Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Saturday, 9 May 2009 11:43 UK

Northern Ireland's European agenda

EU flag and national flagsin front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg
Elections to the European Parliament are being held on 4 June

BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Martina Purdy looks ahead at the issues dominating June's European election.

POWERSHARING

Although this is a European election and some argue that it should not be a "sectarian vanity contest", the experience of past polls has been that voters regard the contest as a chance to pass a verdict on events in their own backyard.

The TUV candidate, Jim Allister, who is the only candidate opposed to the settlement at Stormont, would like to make this election a judgement on the DUP's decision to share power with Sinn Fein in 2007.

The Stormont parties will point to their united opposition to the recent dissident violence as proof that, despite its failings, the power sharing coalition is better than what went before.

THE EXECUTIVE

Some candidates, such as the SDLP's Alban Maginness, argue that this is a mid-term poll which gives voters the opportunity to pass a judgement on the policies pursued during the past two years by the Stormont Executive.

This means that arguments will range across the executive's response to the economic downturn, its decision to defer water charges and freeze rates and the continuing stand off over Sinn Fein's attempts to end academic selection in schools.

NORTHERN IRELAND WITHIN EUROPE

Over the past few troubled decades Northern Ireland has benefitted from £2 billion of funding from the European Union.

However, Brussels is now focussing increasingly on the newer EU members to the east. Candidates will debate how best to obtain financial and technical support from the EU in the changed climate.

A task force, appointed by the head of the EU Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, suggested ways in which the EU could help Northern Ireland to become more innovative.

AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES

Earlier this year, Northern Ireland farmers queued overnight for EU subsidy payments administered by the local agriculture department.

The method of handing the cash out was controversial, but the demand showed how reliant local farmers are on EU support.

All candidates will have to pay particular notice to the influential rural lobby - the Agricultural Show at Balmoral in Belfast is always seen as a key opportunity for canvassing.

Local dairy farmers are likely to press for support at a time the prices of their products have been flagging.

Poultry farmers may be concerned about tougher EU pollution controls. Local fishermen have pushed for greater regional control over the EU's fishing quotas.

The candidates will want to be seen as responsive to their concerns.

THE FUTURE OF THE EU

Northern Ireland politicians differ on the balance which should be struck between nation states and the EU, and that manifests itself in their approach to issues like the Lisbon treaty and the proposed European constitution.

The three outgoing MEPs are all sceptical to varying degrees about increased Euro federalism, and the DUP's Diane Dodds is likely to share that view.

By contrast, the SDLP founder John Hume was always a committed Europhile, and his party's candidate Alban Maginness is also a Euro enthusiast, a stance largely shared by the Alliance and the Greens.

CLIMATE CHANGE

In the European parliament Northern Ireland MEPs have taken very different perspectives on climate change with the TUV's Jim Allister sceptical about the view that it is man made, whilst Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun advocates radical action to tackle global warming.

The climate change sceptic Sammy Wilson has raised the profile of this issue during his controversial tenure as DUP Environment Minister.

However, this poses a dilemma for his party candidate Diane Dodds, does she side with Mr Wilson or her party leader Peter Robinson who does believe climate change is man made?



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