed “early in the new year”, with the MFF fully signed and delivered by the end of 2013.
Gilmore, also minister for foreign affairs and trade, said the Irish presidency would “target the sectors with the highest growth potential”, including trade with countries outside the EU, the EU’s enterprise competitiveness programme COSME, and the digital sector.
To Lucinda Creighton, the Irish European affairs minister, the digital economy would be one of the key drivers of growth, citing government figures which estimate that for every one job lost, 2.6 new jobs could potentially be created online, as well as an EU GDP boost of some 2%.
Creighton told reporters the Erasmus student exchange programme would be “key” to the presidency.
The European Parliament recently voted for a deal on the 2013 budget which safeguards Erasmus funding, whose existence had been under threat as member states called for EU budget cuts.
Rory Montgomery, Ireland’s permanent representative to the EU, has said the presidency would also make the controversial financial transaction tax a priority, though Ireland would not take part in it from the start.
Gilmore said 90% of global growth in 2020 would take place outside of the EU, emphasising the need to complete fresh trade deals.
According to the Irish trade minister, if the EU completed all the free trade agreements that are now being discussed, it would add about 2% to the continent’s GDP.
He said the Irish government would attempt to use its close relationship with the United States to broker an FTA with the world's largest economy, which Montgomery said would be the "big prize" of the presidency. This was also a priority for the Americans, Gilmore said.
But the deputy prime minister stressed the need for “realism”, admitting there could always be roadblocks in “ambitious” deals.
The Irish will work on more immediately workable trade deals, by attempting to conclude early agreements on FTAs with Canada and Singapore.
Creighton said the Irish presidency would also be “extremely enthusiastic” about the enlargement process, adding that there would be “no shortage of engagement” with countries such as Serbia and Turkey. Analysts have criticised the Cypriots for going cold on Turkey, whose government does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus.