Unaccountable forces removed from democratic control are today in control in the European Union, President Michael D Higgins has declared in one of the most pointed speeches of his term in office.
“The present institutional structure of the European Union can be seen as reflecting the distribution of political power in recent decades, decades that have seen the emergence of a new financialised global order, where unaccountable agencies and forces removed from democratic oversight or control are in the ascendancy,” he said.
He made the speech as he opened the Royal Irish Academy's Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society. The centre is a joint venture between University College Cork and Waterford Institute of Technology.
The anti-austerity street protests in many EU states, he said, could be seen as “not just the mechanical result of deplorable levels of unemployment and deteriorating material circumstances”, but also a reflection of a “breakdown of trust between citizens and their institutions”.
Deep injury has been inflicted on people’s moral outlook in recent decades by an extraordinarily narrow version of economics which had cut ties with its ethical and philosophical roots, Mr Higgins said.
European leaders must remain "attentive and open", he added saying, "a social view of Europe demands that our fellow citizens should never be seen merely as 'consumers' of public policies, driven by a sense of their sectional interests."
He was confident, he said, that the new educational centre “will contribute in an important way, over the years to come, in tackling the deep injuries inflicted upon our moral imaginations by the extraordinary ascendancy in recent decades of what is an extraordinarily narrow version of economics”.
This connection “of economy, ecology and ethics” and “of policy, theory and method”, had been at the centre of his presidency, “because I believe that they are essential to reading and understanding the current situation in which we find ourselves”.
Referring to upcoming commemorations in Ireland, he said: "One can legitimately wonder, for example, what shape would our economy and society have assumed, had our fellow citizens kept alive, during Ireland's recent economic boom, the cultural, philosophical, political and moral motivations which underpinned the Irish national revival, or the spirit of other historical movements for social and political reform such as the co-operative movement.
“We neglected the contribution of the co-operative instinct to our social cohesion,” he said.