Minister Cowen announces Presidency Sponsorship Arrangements
I would like to welcome you all here today and to offer a particular welcome to the representatives of those companies which will provide some of the goods and services for Ireland's Presidency of the European Union.
Eircom and Audi will, between them, supply goods and services worth approximately 5 million euros, thus helping ensure that the approximately 170 meetings, including 25 Ministerial meetings, being held in Ireland run smoothly and efficiently. Tipperary Spring Water and Kerrygold have also undertaken to supply their products free of charge for every Presidency meeting in Ireland, as well as for meetings in Brussels. These are significant commitments. They demonstrate a recognition of the true extent to which Ireland will be in the spotlight over the course of the Presidency. As well as the benefit to the sponsoring companies, there will be significant savings for the taxpayer – it is a win-win situation for all.
When Ireland assumes the Presidency of the European Union on 1 January, it could well be for the last time. In the current negotiations for a new European Treaty it seems clear that the days of one country Presidencies are at an end – the details of what will replace them have not yet been finally decided but it is very likely to centre around team Presidencies.
The system of rotating Presidencies has served Ireland well – through our five previous Presidencies we have earned a good reputation, in official circles and in media circles, as able, efficient, effective and welcoming. That is a reputation which I am sure we will further enhance in the first six months of next year.
I'm not going to run through our priorities for the Presidency or what we hope to achieve during the six months. That has been well rehearsed before, most recently by the Taoiseach on Friday last, and will be again.
What is worth underlining, however, without going into detail in different policy areas, is the enormity of the Presidency as an undertaking by any Member State, large or small.
The Presidency is first and foremost a responsibility. It is a national responsibility; one the Government readily accepts but one which we know presents enormous challenges.
Ireland last held the Presidency in 1996. Since then, the number of meetings has increased by 50%; we have ten more member states sitting around the table and the range of policy areas in which the Union is active has expanded hugely. This is especially true in the area of Justice and Home Affairs and in the development of the European Security and Defence Policy.
Taken together, these factors make this, Ireland's sixth Presidency, the most demanding.
The Presidency is now almost upon us. Preparations have been underway in my Department, and indeed in all Departments, for more than two years. They have, naturally, grown much more intense in recent months. I'm confident we're ready – but I do not underestimate the hard work that lies between now and next July. Everyone involved – the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Ministers and officials – will work long days, long weeks and long months to ensure a successful Presidency.
That media interest is growing daily is one of the many signs that the Presidency is just around the corner.
In addition to introducing our sponsors today, I would like to explode some of the myths which seem to have grown up around this issue.
Firstly, there is no question of the Government accepting cash sponsorship of any kind. Companies were invited to consider sponsoring specific goods or services. This request was made in the context of the increased public attention that will be turned towards Ireland from 1 January next year. The resulting opportunities for Irish companies, as well as companies with an interest in Ireland, should ensure positive exposure for their products across Europe. Recognising this, a number of companies came forward with offers of sponsorship and deals have been agreed.
There is no question of these arrangements in any way compromising the conduct of the Government in the course of the Presidency, or in any other fashion. Among the many tasks of the Government is to support the development of Irish business, here and abroad – these arrangements should be seen in that context.
Sponsorship has been a feature of all recent Presidencies. In fact, one of the companies present here today, Audi, also provided sponsorship for the recent Greek and Danish Presidencies. Clearly, the approach of the Government is not, as one newspaper has suggested, an unorthodox one – quite the opposite, it is entirely orthodox and eminently sensible.
With nearly two hundred meetings taking place in Ireland, the Presidency will touch all parts of the country.
It is important for Irish people to recognise that the whole country will be on show. It also provides us with an opportunity to promote parts of the country which would normally seldom get the opportunity for widespread exposure in marketing terms.
For example, I will be proud to bring my twenty-four EU Foreign Minister colleagues to Offaly in April for an Informal Foreign Ministers meeting. In addition to Ministers and officials, we are expecting up to four hundred European journalists to cover the event. While their purpose will be to cover the discussions taking place, I hope they will also get to see Tullamore and the surrounding towns. Their presence – as with the presence of similar groups at meetings all around the country – creates a remarkable marketing opportunity. We would be remiss if we ignored it.
I know that the preparations which are already underway will result in excellent local community effort to successfully host this prestigious event. I also know that this community effort will be replicated at many other locations where colleagues and indeed senior officials are hosting events. We have seen many examples in the past where local communities have risen magnificently to the challenge that these events represent. I know that we will rise to the coming challenge once again and ensure that we showcase this country as indeed the “Ireland of the welcomes”.
In addition to the four companies that have entered into arrangements for the entire Presidency, other companies and organisations around the country have also made use of the opportunity offered by the Presidency to make themselves and their products better known, though their association with meetings in their areas. I understand that the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland are taking a lead role in this. In doing so, they will also contribute to the success of those meetings.
Finally my primary purpose today is to introduce you to our sponsors and also to thank them. I will not talk you through the achievements and capabilities of each of these companies. They are present here today and can, I'm sure, fill you in much better than I can about what they do. I simply want to thank them, to say that the Government values their contributions and we look forward to working with them over the coming months.