From 1 January 2013 to 30 June 2013, Ireland presides over the Council of the EU for 7th time since it joined the EU 40 years ago. Last month, the Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Eamon Gilmore T.D. and the Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton T.D. announced Ireland’s 2013 EU Presidency priorities and launched the Presidency’s dedicated website.
Gilmore and Creighton said that 2013 should usher in a new phase in the EU’s drive for recovery in which the Irish Presidency will focus on stability, jobs and growth.
The Tanaiste outlined the Presidency’s policy priorities in terms of their contribution to stability, jobs and growth.
Priorities for stability
Gilmore spoke of “people-centred recovery, designed to last” through stabilizing Europe’s banking system (Banking Union) and through improved economic co-ordination. The Irish Presidency is also going to address the critical levels of youth unemployment across the EU (over 25% in 13 EU Member States) by making progress on the Youth Employment and Youth Guarantee proposals. In addition, the Presidency plans to make progress on a range of initiatives aimed to promote free movement across the EU and to protect workers’ rights.
Priorities for jobs and growth
Areas with the highest potential to create jobs are going to be the subject of a comprehensive legislative programme. These areas are the Digital Economy, Small and Medium Enterprises and Trade.
- Europe’s Digital Sector: Minister Creighton noted that “there is so much potential here left to be tapped and if we build confidence in this sector the benefits could be enormous.” In order to build this confidence, the Presidency announced to further the Digital Agenda. In particular, the Presidency is going to advance measures in the following areas:Cyber security: the Irish Presidency expects to publish early during its mandate a legislative proposal on measures to enable improved levels of network and information security. The main objective of the proposal is to provide for improved network and information security across the EU.
- e-signatures / e-Identification: the Presidency attaches high priority to the Regulation on electronic identification and trust services. The objective of the Regulation is to provide a pan-European framework for electronic identification, authentication and recognition of e- signatures that will improve the confidence of citizens and business in online and virtual commerce. The Presidency will accelerate work on this complex file, which is a proposal outstanding from the first Single Market Act. The proposal can open the way to greater use by all Europeans of online services, which in turn will result in growth and jobs.
- High-speed broadband rollout: towards the end of the first quarter of 2013, the Presidency will publish a proposal to provide better broadband coverage, including reducing the cost of high-speed broadband infrastructure. The proposal will set out the principles to be followed by Member States as they prepare to roll out high-speed fixed and mobile broadband.
- Web accessibility: as part of its focus on the Digital Agenda and the European Year of Citizens, the Presidency intends to make progress on the Commission’s proposed Directive on web accessibility, published in December 2012. The proposal aims to ensure that websites are accessible to all users, in particular those with disabilities
- Public sector information: The Irish Presidency hopes to reach agreement on the proposal for a Directive to allow the re-use of public sector information by the private sector at marginal or no cost, to generate new and innovative products, thereby stimulating job growth and development.
- The Presidency will also work on proposals in other Councils including data protection aimed at supporting growth in the digital economy.
Last but not least, the Presidency informed that the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) is going to be a priority too. CEF aims to deliver the integrated telecommunications, transport and energy infrastructure we need for future growth. In particular, the telecommunications guidelines of the CEF aim to accelerate the delivery of next generation broadband and to stimulate the rollout of digital services by complementing private investment, particularly in areas where the economic case for investment is less certain.
- Small and Medium Enterprises: Minister Creighton explained that “[…] 35% of all internet users avoid shopping online because of safety concerns. Progress on this front alone would make a big difference, especially for SMEs (they employ 87 million people in the EU) which we believe will drive Europe’s recovery”. Therefore, the Presidency announced that it is going to pursue measures such as improved access to credit, public procurement opportunities and research funding. In addition, it plans to secure the agreement on the EU’s future financing for the 2014 to 2020 period and work with other Member States and the European Parliament on the key programs that can underpin strong economic growth and social cohesion in Europe, including CAP, Horizon 2020, cohesion funding and “Blue Growth”. Finally, the Presidency is going to put the Green Economy agenda back on track as an engine for smart sustainable growth.
- Trade: Trade is a priority for the Irish Presidency given that 30 million EU jobs depend on exports. In regards to this fact, Deputy Prime Minister Gilmore said that “Trade agreements are top of our agenda. There is potential there for up to 2% growth in GDP across the EU.” In that way, the Presidency plans to intensify trade policy talks with strategic partners such as the United States and Japan with agreements to be concluded with Canada and Singapore. Regarding to this point, Gilmore noted that “with the benefit of Ireland's’ close links with the US, we will work to progress the idea of a comprehensive EU-US Free Trade Agreement – among others. I discussed this recently with Secretary of State Clinton and I know it is a priority for them as well”.
The EU and the world
The Presidency believes that Europe cannot recover in isolation and for this reason it commits to make Europe an effective partner on the world stage. In that way the Irish Presidency announced that it is going to
- Pursue the enlargement agenda and strengthen relations with EU neighbors.
- Focus on topics such as development, humanitarian policy, global hunger crisis and climate change.
- Work for stronger EU-UN relations, especially in the area of crisis management and peace support operations.
- Strengthen trade relations and open new markets with third countries, creating opportunities for enterprise, leading to more jobs and growth.
If you wish to read the full Irish Presidency programme, please click here.
We welcome this new EU Presidency and we wish all the best for the next 6 months ahead!