Ireland has no fewer than 50 justice and home affairs files to deal with during its Presidency, according to the country's Justice Minister, Alan Shatter.
They will not of course all be given the same priority. As Dublin has already said, its chief aim is to make headway with the data protection package. This is a regulation on private life in general, designed to adapt old EU legislation from 1995 to the era of Google and social networks in particular and a directive on the protection of criminal data, which has already been the subject of controversy with the US. Washington fears that its bilateral agreements with European countries on the transfer of data to combat terrorism will be undermined. "We want to make real progress on the two files," Shatter said to some journalists during the last Home Affairs Council, on 6 December 2012 in Brussels. While he understands that the European Parliament wishes to move ahead with the regulation and directive at the same time, "it will be difficult to progress at the same pace on the two instruments because there are big differences as regards the directive," he stressed.
Advancing cautiously, Dublin is therefore not undertaking to finalise the file.
"The directive on criminal data is treading water," said a diplomatic source, who also criticised the regulation, saying that it "has not been prepared in enough depth". "It isn't a certainty that we'll reach an agreement during the Irish Presidency, maybe by the end of the year, if not later," said an official close to the issue.
In addition to better protection of Europeans' private data, the regulation is meant to make life easier for those who work on the internet, such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft. They would see their disputes with European internet users managed by a single national data protection authority on behalf of the 26 others. The Irish government is looking to play down any controversy about the advantages of such a reform for these multinational companies whose European headquarters are in Dublin, given the tax advantages that the country offers (only 12% corporation tax). "Our authority will have all the necessary means to act," says Shatter.
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Ireland, although not part of the 26-country passport-free area, will have to address enlargement of the Schengen area to Romania and Bulgaria. Shatter treads warily here too. "We'll do what we can, but it is not very likely that some member states'...