My Department has played a central role in driving the overarching policy theme of our EU Presidency of “promoting sustainable economic growth and jobs and building Europe’s competitive advantage”. The issue of employment creation is one that is challenging all Member States across the Union. Under our Presidency we have made progress in a significant number of areas that can create the right environment for growth and employment in accordance with the “Compact for growth and jobs” as agreed by Heads of State and Government in June 2012.
I placed a strong emphasis on advancing measures that can boost the EU’s competitive edge globally. Overall, our Presidency achieved major successes across the policy spectrum and has significantly enhanced the reputation of this country at home and abroad. Our good standing and reputation is a vital ingredient in making this country attractive to investors and for instilling confidence leading ultimately to jobs and growth. This will assist us in building on the average of 2,000 jobs per month created in the private sector over the last twelve months in contrast to the loss of 7,500 jobs per month during the years 2008-2010.
Within the various Council formations which I had the honour to chair, we succeeded in attaining agreements on all of the significant funding Programmes under the EU’s new 2014-2020 Budget, itself agreed during our Presidency. For example, on the agreement on the new €70 Billion research and development Programme, Horizon 2020, Ireland argued strongly, and successfully, in favour of a greater emphasis on the SME sector. In addition to new specific supports, such as access to finance and debt and equity facilities, for SMEs, it has now been agreed that the target for SME participation in relevant areas of Horizon 2020 should be increased from 15% to 20%. This is a significant change given the proposed scale of Horizon 2020. In line with the Action Plan for Jobs we will pursue funding and other opportunities under EU Horizon 2020 for specific sectoral activities of national importance and in line with our national research priorities.
Agreement was also achieved on the €2.03 Billion dedicated Programme for Competitiveness and SMEs (COSME Programme) which will provide targeted financial support for SMEs. In particular, I welcome the proposed equity facility for growth-phase investment which will support the development of the EU wide Venture Capital market, as well as the Loan Facility which will provide direct or other risk sharing arrangements with financial intermediaries to cover loans for SMEs. We also built on the progress already made in reducing business costs by the administrative burden reduction efforts of the Commission and Member States. At the end of 2012 annual administrative savings totalling almost €288 million representing a 19% reduction have been achieved for business in Ireland as against 2008.
Proposals on State Aid Modernisation (SAM) were also agreed. These new State Aid Regulations will take account of post-crisis structural reforms and industrial restructuring which Member States are undergoing and the need for better alignment of State Aid with Europe 2020 objectives.
A number of important files which were vital to completing the EU Single Market were also agreed or significantly advanced, including those on recognition of Professional Qualifications, Public Procurement, and the Accounting Directive. Agreement on these will make it easier to move and work across all Member States and to lower transaction costs for SMEs.
In the area of Patents, remarkable progress was made to complete the Single Market in that sector with the signing of an International Agreement on a Unified Patent Court by 25 participating Member States during the Competitiveness Council on 19th February last. It has been estimated that users of the Unified Patent Court could save somewhere between €148 and €289 million per year, compared to the present costs of €1.5 million in some Member States of such litigation.
Agreement was reached at the EPSCO Council on the Youth Guarantee, which promises to provide young people with a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed. In addition, the European Council approved a Youth Employment Initiative amounting to €6 billion for the period 2014-2020 to support measures aimed at addressing youth unemployment and, in particular, to support the Youth Guarantee for regions with particularly high levels of unemployment. Furthermore, political agreement was reached on the EU programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) with a proposed budget of €815 million for the period 2014-20 period. EaSI will support Member States efforts in the design and implementation of employment and social reforms by means of policy coordination, identification, analysis and the sharing of best practice.
Under Ireland’s Presidency of the EU, we attached great importance to promoting the EU’s external trade agenda for the benefit of Irish companies and for the wider EU economy and its exporters. Trade is essential to job creation: 30 million jobs or 10% of the EU workforce depend on exports. In June, we reached agreement among EU Trade Ministers on the mandate to start talks on an EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Reaching agreement among EU Trade Ministers on the terms of the EU’s negotiating mandate has been a top priority for the Irish Presidency. According to assessments made by the EU Commission and other European bodies, a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S and the EU could over time boost EU GDP by 0.5% per annum and help create approximately 400,000 jobs in the EU. Based on those assessments, if Ireland simply benefitted in proportion to the size of our economy, a comprehensive trade and investment partnership could over time provide gains to Ireland in the order of €800 million per annum in increased GDP, and 4000 new jobs.