UK engagement with EU is central to Irish interests
There are at least five reasons for this. First, the Republic has a stake in an optimally-functioning union – and an EU that includes the UK is a more economically and politically powerful one than one without it.
Second, the Republic shares many policy objectives with the UK and thus benefits from shared union membership. Third, safeguarding the Republic’s major trade relationship with the UK is obviously important. Fourth, economic links with the UK make a long-term weakening of its economy that might follow any union exit undesirable. Finally, there is some danger that Irish popular support for integration might be affected by the turbulence of a UK exit. British newspapers and television have, after all, considerable influence in this State.
As regards the Republic’s policy, this State, unlike the UK, has generally put itself in the vanguard of integration and there seems little reason to change this approach now. The Republic’s euro zone membership offers an opportunity to maximise Irish influence on further integration rather than merely being swept along by economic developments without the power to influence them.
Recent days have arguably seen this approach pay off. The recent euro area summit was marked by evidence of this Republic taking the route of maximum integration and demonstrating itself to be a competent and trustworthy partner carefully choosing precisely the moment to intervene in negotiations, so as to get what it needed.
The extent of the summit commitments regarding sustainability in the banking sector and regarding similar cases being treated equally should not be exaggerated. However, neither should their significance be underestimated. This agreement to agree, as Martin Wolf has pointed out, may transform the Republic’s position.
This was a dividend available only to a State that had committed itself to the solidarity involved in full economic and monetary union, and that was perceived as having fully met its legal and moral commitments to fellow participant states.
Irish negotiators – supported by the European Central Bank – could justifiably claim that with direct recapitalisation of Spanish banks now being facilitated, it would be entirely inequitable to treat any differently a state with similar problems that had behaved impeccably throughout the sovereign debt crisis.
This summit outcome also implicitly vindicated the Yes vote on the fiscal treaty. Had the Irish electorate opted for the reckless confrontationalism promoted by Sinn Féin and Declan Ganley during the referendum campaign, this deal would never have happened.
The summit result suggests the Republic is far from entirely bereft of useful ideas on the conduct of EU affairs and provides a textbook example of how to go about securing a crucial strategic objective.
Dr Gavin Barrett is a senior lecturer in the School of Law, UCD, specialising in European Union law.