Cohesion of EU project weakened, says President


ECONOMIC SELF-INTEREST on the part of the strongest European Union member states is undermining the cohesion of the European project, President Michael D Higgins has warned

He said the idea of creating a union that would lead the world in sustainable development and human rights had been ignored.

Instead, he said the strongest member states were more interested in establishing an economic advantage within the union.

“I believe the neglect of that discourse has placed the prospect of a European Union of peoples, of citizens, ideals and liberating scholarship at risk,” he said. “And I believe that is the price we are being asked to pay by the strongest in defence of their national trade advantage.”

The President was speaking at the launch of a collection of essays, Towards a Flourishing Society, by the independent think tank Tasc, edited by health policy lecturer Dr Fergus O’Ferrall.

Mr Higgins said Irish – and European – society faced an enormous challenge to remould itself by creating a new set of values based on participation, equality and respect. He added it was neither possible nor desirable to replicate the consumption-led, debt-fuelled economic growth of the later Celtic Tiger years.

Instead, he said everyone had a role to play in creating an “emancipatory discourse” based on fresh values that could form the bedrock of a better model of economic strategy.

We should avoid looking to the past to recover old values, given that a truly inclusive Republic never existed, he said. “At best we can point in our history to an envisioned democratic Republic, such as was delivered with the rhetorical force of the prophetic, in a document like the democratic programme of the first Dáil.

“That document was used as a tool for legitimation at local level and abroad, but was deflected in its stated aims by the property ethos that had come to define post-Famine economic adjustment in Ireland.”

Mr Higgins said that despite the damage caused by neo-liberal economic policies – with their emphasis on self-interest and maximising profit – many of these ideas had not yet been discarded.

Instead, he said economic policy needed to be harnessed as a way of building a flourishing society, rather than simply being seen as an unaccountable and speculative force.

Mr Higgins expressed concern, however, at the limited space being made available in the media and elsewhere to discuss ways of establishing a new way forward.

The discussion of new concepts was crucial, he said, and pointed to how the concept of cohesion had disappeared from discussion concerning the future of the EU.

This, he said, threatened the future of the European project.

“Take all your electronic instruments and type in the world ‘cohesion’. And see where it fits in with all of the recent summitry . . . Where is the word cohesion? It has been systematically discarded. It doesn’t occur any more in major statements,” said Mr Higgins.

He said essays published by Tasc would help spark this debate, as well as giving a sense of the challenge facing Irish society.

“They paint a picture of a vibrant public realm, with a focus on the collective consumption of social goods – such as education, transport and healthcare,” he said.

“When one reads the thought-provoking essays in this publication, the enormity of the task ahead is clear. Irish society is being challenged to little less than to remould itself,” he added.

‘Another Way’ Anonymous Essayist

AN ANONYMOUS senior public servant has argued that our inherited political and legal framework is no longer fit for the purpose of building a new civic republic. The writer – who goes by the nom de plume Slí Eile – features in a new collection of essays, Towards a Flourishing Society, published by the Tasc think tank.

It is one of six essays which argues that fundamental changes, rather than piecemeal reforms, are needed across the economy and wider society.

The public servant argues that radical reforms are urgently needed across government and the public sector, as well as at the level of individuals and communities.

In an overview, Dr Fergus O’Ferrall, a health policy lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, states that the aim of all our activity should be to enable each person to flourish within a society that has the common good of all as its lodestar.

He writes that healthy societies share an “inspiring narrative about the meaning of the good life” and where there is a more equal distribution of national income and wealth to allow equal citizenship.

In addition, the market economy should be subject to “strong social and political institutions” and provision should be made for universal education and health systems.

Other essayists include Robin Wilson, an independent researcher, and Sinéad Pentony, Tasc head of policy. The collection is available as a free download at CARL O'BRIEN