Ireland in EU chair position

Voting on CAP reform and the EU economy is likely to be centre stage for the next year, Joan Noble says

While the six monthly rotating chair of the EU has lost some of its relevance since the appointment of a permanent president and the increase in European council meetings to deal with the euro crisis, it still has influence over the timetable and agenda for the council of ministers meetings. Ireland has been in the chair seven times since joining the EU and the Irish government has often brokered difficult deals, as a northern country often considered to be an ‘honorary’ Mediterranean one. So on the 40th anniversary of Irish accession to the EU what are the country’s plans for the six months it is in the chair?

There is a trio programme with Lithuania (who is in the chair from July to December 2013) and Greece (in the chair from 1 January to 30 June 2014). The three small states are looking for an 18-month programme to stimulate growth and jobs and help move the EU forward from the continuing economic gloom and euro crisis.


CAP top

The 2014 to 2020 CAP is uppermost. The discussion will “enter its final and decisive stage” according to the agenda. The programme suggests “intensive negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council” and with the over 7,000 amendments tabled by the European Parliament there is certainly a need for compromise between the parliament, council and commission. The document is rather vague about whether the Irish presidency is keen to see agreement under its presidency or whether the final agreement will come under the Lithuanian or Greek presidencies. Much depends on the progress on negotiations on the budget but little concrete is said in the presidency agenda document, except to say “following the statement of the European Council of 23 November 2012, the three presidencies will make every effort to contribute to reaching an agreement on the multiannual financial framework early in 2013”.

The Irish agricultural minister, Simon Coveney, a farmer as well as politician, chairs the talks in the agricultural council for the next six months. Coveney has said that one of the most important issues affecting Irish agriculture is reform and the budget and his stance is to make sure that the budget is not reduced further from that proposed. He intends to be firm in his resolve to keep money for the CAP, and has said that CAP reform should be finalized even if the budget has not been agreed and agreement on the CAP was a priority for Ireland.

As Coveney is in the chair he may have to be more flexible on the budget and accept that cuts are inevitable in these difficult economic times. Some Brussels officials are already anticipating that there will have to be some interim agricultural policies agreed in 2014 as the budget rows continue. One of the policies that may fail will be “the greening of the CAP,” which would link direct payments to environmental measures.


Big changes for dairy

While it seems likely that the proposed abolition of milk quotas will certainly be agreed, there will be big changes in the dairy industry following the abolition. The removal of quota restraints will be an important change for dairy farmers and consumers. Countries such as New Zealand have been able to grow their export business while the EU producers have been constrained.

The trio also wants to progress a legislative proposal on organic farming. This is planned for publication during 2013. With major change coming in milk legislation, organic production will become more important.

A global outlook is high on the agenda as well, with trade negotiations and enlargement both important issues. “The Council remains committed to preserving and enhancing the multilateral trading system at the core of the EU’s trade, investment and development policy and also remains committed to continuing efforts to achieve a balanced outcome of the Doha Development Agenda negations,” according to EU documents.

However, bilateral deals are more relevant. Ireland has always had a special relationship with the US and EU-US trade relationship must be a priority for the Irish presidency. Officials are working on a formal mandate to start negotiations on a new free trade agreement with the US. It is hoped that Karel De Gucht, the European Commissioner for trade and the US trade representative, Ron Kirk, will give the green light to starting formal negotiations, although difficulties are bound to emerge unless mutual recognition on technical standards rather than convergence wins the day. A deal with the US would be an important boost to free trade and integration of the two market economies. There are also plans to finalise free trade negotiations with Canada and Singapore.


Bigger still

Enlargement will also feature in the coming months. The Croatian accession treaty has already been agreed and is undergoing ratification throughout the existing 27 member states. In the meantime there are some concerns Croatia is not ready and the European Commission has told the Croatian government that they must do more to prepare for accession in July 2013.

There are eight other countries waiting to join: Iceland, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

One of the most difficult tasks facing the EU is to ensure the continuation of the single currency and the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, hopes to bring new hope to Europeans. Two of the countries in the trio, Ireland and Greece, have relied on bailouts, although Ireland seems to be emerging from the troubles and wants to focus on the future creation of jobs, growth and trade.

That being said, the troubles in Europe persist with very high unemployment in many countries and particularly high youth unemployment in Spain and Italy. So 2013 will be a difficult year for the EU and those trying to broker a compromise, particularly over economic and financial issues. A solution to the budget question will not be easy and therefore funding of the CAP must still be in question.


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