Finola and I arrived back in Ireland last Sunday week.
As some of you will have read, I put my name into the ring for the new post of President of the European Council. This job,created under the Lisbon Treaty, will give the European Council, which brings together the Heads of Government of the 27 EU member states, a fulltime Chairman for the first time. There are many excellent candidates whose names have been mentioned
Up to now, the Chairman (or President) of the European Council of was a serving Head of Government,who also still had to run the affairs of his/her own country. I did that job myself for 6 months in 1996, during the Irish Presidency of that year. To prepare a sucessful Summit of the then 15 EU Heads of Government, I did a tour of the capitals of the 14 other member states to get my colleagues views on how we might forge a compromise on the issues that were on the agenda. This tour made all the difference in building towards a consensus when we eventually met in Dublin. Consensus was vital because the decisions of the European Council, unlike those of the Council of Ministers where a majority vote is possible, have to unanimous.That will remain so under the Lisbon Treaty.
Now that we are 27 countries in the European Union a tour of 26 other capitals by a serving Prime Minister is almost impossible because of his/her duties at home. By appointing a fulltime person to do this job , the Lisbon Treaty makes the job doable again. It should greatly enhance decision making in the European Council to have a fulltimer in the chair. I think it will also help with the overall coordination of the Union’s work between the Parliament, the Council of Ministers under a rotating Presidency, and the Commission whose job is to prepare all EU laws and supervise their implementation
The European Council sets the agenda for the Union. It also decides the really difficult questions that cannot be settled at a lower level.
I also attended a very interesting conference in London on the global economy.
The amount of time people are spending online is changing consumer patterns. Time spent on facebook is time that cannot be spent in shops!
The recession was seen a spur to innovation. A disproportionate number of the Fortune 500 companies were apparently founded during recessions. A recession forces businesses out of their comfort zones and fosters innovative thinking.
There was optimism about the shortterm economic prospects, but a big worry about the longer term trend in Government finances.