On Jan. 1, Ireland took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, its seventh time to do so since becoming members 40 years ago this month.
What was at that time the European Economic Community and is now the European Union has evolved considerably since then — including with the accession of 10 new member states in 2004, the last occasion on which we held the presidency.
Ireland is thus a long-standing and committed member of the EU and will apply all its energies and resources to advancing the interests of the union throughout the course of its presidency.
Ireland’s national experience over recent years has been one of economic adversity followed by a determined and continuing turnaround. Informed by this, its presidency term is firmly focused on helping to achieve stability, jobs and growth for both itself and the European Union as a whole. The Irish presidency will be that of a recovery country helping recovery in Europe.
Effective implementation of the Banking Union proposals and economic governance measures, legislation that can stimulate jobs and growth and promotion of the digital economy are all important priorities over the coming period. Ireland is also working to help secure agreement on an EU budget for 2014-2020 and is hopeful that this will prove possible. Agreement on an adequate EU budget is essential to underpin Europe’s economic recovery, future growth and social cohesion.
In the foreign policy sphere, a key objective for Ireland’s presidency is to actively support the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and the European External Action Service, as the Union seeks to play its part in helping to address such challenges as the ongoing crisis in Syria, tensions across the wider Middle East, the Iranian nuclear dossier and instability in Africa. On the 40th anniversary of Ireland’s own accession, and on the eve of Croatia joining the Union, we also hope to oversee further progress towards EU membership for the countries of the Western Balkans, Turkey and Iceland.
Building on the experience of chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2012 and on our national experience of conflict resolution in the Northern Ireland peace process, we will also contribute to EU efforts in the area of conflict prevention and resolution.
As part of Ireland’s presidency’s drive for stability, jobs and growth, we are also focussed on prioritising bilateral trade agreements with key partners. Such agreements can deliver positive benefits for all and provide newer and greater opportunities. Of course, of particular interest is the possibility of an EU-U.S. free-trade agreement.
Ireland’s membership in the EU has been, and remains, an essential factor in our relations with the U.S. For that reason, we are determined to help advance the EU’s partnership with the U.S. during our presidency. This is a complex issue, but we remain hopeful that the forthcoming High Level Working Group report will point us in that direction so that negotiations can move forward thereafter. It will be among the items for discussion by EU ministers of Trade at their informal meeting in Ireland in April.
For Ireland, our relationship with the United States is indispensable. The immense challenges of the global financial crisis remind us of our interdependence and why our relationship with the U.S. is a highly cherished one.
The Ireland-U.S. bilateral relationship is one of extraordinary depth and energy. The United States has played, and continues to play, an essential role in Ireland’s economic development. American companies have cumulatively invested about $190 billion USD in Ireland and are playing a vital role in helping the Irish economy to maintain and create jobs. In the opposite direction, Irish firms operating here in the U.S. employ tens of thousands of American across all 50 states.
The U.S. has also played a central role in the path to peace in Northern Ireland. Our relationship is underscored by the extraordinary depth of Irish America, with more than 40 million claiming at least some Irish ancestry.
In this context, it is understandable why Ireland is determined to further strengthen our bilateral ties while at the same time assist in deepening the relationship between the EU and the U.S.
These are some of the challenges which we and our EU colleagues have set for ourselves over the coming period. As the EU presidency, we will spare no effort in helping to advance our shared agenda, including with our U.S. friends, with a view to securing good outcomes that benefit all our citizens and the world as a whole.
Michael Collins is Ireland's ambassador to the United States