The public in Ireland is proud of what has been achieved under Ireland's presidency of the EU Council after some tough years. For the Irish people, the presidency has given them a newfound sense of pride and restored a tarnished reputation, says Lucinda Creighton.
The Irish presidency is coming to an end. How would you characterise the past six months?
I would characterise the past six months as being incredibly busy, but we were very focused and we tried to identify key priorities at the beginning and I think hopefully we have succeeded in achieving success with most of them.
What are the most proud of?
Well, for me I think that the outcome of the goal that we had on reaching an agreement for the mandate of a Transatlantic trade investment partnership. [That] was probably the most significant of our decisions. Of course this is not something that we will see short-term benefits from, but I think for the medium- and long-term it’s a really important and decisive decision by the EU, which I think will be very, very important in the future for growth and job creation. Our slogan was also “Growth, stability and jobs”, so this is an important part of it.
What do you see as the timeline for it?
It’s difficult to say. I don’t think that we should have a deadline for the negotiations. But I think that we can reasonably expect that it will probably take a minimum of 12-18 months, maybe slightly longer. But in a way it almost depends on how comprehensive the trade deal is. If it’s a very comprehensive deal, it will probably take longer to negotiate so that will probably be a good sign.
How has the Irish EU presidency been received in Ireland?
I think it has been very positively received. I would say that when it’s your first presidency for the newer member states, it’s a much bigger deal because it the first visible sign of joining and really steering the EU agenda. For us it’s our 7th presidency so it has been a bit more under the radar, but I think that at home… You know we sometimes have a very cynical media and very cynical coverage and I think it has been a positive coverage of our presidency, especially in the last month or two. So I that that is filtering down to the public.
The public is quite proud because we have had a difficult period over the past few years. For Irish people our reputation abroad was pretty much tarnished so there’s a sense of pride in having completed a fairly successful presidency. Having been able to get into the driving seat in terms of the EU Council and all of the negotiations that we have been engaged in the last couple of months. Irish people are proud of that.
What was the biggest challenge or obstacle?
The MFF [EU budget]. Definitely.
What are you unhappy about that you didn’t achieve during the presidency?
If I was to design presidencies or if I was Herman Van Rompuy and I could decide these things, I think that I would certainly have one EU summit in the capital that hosts the presidency during the six months. I think that could be a very important visible sign for member states in the EU, especially for small countries.
There’s a sense of pride when you are in that role for six months. I think that would be an important thing. Not just for the visibility in the member state for citizens to see EU leaders coming and deciding in the capital, but also because I think it might be good for leaders to get outside of the Brussels bubble occasionally and see where the crisis is happening as we do as ministers. It would be nice to have an informal summit to have a more relaxed environment to discuss.
What can we expect of the Lithuanian presidency?
I think the Lithuanian presidency still has a lot of work. Unfortunately, we haven’t concluded everything. There’s obviously cohesion there with an important file particularly for newer member states. I know it is a big priority for the Lithuanian presidency.
Obviously now the TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU-US trade] negotiations are being launched in Washington, I think next week, so that’ll be interesting for the Lithuanians to follow even though it would be led by Karel De Gucht. I also think that the Eastern Partnership, which is a really important policy for the region, for security, for stability in the EU, for energy security… It’s a major priority for the Lithuanian presidency. We really welcome that. We are really supportive and look forward to the summit in November.
Do you have any good advice for the Lithuanians ahead of them taking over?
I have lot of good advice for my colleagues on negotiations with the Parliament, but I’ll do that bilaterally with my counterparts.
Lucinda Creighton is Ireland's minister for European affairs.