Creating jobs and tackling the crisis in Europe will be Ireland's top priorities as it embarks on its six-month stint at the helm of the EU Council. Taoiseach Enda Kenny presented his country's plans in the European Parliament on 16 January. Most group leaders agreed that Ireland would be able to capitalise on its own experience of tackling the crisis to bring about change in Europe.
Mr Kenny said unemployment, especially among the young, needs to be urgently tackled, including using a youth guarantee programme, that would entitle the under 25s to an offer of work, training or education after having been unemployed for at least four months. He also singled out establishing banking union for the eurozone and reaching an agreement on the long-term EU budget as important priorities, citing Parliament as "an important partner". In addition the Taoiseach said Mali, Somalia, Syria and free trade agreements with global partners such as the United States would be vital issues.
Learning from the Irish
Commission president José Manuel Barroso agreed on the need to lay the foundations for lasting growth and job creation. "The Irish people have had to make great sacrifices and so have other countries which carry out difficult but indispensable reforms," he said. "The Irish case shows that if there's a political will to accompany the sacrifices, programs can and do work and reform can go hand in hand with social cohesion."
Reaction group leaders
The leaders of the EP's political groups varied in what they wanted the Irish presidency to focus on.
Joseph Daul, the French leader of the Christian Democrat group, congratulated Mr Kenny: "You have taken difficult but necessary decisions without losing the support of the Irish people. Ireland is a good example of the way to follow in Europe."
Hannes Swoboda, the Austrian leader of the Social Democrat group, said: "Mr Kenny, we strongly need your help on three levels: solving the EU crisis, protecting Schengen as the Council wants to limit the freedom of movement, and fighting youth unemployment which is a danger for our democracy."
Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: "The most important task is to fight complacency because this is what threatens the EU today. We need a fiscal union, a banking union and finally a political union."
Daniel Cohn-Bendi, the French co-chair of the Green group, said: "You said that a credible multi-annual financial framework is needed. What we have now on the table, proposed by the Council, is not credible and is not going to create jobs."
Martin Callanan, the British leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, welcomed the focus on growth, jobs and stability. "Developing the single market as a driver of economic growth has to be achieved as a priority."
Nigel Farage, the British co-chair of the Europe of freedom and democracy Group, commented: "The fundamentals haven't changed: unemployment is soaring in Mediterranean countries, manufacturing is eroding, levels of human suffering are growing. The European political class is out of touch and uncaring."
Gabriele Zimmer, the German leader of the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left, said: "Fighting social exclusion is apparently not a priority of your programme. You are not in the business of sustainable jobs."