Europe will be stronger if the UK remains a committed member

Opinion: Ireland has, when necessary, made different strategic choices from Britain’s

Thu, Dec 19, 2013, 00:01

Forty years ago Ireland joined the European project, now known as the European Union. History, geography and politics led to our application being made at the same time as that of the United Kingdom.

Irish participation in successive stages of the project has contributed to a profound change in the close relationship between the two states. Within the wider union, equality with our neighbour is explicit and recognised.

The peace process and Irish economic development have also helped transform our relationship with the UK, a positive change of which President Higgins’s visit next year is just the latest example.

Globalisation, the integration of our world caused by revolutions in communications and technology, has utterly changed the environment for Ireland. Ideas, people, businesses and money now move with a speed previously unimaginable.

Participation in the European Union offers Ireland the best opportunity to prosper and be secure in this new world. Our role in the single market, our membership of the euro and our commitment to strengthening banking union all flow from this determination.

The economic crisis, and the distance that too many feel from the European institutions which are meant to represent them, pose severe challenges to the EU.

But this is a union which always strives for agreement among its 28 members. Compromise is often needed and the search for inclusivity can sometimes affect the efficiency of decision-making. But that is part of our democratic European way. The reaction of disappointed citizens in Ukraine should remind us that the outside world still sees this as a force for good.

Interdependence
All of these factors provide an environment within which Irish qualities can, and do, flourish. Our interdependence with the outside world means we must work with other countries and the EU offers the best way of doing this.

This interdependence means that British policies on Europe matter to us. The commitment by David Cameron to hold a referendum on EU membership, if re-elected, therefore has strategic consequences for Ireland.

As a representative, and citizen, of a country which frequently votes on our relationship with Europe, I absolutely respect the debate under way in Britain. I also believe that the EU is stronger with the UK in it, as a positive and committed member.

However, certain outcomes of this debate have profound consequences for Ireland and for our relationship with the UK. Danny McCoy (Irish Times, Nov 27th) is right to call for clarity in our response.

The Government is clear on the principles that will guide us. First, Ireland is an integrated and committed member of the EU, and it will, with the consent of our people, remain so.

Membership offers the best platform for our country to represent and advance the national interest. Our recent presidency showed Ireland doing exactly this as we progressed banking union and agreement on the EU budget.

On a topic of such strategic importance to this State, the Government will squarely face the challenges which might flow from decisions that others make.

Second, a debate on the role of member states within the EU is needed and welcome. But that discussion should not be excessively focussed on the possible role of the UK outside of the union.

Both countries work together as equal EU members. We are inside the tent, together. This relationship will change if the UK moves outside the tent. It is in our mutual interest to avoid this.

Finally, it is not just about articulating a view. Ireland has, when necessary, made different strategic choices to the UK within the EU. Our membership of the euro is one obvious example.

To exercise choices, we must first ensure our economy is strong and capable of meeting the needs of society. Due to the efforts of Irish people we are well on the road to recreating such an economy.

Based on decisions made by the Irish people over 40 years, our EU membership, despite many challenges, has allowed us to broaden our identity, our opportunities, and our options. We should build this asset, not weaken it.

Paschal Donohoe is Minister for European Affairs

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