British attitudes to EU are of vital concern to Ireland, spring school told


British attitudes towards the EU and the potential for break-up of the UK due to Scottish independence pose important questions for Ireland, the UCD Garret FitzGerald Spring School has heard.

Prof Elizabeth Meehan said Ireland’s nearest neighbour had two major constitutional issues to address: how to devolve sovereignty downwards to the constituent parts of the UK, while also pooling sovereignty effectively with the rest of the EU.

Prof Meehan, who holds positions at both UCD and Queen’s University Belfast, suggested that Garret FitzGerald’s working group idea may have to be revisited to reconsider Britain’s European question. British political parties are caught on the hook of needing EU powersharing and interdependence while simultaneously wanting “absolute sovereignty”, she warned.

There is little difference between the Conservative and Labour parties on this issue, she said.

“The main differences today are in tone rather than content,” she said, pointing to what she saw as the mistaken belief in England, especially, that the current EU “is not what they signed up for” back in 1973.

Scottish referendum

The forthcoming Scottish referendum about continuation within the UK “muddies the waters”, she said. “Will new accession treaties be needed if there were separation of the UK and within the UK?” She also asked: “What would Scots who favour union with England do if that UK were to quit the EU?”

Poul Christoffersen, special adviser to the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, compared the Irish experience in Europe with that of his native Denmark which joined the EEC at the same time.

“Looking back over 40 years, membership has been an enormous success,” he said. “Denmark wanted the market and got the market — the single market, the internal an open market to the outside world. It is still the world’s most liberal trading bloc, which is very much in the Danish interest.”

Denmark has seen how a small state can influence bigger countries, he said. Common Franco-German approaches can be adjusted by small states. The EU has not, he argued, been turned into a machine that inhibits small member states from “doing their own thing” nationally.