“What is Europe for?” - Remarks by Minister Micheál Martin, T.D.
I want to thank you for inviting me to discuss the European Union and its purpose. It is a pleasure to share this platform with the Foreign Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, who has a distinguished academic and political record in European affairs. Finland is a country with which Ireland has much in common and with which we see eye to eye on a great many European and international issues.
You have asked a crucial, elemental question – what is Europe for? I have a short answer to this question. Europe is about securing our future. It is an environment in which we have thrived for the past 35 years. In order to secure the future of your generation, I believe that we need to ensure that we continue to be plugged into Europe in a positive and productive manner.
This is an appropriate moment for a discussion of this kind as I detect a new energy in European affairs in recent times. This is because the dramatic economic and political developments of the past few months have put the European Union in the spotlight and highlighted the Union’s enduring relevance in enabling us to cope with the ever more daunting challenges that now face us.
Today’s discussion also comes at a time when, in the wake of our referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland’s future in the European Union has become the subject of intense debate.
The Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s future in Europe is engaged in a sustained examination of the challenges facing Ireland in the wake of our referendum result. In our current economic circumstances, we cannot allow any element of uncertainty to take root regarding Ireland’s future EU engagement. It is imperative, therefore, that we succeed in charting a course for ourselves in the months ahead that will keep Ireland where we belong, at the heart of the European Union.
I do not have a crystal ball with which to predict the future. What I do know is that past and present performance is the best predictor of future outcomes. I want to look at the EU’s track record under four headings, local, national, European and global.
Every locality in Ireland has benefited from the effects of EU spending. Since 1973, Irish farmers have received some €41 billion in CAP payments. Each year funding of up to €2 billion goes to farming families and to support the development of rural Ireland. These resources have reached every parish and townland in Ireland. All over the country, there is evidence of the impact of EU support in the form of roads and bridges co-funded from Brussels.
It is often said that all politics are local. There is good reason for this. It is natural that we tend to become most fully engaged in issues that directly affect our lives. Yet there are an increasing number of issues that cannot successfully be handled at local or even national level.
At national level, Europe’s impact has been profound. Indeed, Ireland is the most striking example of Europe’s success in providing a positive framework for national economic advancement.
Since 1973, our exports to European markets have grown substantially. EU investment in infrastructural projects has been very significant. EU involvement has made us a magnet for foreign direct investment, which has helped transform our economy.
As students, you will be aware of the benefits of EU membership to the education sector, in particular through its financial support for our Institutes of Technology and the wonderful Erasmus programme, which has enabled many thousands of young Irish people to study at Universities in other European countries.
Last year alone, some 4,000 Erasmus students came to Ireland while 1,500 Irish students had the opportunity to study abroad.
At European level, the EU has succeeded in delivering impressive results all over Europe during the past 50 years. The immense value of the European Union is graphically illustrated by the various major anniversaries taking place this year and next.
Last week’s 90th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice reminds of the price paid by past generations of Europeans on account of unbridled rivalries between countries that are now bound together within the EU. Next year’s 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War 1939 makes a similar point.
The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall will remind us of how Europe was so deeply divided less than a generation ago. The European Union was a catalyst for the coming together of Europeans following the end of the Cold War.
The EU is an environment in which small countries like Ireland and Finland have blossomed. We benefit from the existence of rules-based arrangements under which countries large and small can compete on a level playing field. This is why EU Treaties are important. They provide reassurance that the interests of individual Member States can be properly accommodated.
The institutional architecture of the EU embodies a vision of a Europe which is democratic, representative of the nations of Europe and provides a strong and capable leadership.
The EU is also an effective player at global level. This past weekend we have just witnessed Europe’s capacity to provide global leadership and direction. The Union played a leading role in Washington, setting the agenda for addressing the world’s deepening economic and financial woes.
Reform of the international financial institutions may seem abstract and remote from the daily lives of families. The single most important lesson of the current economic crisis, however, is that the global and the local are fundamentally interwoven.
After all, it was the existence of unviable mortgages in the United States that triggered the upheaval that has undermined the operation of banks right around the world and that is now having an increasingly severe economic impact on Irish and European businesses.
There is no break in the chain between the instability of Wall Street banks and the availability of credit for small businesses in Cork or Helsinki.
Only an international response can create a realistic basis to address such issues as climate change and energy security. Europe also plays a leading role in international development assistance, with some 60% of global aid funding coming from the EU.
Today’s European Union has developed an important crisis management capacity. Usually in direct response to calls from the international community and the UN Secretary General, the Union has in recent years launched some twenty missions designed to support peace deals and undertake humanitarian tasks.
The current mission in Chad, which is led by an Irish General, Pat Nash, is a perfect example of the kind of efforts in which the Union specialises. The reality of Europe’s role in the world is very far removed from the accusations of rampant militarisation levelled against the Union during our referendum campaign.
In conclusion, I believe that we need to find ways of rekindling the enthusiasm for Europe that earlier generations, with their personal experience of conflict and division, possessed so strongly.
This requires that we tell the European story more effectively and, above all, that we listen. In that vein, I look forward to hearing your opinions on the EU and on Ireland’s future European role.
Thank you for your attention.Top