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New year, new beginning

Forty years after its accession to the European Union, the Republic of Ireland assumed the presidency of the Council of the European Union on January 1, 2013.

Each presidency brings with it renewed expectations, high hopes and a packed agenda of pressing issues
- David Casa

Over the past few months, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore have held meetings with officials in EU member states in preparation of this significant transition. The two Irish leaders recently met with the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who expressed his confidence in the Irish presidency and its potential for success during its six-month term.

As the EU experiences this transition, we are once again reminded that the presidency is a significant role, both for member states assuming it and for the community as a whole. The member state that holds the presidency is responsible for chairing Council meetings, setting the agenda for the upcoming months and facilitating smooth cooperation between the different institutions of the EU.

The presidency of the EU Council, as it is officially referred to, is a position held by one of the national governments of the EU and it rotates every six months. In order to ensure both a smooth transition between successive presidencies and consistency in their political programmes, the member states that hold the post do not workin isolation.

A few years ago, the concept of ‘trios’ was introduced, meaning that three consecutive presidencies have to work together to coordinate their goals.

While the presidency is certainly a prestigious position for the member state that holds it, it also comes with a significant price tag.

In light of the current situation in Ireland, the Irish Government has thus announced its intention to reduce the costs of its presidency by taking a down-to-earth approach, prioritising concrete action over extravagant ceremonies. Some 180 events are expected to take place during this term and most of these are set to be held in the Irish capital of Dublin, meaning that there may be fewer high-profile events this time round.

The costs for the 2013 Irish presidency are estimated at about €60 million, which would be significantly less than its previous one in 2004, which amounted to some €100 million. In comparison, the Polish presidency in the second half of 2011 cost €92 million and the Danish presidency followed with a €70 million price tag.

Ireland took over the presidency from its Cypriot counterparts, who held this position until the end of 2012. The Cypriot presidency was the last one in the current ‘trio’. Thus, Ireland is not only taking over the presidency but also starting off the next ‘trio’, to be followed by Lithuania in the second half of 2013 and by Greece in the first half of 2014.

The three countries will be working in close cooperation in order to establish a strong agenda for the upcoming 18 months. Their work programme was presented in Brussels on December 11 and is set to focus on economic recovery and stability in the EU with the aim of establishing solid conditions for growth and employment.

For Ireland, specifically, this is the seventh time that it holds the presidency and it has a significant track record to live up to. Previous Irish presidencies have witnessed events of historic importance, including the establishment of the Regional Development Fund in 1975 and the accession of 10 new member states, including Malta, to the EU in May 2004.

With the present challenges that the EU faces, the Irish presidency will play an important role in the developments that will shape the first half of 2013, with various pressing issues waiting to be tackled.

During the next six months, the Irish Government intends to direct European discussions towards the challenges associated with the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and Horizon 2020. It further plans to use this period in order to address the urgent issue of youth unemployment, with the aim of increasing employment and training opportunities for young people.

As the world celebrates the beginning of a new year, the EU will be starting 2013 with the opening of a new chapter.

Each presidency brings with it renewed expectations, high hopes and a packed agenda of pressing issues. The upcoming presidency provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon the progress made over the past six months and to look forward to what we can only hope will be a successful year.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.

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