Irish support for UK position on EU but not for Brexit
Irish Times/IpsosMRBI Opinion poll confirms strong support for EU membership
Irish people have considerable sympathy for the ambition of British Prime Minister David Cameron to secure changes in EU rules that would keep the United Kingdom within the EU. But that is as far as it goes. Three-quarters of those questioned in the latest Irish Times/IpsosMRBI opinion poll would prefer the UK to remain within the EU. But, if the planned referendum is lost, a similar proportion favours Ireland’s continued membership.
Dislocation of linkages between the two economies is an obvious cause for concern and statements of support for Mr Cameron’s objectives and continued UK membership by Taoiseach Enda Kenny reflect that anxiety.
Likely damage to the cohesion of the UK in the event of starkly different referendum results from different regions complicates matters further. EU changes sought by Mr Cameron attract broad agreement in Ireland though they may have negative consequences for us. The qualified view of voters is that if they prove acceptable to other member states, they should be implemented.
The euro crisis, the imposition of austerity measures and decisions by Germany and France that pre-empted the role of the European Commission have done considerable damage to the concept of solidarity.
Here, while support for EU membership remains strong, public appetite for further integration has waned and greater emphasis is being laid on the national interest. Public support for controlling free movement of workers from other member states and limiting their welfare benefits – matters of concern in advance of EU expansion in 2004 – has grown. Mr Cameron has chosen to concentrate on these issues in an effort to neutralise Eurosceptics within his ranks.
Whether the concessions being sought can be agreed without EU Treaty change remains uncertain. They would weaken any impetus towards greater EU integration to the benefit of national governments.
Resistance is likely to emerge from within the 10 new member states, based on demands for equal treatment, and Germany has objected to limitations being placed on workers rights. In spite of that, by a margin of two-to-one, Irish voters approve of a ban on the free movement of workers from new member states until their economies develop.
Still larger majorities are in favour of national parliaments being given additional powers to veto EU laws and to opt out of any deeper EU integration. The matter that attracted most hostility, however, involves payment of benefits to the children of migrant workers who remain in their home countries. Some 70 per cent of those questioned wanted such payments to end. Concerns put forward by Mr Cameron attract a great deal of popular support. But do they constitute sufficient reason to leave the EU? On the basis of the Irish response, they don’t.