October European Council

20th November, 2013

October European Council

I need to come up with a snappier title for these blogposts. Was thinking of something like ‘My First European Council meeting’ but it sounded too much like ‘My First Disco’. So this will do for now.

The other thing I need to do is produce these posts on time. I started this 2 weeks ago but other priorities always get in the way. I’m determined to get at his though so I hope it’s of interest to someone.

What is the European Council?

It is the most important meeting within the European schedule. Where Prime Ministers and Presidents meet to make major decisions. These are noted in ‘Conclusions’ where areas of agreement are noted and action steps agreed.

I am not going to go into the detail of what was/was not agreed. These events take place with a massive degree of public scrutiny and attention so if you’re interested enough to read this article you probably already know what happened. So I will confine myself to a brief summary of key decisions and then my observations on attending such a summit.

The key decision for Ireland was continued focus on the urgency of Banking Union. This was noted in paragraph 41 of the Conclusions. It noted the urgency of implementing all of the strands of this Union (common regulation, strengthened deposit guarantee schemes and a more effective way of handling failing banks). Key for us is that it still left open the role of the ESM (European Stability Mechanism – a centralised support fund) for injecting money directly into failing banks.

Other key point was continued focus on the Digital Market. In the week of the Dublin Web Summit this could not be more topical.  Crucial areas of focus include how to scale up small and medium sized companies and the need to better support skill development.

That’s the business end of the meeting. My other observations are:

The importance of contact – attending these meetings allowed me to appreciate how leaders do business with each other. A forum where all of your peer Prime Ministers or Presidents are present offers an additional valuable way of getting things done. This is an extraordinarily positive dimension of European Council meetings.

The responsibility of leading – all of the meetings that I participate in have different attendance formats. They’re referred to as +1 or +2. This means that the minister has one or two civil servants available in the room. There is no one else in the European Council – just the Prime Minister. I saw at first hand how hard the Taoiseach works at these Councils and how much time he invests in getting ready for them.

I am obviously not in the room. So I spend all of time at the Council meeting my counterparts from other countries. The Taoiseach also asked that I attend all of the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ meetings at the Council. As I attend the GACs (General Affairs Councils) I am involved in preparing the agenda for these meetings.

The next meeting will be in December. It will be extremely important and I will aim to get my post done sooner.