As the first major engagement of the Irish Presidency with the European Parliament draws to a close, we asked two former Irish MEPs, Proinsias de Rossa and Avril Doyle, for their personal reflections on the complex nature of this crucial relationship.
Last week's European Parliament Plenary session saw a keynote speech by the Taoiseach, and several interventions from the Minister of State for European Affairs. This week 20 Irish Ministers gave 27 presentations to European Parliament Committees on Ireland's Presidency priorities. Former Irish MEPs Proinsias de Rossa and Avril Doyle share their thoughts on the interplay between the Presidency and the Parliament.
Proinsias de Rossa served four terms as a Member of the European Parliament between 1989 and 2012, representing the Labour Party. Labour is a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES) parliamentary group.
On this occasion the Irish Presidency is dealing with a much more powerful Parliament, the Lisbon Treaty having put Parliament on an equal footing with the Council of Ministers with the extension of “co-decision". For example, decisions on the Budget, Agriculture, Energy Security, Immigration, Justice and Home Affairs, Health and Structural Funds are now fully within the remit of the Parliament, thereby making EU decisions more democratically accountable.
Building agreement on the EU Budget is extremely urgent, and requires finding a consensus not only within the Council and within the Parliament, but between both of them. This will test Ireland’s highly regarded diplomatic skills to the limit, but success will deliver huge benefits to Europe’s citizens, while also bringing important kudos to Ireland, adding to the progress already made in rebuilding Ireland’s European reputation which is important for making progress on negotiations relating to our debt.
But the backing of the Parliament is also essential where Parliament does not have co-decision, such as on employment policy, if progress is to be made for instance on the proposal for a Youth Guarantee. While the Parliament has strongly backed the idea of a Youth Guarantee there remains the need to finesse a proposal acceptable to Council and to Parliament which will quickly deliver tangible benefit to the many thousands of young people who currently face a bleak future. That is one other concrete way the Parliament and the Council can contribute to bringing Europe closer to the people in this EU Year of Citizens.
Avril Doyle served as an MEP, representing Fine Gael, from 1999-2009. She was the Leader of the Irish Delegation in EPP-ED Group
Every Presidency of the European Union is different: the issues are different, as are the opportunities. The financial crisis, illegal immigration and the continuing political instability in North Africa and further afield dominate the current agenda in the European Union. During the Irish Presidency our Ministers will also focus on the big internal issues - the EU budget for the next seven years, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and progressing trade negotiations with several key partners such as the USA, Canada and Japan. The key priorities of our Presidency, of encouraging economic growth and job creation, are shared by all the political families in Europe.
Perhaps the biggest novelty this time is the new legal framework created by the Lisbon Treaty, which became operative on 1 December 2009. Under this treaty the European Parliament has a much enhanced role and now jointly legislates with the Council of Ministers on almost all areas of EU policy. A good example is the long term European budget. Previously our government leaders could get together and decide the size and shape of the budget and just consult the Parliament. Now the Parliament is an equal partner and there has to be a formal agreement on the final budget between the Ministers representing the governments, and the European Parliament, representing the people.
Ministers will have to spend much more time and energy seeking the agreement of Members of the European Parliament if they hope to make real progress during this Presidency.
As always Irish MEPs, regardless of political affiliation, will play an active role in keeping our Ministers well informed and briefed. By working hard in Committees and in their respective political groups, our MEPs can push for agreement where possible and advise the Presidency when and where an extra push is needed to make a deal that is acceptable to all sides.
Every new piece of European legislation is subjected to intense negotiations between the Presidency, the European Commission and the European Parliament. Our representatives in each Institution are well placed to deliver substantial progress during the Irish Presidency of the European Union.