Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union can give a major boost at EU level to the kind of progress that the Government is already making in Ireland on job market reform and job creation through our national Action Plan for Jobs, writes the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD
When we launched the Action Plan for Jobs this time last year, we said there will be no ‘big bang’ solution to the employment crisis. What is needed is determined action across Government to implement the hundreds of reforms necessary to drive the transition to a new economy which can support the sustainable jobs we need.
We outlined 270 actions which we would implement in 2012 to start that process, and promised that we would be held to account in public on a quarterly basis on our record in delivering those actions. Recently we published the final progress report which showed that 249 out of the 270 actions have been delivered, and that there are positive signs in the labour market.
Last year there was net growth of almost 12,000 jobs in the private sector. This is a very welcome turnaround from the net loss of 250,000 private sector jobs in the three years to March 2011.
There are great benefits for all member states, including Ireland, if the European Union can make progress on two key areas. These are the development of new international free-trade agreements and the continued implementation of the Single Market. Crucially, both are areas that the Irish Presidency is prioritising.
The support given recently by President Obama for a fresh round of EU-US trade negotiations is very significant. The two economic blocs account for over 40% of global GDP, with goods and services worth over €2 billion traded across the North Atlantic each day.
Most important though is the fact that a comprehensive and ambitious new agreement has the potential to boost economic activity between Europe and the US by around 1%. Translated into jobs, this equates to an additional 1 million jobs being created in the EU.
The priorities of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union are stability, jobs and growth. That is why in my role as chair of the EU Trade Council, I am holding a special informal meeting of EU Trade Ministers in Dublin in April. The purpose of this meeting is to try and maintain the recent momentum for a new trade deal.
If Europe’s Trade Ministers can agree a common position during the spring, this will give the European Commission the mandate required to formally open negotiations with their US counterparts on a new deal.
Given that average tariffs are already low, averaging only 2%, the key to increasing EU-US trade lies in tackling non-tariff barriers. The negotiations will need to look at important areas like investment liberalization and removing regulatory barriers to trade.
While a new free-trade agreement with the US is a top priority, it’s only one of the deals the EU is currently focussed on. There is also huge potential for the EU and Ireland in the conclusion of new trade agreements with Canada and Japan. We are also extending the reach of the EU’s new trade agreements in key Asian markets such as Korea, Singapore and Vietnam. This will make it easier for companies to trade in these less familiar high-potential markets.
The second area that contains massive potential is in the continued development of the Single Market. Abolishing restrictions in the services sector alone could boost EU GDP by 2.6%.
As Chair of the Competitiveness Council, bringing together Europe’s Industry and Internal Market Ministers, I have already put on record my ambitions to make progress on outstanding labour market measures such as the Professional Qualifications, ensuring a simpler framework for recognition of professional qualifications across the EU, and the Posting of Workers.
I am delighted to report that landmark progress was made earlier this week when I joined Ministers from 23 other Member States in signing the Unified Patents Court Agreement. The agreement is the last part of a package of measures that will provide a one-stop shop for innovative enterprises to register and protect their patents in the European Union.
I know that here in Ireland, its creation will save Irish businesses seeking patent coverage in Europe significant amounts, with up to €6 million spent annually on patent translation costs alone. Across Europe, it is estimated that the new patent system will save business between €150-290 million each year.
During the term of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Minister Richard Bruton will be leading Ireland’s efforts to achieve real progress on a number of significant measures in the areas of employment, trade and competitiveness.