TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has welcomed the agreement among EU leaders on the union’s budget between 2014 and 2020, describing it as “a good deal for Ireland and a good deal for Europe”.
An exhausted Taoiseach – who had sat through most of the 24 hours of plenary talks on the Budget, having already had a busy week dealing with domestic matters in IBRC – said the talks had been “long and tortuous at times”, but “worth the effort overall”.
“Coming to the summit yesterday I did indicate that there was a feeling among the leaders that it might be possible to reach an agreement. I’m obviously glad that that happened,” he said.
Though the deal marked a major compromise between opposite ends of the European Council’s political spectrum, its future is far from uncertain: the leaders of the four biggest groups in the European Parliament said they could not support it.
The deal – whether approved by MEPs or not – marks the first EU budget to see a real-term decrease in European spending, which Kenny described as a recognition of the current straitened times and the need to spend every euro wisely.
“We really do look forward to taking up the challenge now with the European Parliament, to see that this can become a reality in the shortest time,” Kenny said.
The draft ‘Multi-Annual Financial Framework’ includes a special, explicit €100 million in development funds for the ‘BMW’ (Border, Midlands and Western) region of Ireland.
Funds for Northern Ireland and farmers safeguarded
There is also the maintenance of a €150 million ‘peace dividend’ for cross-community work in Northern Ireland – a project that Brussels had suggested scrapping – and €100 million in rural development funding to enhance competitiveness of the agricultural industry under ‘Pillar II’ of the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association said the deal was “as good as could be hoped for” given the opposition to the CAP spending from some member states.
“The important thing is that this deal now clears the way for Minister Coveney to get a CAP reform agreed under the Irish presidency,” said its president Gabriel Gilmartin.
Elsewhere, the draft deal will also see Ireland’s structural funds increase in the next funding round, which Public Expenditure minister Brendan Howlin welcomed as a positive development in the face of overall cuts in the EU budget.
Ireland will also probably share in a €6 billion allocation for economic stimulus in countries with particularly high youth unemployment, though an agreement on how to split this has not yet been broached.
The EU’s overall international development fund will increase by 5 per cent, with about 90 per cent set aside to tackle hunger and poverty around the world.
Non-governmental organisations expressed satisfaction that the EU’s external spending was cut by 16 per cent compared to the European Commission’s original plans, reflecting some recognition that the EU must share some of the burden of austerity.
There was some regret, however, that EU funds specifically earmarked for development in impoverished parts of the world would have to be cut accordingly.