By Patrick Jackson
BBC News Online
EU enlargement would have tested the skills of the most accomplished negotiator but Ireland's Bertie Ahern was no stranger to striking deals.
Mr Ahern marks 10 years as leader of his party in 2004
When he took over the EU's rotating presidency at the end of 2003, the Republic of Ireland's prime minister had a wealth of political achievements to his name.
These ranged from
forging a succession of coalition governments for his Fianna Fail party to closing on the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland in 1998.
For the EU's new member-states with their struggling economies, the example of rural Ireland's transformation into the Celtic Tiger must also be inspirational and Mr Ahern can take much of the credit for his small country's boom as a ground-breaking minister for labour in the 1980s.
Very much a European leader, Mr Ahern also has classic Irish political credentials, with a background steeped in nationalism and a passionate love of his country's Gaelic sporting traditions.
His official biography gives as his occupation taoiseach (the Irish term for prime minister) and notes he was formerly an accountant, but it seems he firmly marked himself out for politics at the age of 14 when he reportedly had the job of scrambling up Dublin lamp-posts to hang election posters for Fianna Fail.
Mr Ahern was brought up in the working-class Dublin suburb of Drumcondra to a father who served during the 1919-1921 War of Independence from Britain and the bitter civil war which followed.
His Irish Republican roots were married to a classic Roman Catholic education in the capital: secondary education with the Christian Brothers, then University College Dublin and Rathmines College of Commerce.
Born 12 September 1951
Educated at University College Dublin and Rathmines College of Commerce
Involved in politics from the age of 14, became youngest PM in modern Irish history
Has two daughters, Cecelia and Georgina
Fianna Fail was the party of choice for Republicans and Mr Ahern was elected a TD (member of the Irish parliament) in 1977 - initially for Dublin-Finglas, then Dublin Central from 1981.
Apart from his parliamentary work, he served as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1986-87.
As a TD, he built up a strong economic record, becoming minister for labour in 1987 and subsequently holding the portfolios for industry and commerce, and finance.
Correspondents say he transformed the labour ministry from a low-profile department to a key player in economic reform, hammering out deals with the trade unions and achieving a national economic agreement designed to give the Tiger its claws.
In parallel with his work as a minister, he earned a reputation as a political fixer, helping to negotiate a coalition deal for his party with the minority Progressive Democrats (PD) in 1989 and save that cabinet again at talks in 1991.
"The most skilful, the most devious, the most cunning of them all," is how Charles Haughey, the former Fianna Fail prime minister, once famously described him.
Mr Ahern became leader of Fianna Fail in 1994 and, after a period in opposition, took his party into a new coalition with the PD in 1997.
In 2002, his government was returned to office - the first cabinet to be re-elected since 1969.
When he took office as taoiseach, Mr Ahern became the youngest prime minister in modern Irish history.
He has also broken the mould of Irish politics in another, more personal respect: he is one of the few prominent Irish Catholic politicians to separate from his wife and openly take a new, unmarried partner.
In other respects, he is very much close to Irish tradition attending, for example, Gaelic football matches.