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The Irish EU presidency has been touched by a four-leaf clover

Luck o' the EU

Klaus Dahmann (win)
June 29, 2004

Ireland can be pleased with its EU presidency, which ends on Wednesday: Under the country's leadership, the union welcomed 10 new members, agreed on a new constitution and found a new EU Commission president.


Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern had probably hoped for an easier starting point for his six-month EU presidency when he took over in January. He faced a somewhat subdued union after negotiations over a proposed EU constitution under Italy's leadership failed in December.

In France, people had already begun mulling alternatives: They began thinking about closer cooperation with Germany should the 25-nation bloc be unable to move forward. Britain also seemed willing to join such an avantgarde group that would help to push the EU ahead.

Such thoughts didn't sit well with Ahern, however, who argued strongly against creating a "core Europe" that would pursue unification at a faster pace.

"If you talk about a two-speed Europe where a group of countries oblivious to everybody else's desires would come together on an initiative that would not be open for others and would move ahead, I have major difficulties with that," he said.

Terror attacks unify the bloc

Anti-Terror-Kundgebung in Madrid
Hundreds of thousands protested against the Madrid terror attacksImage: AP

The Madrid terror attacks on March 11 that killed 191 people and injured thousands more brought Europeans closer again. The union had to acknowledge the fact that cooperation to fight terrorism had not improved much since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. As a result, the Irish presidency pushed for a EU anti-terrorism czar at a Brussels summit.

"As we've seen, terrorism is not confined within national borders and we need to enhance our international cooperation," Ahern said. "The declaration underlines the central role of the United Nations and it underscores the need to continue to enhance our cooperation with partners, including the United States, but all regions of the world."

Expanding the union

After managing these crises during the first three months of the presidency, Ireland was gearing up to the climactic events of May 1: The EU formally welcomed 10 new member states at a celebration in the Irish capital, Dublin.

Like in Prague, Europeans everywhere celebrated the union's enlargement on May 1.Image: AP

"On this landmark day for the people of Europe we gather to bid a warm welcome to the 10 member states who are joining the family circle that is the European Union," said Irish President Mary McAleese, who hosted the festivities at her official residence.

The enlarged union quickly returned to business and began tackling the proposed constitution again. While Spain under conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar had blocked adoption of the document because of voting rights, his successor, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, showed more willingness to compromise. In June, Ahern finally managed to propose a list of changes to the constitution that was agreeable to all.

"This constitution treaty will enable the European union to become more transparent and more democratic," he said. "It sets out the powers of the member states and the union in a clear way. It will enable the union to do its work in a more efficient and effective manner. It will give us a framework in which we can grow and prosper into the future. It is a great achievement for Europe, it is a great achievement for all Europeans."

Keeping promises

Der irische EU-Ratspräsident EU-Ratspräsidentschaft Bertie Ahern
Irish Prime Minister Bertie AhernImage: AP

Ahern (photo) also made good on his last promise: After EU leaders failed to agree on a new EU Commission president at their meeting in Brussels in mid-June, the Irish premier said he wanted to resolve that issue before handing over the presidency to his Dutch colleague on July 1.

By Monday, Ahern had found an acceptable candidate: Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durão Barroso is expected to get the backing of his EU colleagues at a meeting Tuesday night.

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