Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The UK Presidency ended as the clocks chimed in the New Year, and it's worth evaluating what was achieved. The balance sheet is surprisingly positive; surprising, that is, compared to the assessments of many of the armchair commentators whose agenda precludes them from saying anything positive about the government or the EU.

The Presidency of the European Council is not an executive office, but the chairmanship of one of the EU institutions for a very short period. It has no decision-taking powers of its own, merely the opportunity to chair skillfully, to broker compromises, and to place items higher up the (largely inherited) agenda.

Within these constraints, the UK's achievements are not insignificant:
  • Managed to get a deal on the budget. (Enough has been said about this elsewhere on this blog.)

  • Secured agreement on the "European Consesus on Development" that will double EU countries development aid to $80billion per year by 2010, commits Member States to reach the UN target of 0.7% GDP by 2015, and re-orientates the EU's own programmes towards poverty elimination and meeting the Millenium Development Goals.

  • Begun a further round of CAP reform, with agreement to end all export subsidies over the next 7 years, to fit all the 10 new Member States and the next two (Bulgaria and Romania) within the current CAP spending ceiling, which will itself be reduced by 7%, to radically reform the sugar rĂ©gime now and to have a new overall review of spending in 2008.

  • Got all 25 countries to agree to start accession negotiations with Turkey.

  • Persuaded Council to agree that its meetings on EU codecision legislation should be held in public, with immediate effect.

  • Made huge progress towards adoption of the REACH directive on protecting consumers and workers from dangerous chemicals.

  • Secured agreement with the European Parliament (rather than an intergovernmental shortcut) on the data retention directive, vital for combatting terrorism and serious criminality.

  • Persuaded Council to resume consideration of proposals to reform the "comitology" system of scrutinising the implementing powers of the Commission, in view of giving Council and the European Parliament equal rights to call back Commission decisions.

  • Set an example of how Council presidencies should interact withn the European Parliament, with a record number of ministerial appearences in Parliament and no fewer than four visits of the Prime Minister.

  • Hosted a highly successful meeting of the 104-country ACP Assembly in Edinburgh.

  • Launched EU Security & Defence missions to Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and to Aceh in Indonesia.

  • Made progress on climate change, leading the EU delegation to contribute to the agreement at the Montreal conference and putting together a package of assistance to China to clean up its coal-fired power stations.

  • Secured agreement in Council on the Capital Requirements Directive, an important part of the Financial services Action Plan.