Not surprisingly, the IRA decommission made the headlines all over Europe. For example, Le Monde carried a special dossier with an interview of Adrian Guelke. Back in the European Parliament, it is business as usual, with the expected acrimonial relationship between SF and DUP MEPs to continue. The inability of SF and DUP MEPs to work together on a certain number of issues might have some serious consequences for Northern Ireland.
The absence of working relationship between DUP MEP Jim Allister and SF MEPs will probably continue for a while despite the recent call for ‘engagement’ by SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald. This might have some serious effects on EU funding in Northern Ireland despite that there is urgency for concerted action. In 2007, we are expected to witness some slight changes in the way the EU distribute its funds. Firstly, the EU Peace II programme will come to an end in December 2006 (just for the year 2005-2006 it represents 852M). Secondly, as NI will be above 85% of the EU 25 GDP per inhabitants, Northern Ireland will not qualify to apply for EU structural funds at the same level as it currently does. Thirdly and for the same reason, Invest NI will not be allowed to fund the NI economy at the level it does at the moment. Fourth, 2007 will see the budget of the European Rural Development Fund increase from £7 billion per year to £13.7 billion per year but with the absence of agreement over the EU budget, the project is currently on hold. The bottom line of all the issues is the disagreement over the EU budget which might be sorted out during the next Presidency (Austria). As part of the jobs of the MEPs is to approve (or disapprove) the budget proposed by the Council, their jobs are therefore crucial. In this key period of pre-budget negotiations, it would be rational for NI MEPs to present common positions and harmonize their lobbying work so as to maximise the chances to get a new round of EU Peace money, securing the capacity for Invest NI to fund the local economy and defending the rural developments funds. After all it was an alliance of interests between John Hume, Ian Paisley and Jim Nicholson which successfully lobbied the EU Commission for a special EU package of Peace Funds. At a time when NI students are engaged in learning about the EU institutions by making mock debates of the Council of the European Union (pdf), the uncoordinated actions of NI MEPs might not be the example to follow.