THESE are challenging times for Europe – and for our Union – as the aftershocks of the economic crisis continue to make themselves felt. The EU is still working through the difficult questions thrown up for the single currency, and the European economy is struggling to provide jobs and good living standards for our peoples. Too many young Europeans in particular do not have a job – a challenge to which the European Union simply must rise.
For Ireland, the experience of the past few years has been particularly difficult. Yet it is precisely because of that experience that we are well-placed to take on the work of the Presidency as we begin 2013. The over-riding theme of our Presidency is clear – stability, jobs and growth.
While Ireland has made enormous strides in restoring economic and financial stability, we have also managed to restore economic growth. Having a strategy for growth and job creation is central to our own progress, and we firmly believe that the same logic applies for Europe.
Ireland’s economy has returned to growth driven by rising exports and enhanced competitiveness. We are steadily reducing our public deficit, and are on track to meet our target deficit (of less than 3 percent) by 2015. We have recapitalised our banks on time and below the expected cost. Whereas two years ago Ireland was locked out of international bond markets, we issued almost €7 billion of treasury bills and bonds in 2012 and yields are falling at each auction. This year, we intend to be the first EU/IMF programme country in the eurozone to make a sustained return to the sovereign bond markets, and we are working with our partners to make sure this difficult task is achieved.
This has been our path back to stability and recovery, and it is Europe’s path too. By making decisions and implementing them, restoring our competitiveness, strengthening governance and investing in growth and job-creation we can revive Europe’s economy.
Needless to say, this hasn’t been an easy process for Ireland. It has required us to make difficult choices, and asked much of the Irish people. Yet we have also been able to maintain social cohesion and solidarity throughout this difficult period.
Ireland is, of course, just one of 27 EU member states, and our role throughout this Presidency does not involve directing our European partners. But it does afford us an opportunity to help bring member states together around common goals in order to establish the right conditions for a sustained recovery.
Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch – the Irish Presidency will build on what has already been achieved. In confronting the financial crisis, Europe has taken extraordinary action in assisting Greece, Portugal and Ireland, in establishing the European Stability Mechanism, in the actions of the European Central Bank and most recently – crucially – in advancing Banking Union. Europe’s leaders have demonstrated a united determination to act, and Ireland will seek to build on these decisions.
This determination was best illustrated last June when the leaders of the euro area stated clearly that the “vicious circle between banks and sovereigns” must be broken. Europe cannot be held hostage to the weakest bank in any one of its member states. Equally, the taxpayers of individual member states cannot be left to bear the weight of the European financial system alone.
Where a financial institution poses a risk to Europe as a whole, Europe as a whole must contribute to dealing with the fall-out that threatens everyone.
Last month’s agreement by the European Council on the timelines for the delivery of a single supervisory mechanism for Europe’s banks is a solid indication that the political will and determination to resolve these problems is now stronger than ever.
The example of Ireland shows that there is a path back from crisis. Again, it is not an easy path – or one that is yet finished – but it is a credible one. The experience of Ireland tells us that recovery depends on decisive action at national and European level; on implementation as well as announcements.
We have been proud members of the European Union for 40 years. We look forward to beginning the next 40 as we mean to go on: working together to ensure a peaceful, stable and prosperous future both for the people of Ireland and the people of Europe.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore serves as deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs & trade of Ireland.