Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Question 17: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans for Ireland's Presidency of the EU in 2013; if he has identified his priorities for the EU Presidency in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20077/11]
Ireland will assume the Presidency of the European Union during the first six months of 2013. The Government has placed emphasis on its goal of enhancing Ireland's reputation in Europe and more widely, and of thorough engagement with the Union's agenda; the 2013 Presidency falls perfectly within this and can be a mobilising element in that process. Preparations for Ireland's Presidency during the first six months of 2013 have been under way since 2010. Planning is being co-ordinated by two interdepartmental groups which are chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; one group is focusing on policy preparations and the second group is working on logistics planning. I will chair the next meeting of the first group, the policy interdepartmental group tomorrow morning with officials from all Departments.
A Presidency programme is built to a large extent on proposals and policies already under consideration in the Union. We will therefore pay close attention to the plans and work of the new Polish Presidency and the Danish and Cypriot presidencies in 2012, as well as to the Commission's work programme for 2012. Departments are currently identifying areas of work that are likely to figure prominently on the EU agenda during the Presidency and those which we could seek to prioritise. Discussions at a political level between Ministers, our partners and the EU institutions are taking place in parallel with this process
A non-exhaustive list of issues that are likely to figure prominently on Ireland's Presidency agenda include the next multi-annual financial framework, and reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, as well as more broadly the economic and financial situation, employment creation and promotion of European competitiveness. These are all policy areas of broad importance to the EU and member states, including this country, and we look forward to working closely with partners to progress these issues.
I wish the Minister of State and all involved success. This country has distinguished itself in the past in terms of the manner in which it has conducted its Presidency. This is the first time we will be taking part in the post-Lisbon arrangement of a trio of presidencies over an 18 month period so perhaps the Minister of State will inform us about the degree of interaction between her and her opposite numbers in Lithuania and Greece. Should we consider ourselves somewhat unfortunate that we are included with Greece as one of the trio of countries to work out the 18 month plan?
Could the Minister of State also outline the administrative structures that have been put in place across the three member states in order to co-ordinate the approach to adopt? I agree in principle with the priorities the Minister of State set out for us. Of particular importance to us will be the work in the area of the review of the Common Agricultural Policy and also the multi-annual financial framework programme which is unlikely to be finalised at the end of 2012. It is quite likely to extend into our period. Does the Minister of State consider that is something which would ultimately be to our benefit?
I thank the Deputy for his good and relevant questions. The structure has changed. One of the key features in the new arrangements for the Presidency of the European Union is the key role of the European Parliament. That is something that is new. We are very cognisant of that. One of the things all Cabinet Ministers are doing at a very early stage is meeting with their counterparts in the European Parliament, particularly with the chairs of relevant committees. As the Deputy is aware, since the extension of co-decision to pretty much every policy area, the success of the Presidency is contingent on getting our legislative programme through the European Parliament which means we must have strong and coherent, direct engagement by all Ministers and all levels of officialdom, not just during the Presidency but in the build-up to ensure we have a good working relationship.
This country is the first member state in a trio with Lithuania, which takes over the Presidency directly after us in the second half of 2013 and Greece in the first half of 2014. The Deputy asked about the administrative and logistical co-ordination between the three presidencies. That is happening at a political level. It must also happen at an official level between the three member states. Critically, that is pulled together by the Council. So, for example, when this country sets out its Presidency priorities, it can only be done in the context of the priorities for the trio, in other words, the priorities for the 18 month period. Currently, we are preparing our priorities, in consultation with the other two member states. We then feed them into the Council secretariat which pulls it all together, again, in deep consultation with the member states. There is an important role for the central administration in Brussels.
In terms of the level of political engagement, the Deputy will be aware that recently, on 1 July, the Tánaiste met with his Lithuanian Foreign Minister counterpart in Vilnius to discuss issues of common interest. Naturally, there was a focus on the Presidency in 2013. They agreed to meet again later in the year with the Tánaiste's Greek counterpart Minister for Foreign Affairs to continue the discussion about the joint programme.
I have also met with my counterpart from the Greek Government who is active and constructive. We have had a number of good conversations. Likewise, I have had discussions with my Lithuanian counterpart at the General Affairs Council. Next week we will attend the General Affairs Council as well. The Tánaiste will attend the Foreign Affairs Council. In the autumn I hope to have an opportunity to travel to Lithuania. I hope there will be an opportunity for Ministers to visit this country as well in the run-up to the Presidency trio.
Critically, I also met a month ago with the Secretary General of the European Parliament who will play a very important role. President Buzek was in the country on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and I discussed the Presidency with him. We are working hard to ensure the Presidency will be successful. It is one of critical importance to the country and it is well under way.