Overall perception of the French Presidency of the EU

The position of the government on France’s tenure in the Presidency of the EU is positive. The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, in his statement to the Dáil on the outcome of the December European Council meeting remarked that the “excellent French Presidency of the Union” was demonstrated by the fact that “such a heavy agenda could be completed with unanimously agreed conclusions”. Mr. Cowen continued by stating that his government is “indebted to [President Sarkozy] for the leadership and assistance he has provided Europe”[1].

Irish media presented a similarly positive view of the French Presidency. The Irish Times newspaper describes it – in an editorial – as an “effective” Presidency during a difficult six months for Europe. The overall view in Ireland of the Presidency is that it was successful in its pragmatic yet ambitious approach that allowed the member states to reach strong compromises on important issues such as climate change and how to deal with the financial crisis.[2]

Mr. Cowen particularly praised the French Presidency for the work put into securing an agreement between Ireland and the other member states on how to recover and move forward from the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish electorate in the June referendum.[3]

Common Agricultural Policy ‘health check’

The conclusion and agreement of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) ‘Health Check’ under France’s Presidency was seen by the Irish government as a “good deal for Irish farmers”, as expressed by Mr. Cowen, who in the same speech acknowledged the initial diversity of interests and opinions among the Member States of the Union that existed prior to this conclusion during the French Presidency.[4] The Irish Farmers Association echoed the positive reaction to the agreement of the CAP “Health Check”.[5]

Climate change and energy

The initiatives and agreements in the area of Climate Change and Energy that were a large part of the French Presidency received regular media coverage in the Irish media. Avril Doyle MEP (representing the opposition Fine Gael political party) hailed the Energy-Climate Package passed by the European Parliament in December 2008 as a landmark agreement in the fight against climate change.[6] This achievement was credited in the Irish media in large part to the negotiation efforts of the French Presidency both between Member States and with the European Parliament. An Irish parliamentary committee described the agreement as robust and worthy of support, although it did recognise the new emissions targets as representing a significant challenge to the Irish government given current difficulties that Ireland is having in reaching existing emissions reductions hat it has agreed to.[7]

Immigration

A spokesman for the Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, said that the government was favourably disposed towards the proposed Immigration and Asylum Pact and agreed with most of its points. The Irish media commented that the Irish government demonstrated a willingness to follow the strong lead given by the French Presidency on the issue of Immigrants in the EU bloc; while also drawing attention to the criticism the pact received from the UN High Commission on Refugees, the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Irish Refugee Council and some voluntary agencies. In an Editorial, the Irish Times commented that this agreement could signal the development of a “Fortress Europe” mentality that could exacerbate people trafficking and a negative view of the EU in developing countries, and that this agreement needs to match by a similar effort in increasing EU development assistance to the countries from which these illegal immigrants are coming. [8]

Irish perceptions of the Czech Presidency

There has been little reference to or discussion of the agenda and issues central to the Czech Presidency of the Union amongst Irish politicians or the media, although there was some public discussion concerning a meeting between leading Lisbon Treaty opponent Declan Ganley of Libertas and the Czech President, Mr Vaclav Klaus, in November 2008 which prompted some backlash as it was seen by some in the Irish population as impolitic on the part of the Czech government. Despite this incident, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, has voiced confidence in the Czech EU Presidency.[9]

 

 

 

[1] “Statement by the Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D. to Dáil Éireann on Wednesday 17 December 2008 on the outcome of the December European Council” available at: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie (last access: 23 March 2009).
[2] “Sarkozy’s achievements”, The Irish Times, 17 December 2008.
[3] “Lisbon Treaty deal is ‘major step’, says Cowen”, The Irish Times, 17 December 2008.
[4] “Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen, T.D., on the occasion of the Irish Farmers’ Association Annual General Meeting, in Moran’s Hotel on Tuesday, 27th January, 2009 at 8.00pm” available at: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie (last access: 23 March 2009).
[5] “Agriculture: CAP Health Check will help farmers meet new challenges” available at: www.ifa.ie (last access: 23 March 2009).
[6] “European Parliament passes climate change”, The Irish Times, 18 December 2008.
[7] Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, EU Scrutiny Report No. 1, COM (2008) 16, COM (2008) 17, COM (2008) 19 – Scrutiny Report on three proposals relating to the implementation of the EU Climate – Energy legislative package, October 2008, A8/1563.
[8] “The EU and immigration”, The Irish Times, 8 July 2008.
[9] “Martin confident in Czech EU presidency”, RTE News, 31 December 2008, available at: www.rte.ie/news/2008/1231/lisbon.html (last access: 23 March 2009).