EU growth a priority for incoming Irish presidency

The EU's top priority must be growth, European commission president José Manuel Barroso has said, ahead of Ireland's seventh presidency of the council of ministers. Reports Gerald Callaghan.

By Gerald Callaghan

04 Oct 2012

Speaking at a press conference alongside Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Barroso urged member states to continue reforming their economies in order to make them "more competitive, while preserving essential investments in research, education and also protecting the most vulnerable".

Addressing journalists on Wednesday, Barroso announced the adoption of a package of 12 measures, known as the Single Market Act II, aimed at breaking down the barriers that stifle growth in the single market.

However, he also outlined the need for a budget fit for that very purpose, saying "We have reached a critical stage in the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework (MFF)".

Negotiations for the next MFF are expected to be completed by the end of 2012, setting the budget for the period of 2014-2020 and it is "essential to defend the growth-friendly aspects of that budget", Barroso warned.

Following the European sovereign debt crisis, which resulted in the lending of money to EU states, there has been a drive to reform the functioning of the eurozone in the event of a crisis.

"I will make clear at the next European council in October that we must stick to the commitments we made in the June European council. It is a question of credibility for the EU and for all the member states that are our union" - José Manuel Barroso

The Portuguese official highlighted the commission's determination to see the single supervisor in place as soon as possible, as it is an essential condition for the European stability mechanism (ESM) to directly recapitalise banks.

"I will make clear at the next European council in October that we must stick to the commitments we made in the June European council. It is a question of credibility for the EU and for all the member states that are our union," Barroso added.

His statements were echoed by the Irish Taoiseach who said that "stability, growth and jobs will be the priority agenda for the Irish presidency".

Kenny went on to say that "we want to see a banking union become a reality", and that the 29 June summit provided people with encouragement that banking and sovereign debt would be separate entities in any future crisis.

Kenny and 10 Irish officials met with commissioners to discuss Ireland's presidency when they take the helm next year.

The real test for Ireland will be to persuade Germany and its supporters to agree to a deal to ease the cost of the €64bn bank bailout.

One week after the finance ministers from Germany, Finland and the Netherlands questioned the scope of any ESM interventions in the banking sector, Kenny urged EU leaders to act with confidence and decisiveness to make good on their pledge.

"Be in no doubt we will be punished if we resile from the decisions that are made or if there is either backsliding or stepping away from what has already been agreed," he said last night in Brussels.

"As you've already seen in the goldfish bowl that Europe has become, every speech, every statement, every press release, is parsed and analysed for any nuance or any shift in position," Kenny added.

The Irish government, with the support of the commission, will seek to advance the creation of a eurozone bank supervisor within the European Central Bank if this is not agreed as planned by the end of the year.

However, Germany and some other member states have insisted on proof that such a supervisor is functioning effectively before the ESM provides any bank rescue packages.

Kenny went on, "All I am saying is that in the event that this is not dealt with before Ireland assumes the presidency, obviously this is an issue that we would run with very strongly in order that the decision of the council is implemented and that obviously includes banking."

The plan for a banking union is one of several major policy portfolios which the Irish presidency will have to advance next year.

Also included in the portfolio are proposed talks on new measures to deepen the economic and monetary union, which could lead to a new European treaty, and a new seven-year budget package for the EU.

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