Support for EU mainstream positions

The Irish government was supportive of the Commission's broad conclusions. In relation to Turkey specifically, it recognized that the accession negotiations with Turkey were open-ended and that there was no guarantee of eventual Turkish accession. It agreed with other member States who did not favour a full-scale debate on enlargement strategy at the December European Council.
There was very little media coverage of the annual strategy document on EU enlargement. The focus of the scant media coverage was centred on the prospect for future EU enlargement before 2010. It was reported in The Irish Times that Croatia is the only country likely to join the EU within that timeframe.
While the Irish government has not yet decided how it will react to a possible Kosovar declaration of independence, it is generally expected that it will join most other EU member States in recognizing an independent Kosovo.
The Irish government position broadly agrees with the official EU communication regarding the status of Kosovo or the future of EU-Serbia relations. They do, however, place a strong emphasis on the importance of a unified European Union approach. In the context of the EU/Serbia negotiations, Ireland attaches importance to Serbia demonstrating "full cooperation" with the ICTY.
Issues of interest

The Lisbon Treaty referendum dominates the agenda

As a result of the referendum in Ireland and the negative outcome, Ireland has entered a period of reflection, during which time the government has undertaken to produce an analysis of the referendum result. This study will be presented to members of the European Council, meeting in October.

The upcoming referendum – large majority still undecided

Timetable for ratification
Ireland is the only member State which will hold a referendum for the purposes of ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. This referendum will take place in May/mid-June 2008. It is likely that the legislation preparing for the referendum will be published before Easter. Following passage of this legislation, a Referendum Commission will be established to ensure that the public receive accurate and independent information on the issues connected with the referendum.
Communication with citizens/wider public
In the context of the referendum, the widest possible information for citizens is seen as vital by government, opposition parties, NGOs and pressure groups. Extensive publicity campaigns will be launched by all these groups once the campaign begins. Before the campaign proper, information to the public is limited and often inaccurate.
As the Irish government is constitutionally bound to hold a referendum on European Union treaties, calls have been made by various pressure groups for the publication of a consolidated text so that voters can see clearly on what they are being asked to vote.

New coalitions of the willing

Shane Fitzgerald
The former Taoiseach (Fine Gael party) and influential political and economic commentator, Garret FitzGerald, recently argued that the governance of the EU has evolved in a disturbing direction and that European Council meetings on the Greek crisis showed that the “big three” of France, Germany and the UK now dominate proceedings.[1] Meanwhile, speaking at a recent Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) seminar on the future of European foreign policy after Lisbon, Martti Ahtisaari and Mark Leonard made the point that many traditional EU responses to crises are now off the table.[2] Treaty change is not an option in the current political climate. Neither will high-minded rhetoric and solemn declarations suffice. Leonard described a world where more informal relations between powers are taking the place of much of the formal architecture of global governance in which the European powers, and the EU, have traditionally done so well. And he noted that this resurgence in realpolitik was much in evidence inside the EU’s borders as well as out. Just as the global economic crisis has proven that globalisation is an asymmetric process, so too is it demonstrating that European integration is not the same for everyone.

Copenhagen to Cancun

Shane Fitzgerald
The general view in Ireland was that both the organisation and the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change conference was unsatisfactory. Frank McDonald of The Irish Times, among other Irish journalists, described the huge conference venue as “bedlam”.[1] The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, expressed disappointment at the outcome, stating that “[t]he substance of the European Union’s [offers] was robustly put, but we couldn’t get the commitment of others.” He added that “we did not achieve everything we wanted, but the reality is that this is as much as can be advanced at this stage.”[2] The Minister for the Environment, John Gormley (Green Party), described the Copenhagen Accord itself as “underwhelming”, stating that its only advantage was that it “keeps the process alive” until the next climate change conference in Cancun in December 2010. Officials from the Minister for the Environment’s office speaking in confidence lamented the inability of the EU to present a united front at negotiations and expressed deep disappointment at the outcome. Irish charities and NGOs also expressed their dissatisfaction, with some blaming the EU’s failure to offer a 30 percent emissions reduction for the collapse of the talks. Finally, the mood among the general public varied between frustration and bemusement.

Irish concerned about tax and treaties

Shane Fitzgerald
The initial stabilisation achieved by the finance package agreed for Greece was broadly welcomed in Ireland. Contagion effects from the Greek debt crisis had begun to erode the gains made by the Irish government in reducing its cost of borrowing through austerity measures so steps to ameliorate the situation were viewed positively. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) said he had “no hesitation” in signing up to the agreement.[1]
Owing to the sharp deterioration in its public finances since the onset of the financial crisis, Ireland remains on the target list of what has been described as a speculators’ “wolfpack” that is currently circling the Eurozone herd. Ireland needs to borrow around 20 billion Euros annually to plug the gap in its finances. Happily, it succeeded in raising about 60 percent of its 2010 requirement before costs escalated in tandem with the Greek crisis, but any further prevarication could have proven disastrous for the Irish exchequer. In that context, expressions of European solidarity in the face of threat were gratefully received.

Enlarging Ireland

Shane Fitzgerald
The government’s stated position is that “the accession process provides strong encouragement for political and economic reform and that future enlargement will help to promote stability, security and prosperity in Europe.”[1] While the accession of ten new member states in 2004 was greeted with great fanfare and celebration in Ireland, there is also a keen awareness that enlargement creates greater competition for foreign investment, which has been a key driver of Irish economic growth in recent years.[2] The fact that the newer member states are closer to the main EU markets and have lower labour costs has already damaged Irish interests as major multinationals shift their manufacturing operations from Ireland to Poland and elsewhere.[3] This awareness is somewhat balanced by the knowledge that Ireland benefited greatly from the labour and skills pool of the new member states during its recent boom and that further eastward expansion provides an opportunity to diversify its trade patterns in an enlarged European single market. But, in a climate of economic recession and renewed emigration, a degree of scepticism about the benefits of further enlargement is likely to remain.

Jury still out on Lisbon

Shane Fitzgerald
The provisions of the Lisbon Treaty are probably more familiar to the weary voters of Ireland than to any other citizens in Europe. Although two hard-fought referendum campaigns saw everything from abortion to military conscription to unemployment being deployed as political weapons and distractions, the core innovations of the treaty did get a fair airing and are relatively well understood. Less well understood is how exactly these innovations will play out in practice. The work of President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, for example, is watched with interest in Ireland but, in the context of a landscape of European political leadership that remains cluttered and contested, a consensus as to the skill with which he is carrying out his duties has yet to be reached.

Salient topics in Ireland

Institute of International and European Affairs
Most analysts would agree that the most salient topics in Ireland are a) the financial crisis and b) the Lisbon referendum, both of which have been addressed by the questions above.