2013 - November 6: "The experiences of the Irish Presidency of the EU Council in the field of external relations"


On November 6th T.M.C. Asser Institute and the Centre for the Law of EU External Relations (CLEER) organised in cooperation with the Irish Embassy in The Hague a special lecture event devoted to reviewing the experiences of the Irish Presidency of the EU in the field of external relations.

The lecture, chaired by Dr. Aaron Matta, Senior Researcher in EU Law and Academic Programme Coordinator of CLEER, took place in the context of the CLEER special lecture series that look at the Presidencies retrospectively focusing on the role of the incumbent presidency in coordination and leadership in regional and global issues. Dr. Matta made a few preliminary remarks, before introducing the speakers, presenting the priorities set at the beginning of the Irish Presidency in January 2013 and highlighted the most important results achieved during the Irish leadership at a regional and international level.

Her Excellency, Mrs. H.E. Mary Whelan, Ambassador of Ireland in the Netherlands gave an insightful presentation on the major challenges and achievements in representation, negotiation and coordination at the helm of the EU Council. She started by stating that Ireland’s EU Presidency coincided with the 40th anniversary of membership of the European Union, noting that this was the first Irish Presidency after the changes the Lisbon Treaty introduced. As pointed out but the Ambassador, despite the multifaceted external representation of the Union, the European Parliament’s role has now been enhanced making thus the Presidency’s role in negotiating on behalf of the Council with the Parliament even more important in shaping legislation.

The Ambassador continued explaining that the EU Presidency was seen as opportunity to take measures directly linked to Stability, Jobs and Growth which was the central three-pillar theme developed by the Irish Presidency. She thus referred to the most significant results achieved at an internal level namely the work of the Presidency on the Single Supervisory Mechanism, the Capital Requirements Directive, the ‘two-pack’ legislation and the agreement reached on the multi-billion euro Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) EU budget for 2014-2020, measures aiming to build a stronger Europe at an economic level.

With regard to the Union in a wider world, she particularly mentioned the Irish Presidency’s efforts to promote trade and its achievement to secure a mandate within Council to start official negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US. She further referred to the launch of negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with Japan and Thailand. Regarding the progress made on the EU Enlargement which had been a key part of the Irish Presidency’s programme, she mentioned Croatia’s accession to the EU, the EU-West Balkan conference and the Irish contribution in securing an agreement to open Chapter 22 for regional policy with Turkey. Reiterating that solidarity is a part of the DNA of the EU, she presented action taken by the Irish presidency in development cooperation and humanitarian aid giving as an example of this effort the Dublin Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice which took place in Dublin during Ireland's Presidency of the EU.

The Ambassador continued by explaining how the national experience of Ireland was used to support a particular objective of the Union. In that regard, she stated that the Irish experience of engagement to the Northern Ireland peace process encouraged Ireland to place a particular emphasis on strengthening EU’s capacity in the area of conflict, prevention and resolution. In this context, a joint conference took place in May on the role of the EU as a Peacemaker, focusing on the European peace mediation capacity.

Regarding the role of the Irish Embassy in The Hague in projecting the priorities of the Presidency, the ambassador presented her reflections focusing on the importance of the cooperation with international institutions based in The Hague. The Ambassador underlined the support of ICC and OPCW which acquired particular attention during the Irish Presidency. With regard to the latter, she stated that the EU is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention however it is a major contributor to its programme and activities. As she noted, the Irish Presidency represented the EU at the Third Chemical Weapons Convention Review Conference, coordinated the EU position and engaged in negotiations on the final document, emphasising the strong commitment of the EU to the OPCW.

The Ambassador next addressed ‘the EU and its Citizens’ as an important preoccupation of the Irish Presidency. With 2013 designated as the European Year for citizens, the Irish Presidency was committed to bring the citizens closer to the EU and worked to secure agreements among the member states aiming to enhance the rights people enjoy as EU citizens. She added that Ireland used the Presidency to improve communications and gave the example of the successful official Irish Presidency website, eu2013.ie.

Finally, the ambassador concluded that the EU Presidency was a unique learning experience for Ireland. She stated that to the country holding the presidency, it contributes to a sense of ownership of the European agenda and it forces the country to listen and understand the concerns of their partners in the Union resulting thus in more engaged member states.

Dr. Elaine Fahey, Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance (ACELG), complemented the presentation as a discussant providing a critical analysis of the legal impact of Irish Presidency from an EU external relations point of view.

She started her presentation by comparing the Irish Presidency of the EU of 2013 to the Irish Presidency of 2004 noting the significant differences in terms of context. She praised the Presidency for promoting transparency, openness and good governance as this was apparent from the 104 page Irish Presidency report posted on the official website. Next, she discussed the Irish practice pre and post Lisbon, especially in the area of freedom, security and justice noticing that since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland has opted in to a vast majority of measures in an area that one could expect the country to have opted out.

Dr. Faye continued giving her personal view of the Irish Presidency’s ‘best’ achievements. In this context, she discussed the presidency’s role in reaching consensus within Council on the launch of TTIP negotiations with the US and the agreements on European Protection Order and Access to Lawyers Directive which Ireland coordinated as a head of the Council despite the fact that at it has not opted to take part in these agreements as a member state. She further highlighted the Irish Presidency success in concluding the historic negotiations that will allow the Union to accede to the European Convention of Human Rights.

In addition she expressed her concerns on the Bulgaria and Romania Schengen entry delay, an issue on which more attention was expected. She further noticed that with regard to the ‘management’ of the situation of a possible UK Brixit Ireland was more vocal only after the end of the EU Presidency.

At the end of her presentation, she referred to the European Public Prosecutor, the Data Protection Regulation and the European Investigation Order, issues that remain to be dealt with by the forthcoming presidencies.

The lecture closed with a general discussion based on the questions from the audience during which the Ambassador underlined the forthcoming European elections’ importance noting that there must be efforts for a greater public understanding of the decisions taken at an EU level. The lecture was followed by a well-attended reception afterwards.