Ireland has both the privilege and the responsibility of hosting the presidency of the Council of the European Union from January 1 until June 30 2013. Holding the presidency is an important role at any time, but the expectations for this forthcoming presidency are even greater given the challenging circumstances that both the Union and Ireland face.
This will be Ireland's seventh EU presidency and it also coincides with the 40th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the EU, having joined the EEC in 1973. Over the course of the last 40 years, Ireland has emerged as a leading member state in terms of diplomacy, solidarity, and influence.
Ireland has benefited immensely from EU membership. During our first three decades of membership, Ireland was allocated more than €17 billion in Structural and Cohesion funds with around €3 billion in EU rural development and structural funding received over 2007-2013. Between 1973 and 2008, Irish farmers received almost €44 billion under the Common Agricultural Policy.
The benefits of EU membership are not just monetary in kind. Irish views and interests are reflected in the policies of the EU towards the rest of the world by the elected Irish Members of the European Parliament and through continuous dialogue with Irish ministers and elected parliamentarians.
The border region of my North West constituency too has directly benefited with EU assistance in the efforts to bring peace and political agreement in Northern Ireland and through substantial support and investment in cross-border schemes such as the International Fund for Ireland and the Interreg and Peace programmes. Importantly, the Irish language is an official working language in the EU, which helps to protect the country’s native mother tongue for future generations and provide international job opportunities for Irish speakers.
Ireland has enjoyed six very successful Irish presidencies and the Irish Government, in conjunction with MEPs, has been preparing for months ahead of this seventh term. Over the six months, Ireland will be at the forefront of EU decision making, helping to form policies and drive forward important legislation.
It will be no easy task to conclude the protracted negotiations on the EU budget for 2014-2020, but that is Ireland's first priority. Securing a fair EU budget means securing funds that go directly to our citizens, such as the farming community under CAP.
The other primary theme will be the promotion of a sustainable economic growth and the creation of jobs. We need to focus on new and emerging sectors of the European economy, removing trading barriers, exploit the potential of the digital agenda, the green economy, and the science/technology sector. Concrete job creation and ensuring the provision of required infrastructure and services for our citizens are also top priorities.
The euro crisis requires consistent and dedicated action to remedy. However, we will not forget our global responsibilities. Ireland's strong tradition of supporting the developing world will shine through EU commitments in this area, in a bid to end world hunger.
Personally, as the sole Irish representative on the Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament, I believe that Ireland is in a position to play a meaningful role in making tangible progress in the context of important transport issues, particularly in relation to road safety.
Ireland has made considerable progress in recent years, resulting in consistently lower numbers of road fatalities since 2007. Although efforts in Ireland need to continue, our improvements thus far could serve as a powerful example to other member states.
The continued development of an effective and sustainable European transport network is also a priority. Indeed, it has already been agreed that the next European Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS ) Congress will be held in the Convention Centre in Dublin in June 2013. This key event will showcase Irish and European transport technology and will emphasise the role technology can play in developing innovative and effective transport systems.
The presidency offers a wonderful chance to showcase Ireland's attractiveness as a tourist destination. There will be numerous events organised to bring Irish heritage to the fore in Brussels with a strong emphasis on the Irish language and the arts and culture sector.
I look forward to continuing to represent Ireland North West during Ireland's seventh EU presidency and into the future.