Euroscepticism and the Conference on the Future of Europe

Sir, – Stephen Collins calls for an informed public debate in Ireland about the future of the European Union ("Euroscepticism is a very real part of Irish politics", Opinion & Analysis, May 21st). This is welcome. However, the content of his article suggests this debate should be conducted within narrow parameters and that it should lead to a predetermined outcome.

He deems referendums that result in rejections of EU treaties as “disasters” which this debate should be configured to eliminate. Imagine if an Irish Government established a civic dialogue process to eliminate the risk of the electorate having the temerity to vote No in future referendums.

He describes the process of running referendums on treaties more than once (as with the Nice and Lisbon treaties) as an indignity “the country then had to suffer”.

As the Lisbon Treaty was an exercise in salvaging the wreckage of the European constitution after the French and Dutch electorates voted No to that document, one could conclude that the Irish constitutional order is democratically more robust.

Our Government does not have the latitude to set aside unexpected referendum results and must secure the assent of the majority when delegating the State’s external sovereignty. The exercise of that constitutional order should be a source of pride. I as a citizen have never considered being asked to vote an indignity.

Stephen Collins contends that “Events in the UK have demonstrated what can happen when anti-EU sentiment is allowed to go unchallenged.” He gives no consideration to an alternative viewpoint: could Brexit have been avoided had the EU been more responsive to legitimate criticism from within? If so, how should that lesson be unpacked?

I sincerely hope those convening the Conference on the Future of Europe will take a broader and more open view than that set out in your columnist’s article on how this debate should be conducted. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Stephen Collins labels us as Eurosceptics and accuses us of engaging in “populist attacks” on the European Union. His article discusses the Conference on the Future of Europe and cites the Taoiseach’s recent comments that “a significant proportion of our representation in the European Parliament constantly attacks the Union as an elite conspiracy against the people . . . and blame the Union for everything”.

Stephen Collins arrogantly and offensively calls those Irish voters who rejected the Nice and Lisbon Treaties by exercising their democratic right “slow learners”, and the implication of his article is that people like us and the views of the people who voted for us have no place in the European Parliament.

We won’t claim to speak on behalf of Luke “Ming” Flanagan or Sinn Féin who are well able to speak up for themselves, although it is quite remarkable that anyone would view Sinn Féin as Eurosceptic, particularly in relation to Brexit.

But we will defend ourselves, our position in relation to the EU and the very constructive and positive work we have done since we were democratically elected to the European Parliament by the people of Dublin and Ireland South.

Stephen Collins fails to define Euroscepticism, but we presume he means a doctrine that advocates a disengagement or exit from the EU, since surely he tolerates the concept of criticism of acts, decisions and policies of the EU, even if he can’t abide criticism of membership itself, although the latter is also a legitimate political position that people are entitled to hold.

We are of course very critical of EU decisions and policies and of many aspects of the treaties – we make no secret of this fact. Neoliberal dogma is baked into the treaties. However, saying that this criticism automatically makes us Eurosceptic in the sense of seeking an exit from or collapse of the EU is a bit like saying that if we criticise the Government, we are sceptical of all forms of government. That is patently ridiculous. Nobody accused the Taoiseach of being an anarchist when he spent all those years on the Opposition benches criticising Fine Gael.

Our voting record clearly shows we are not Eurosceptic in this sense. We do not have a blanket policy of voting against proposals that involve new EU competences.

While we may have certain reservations and questions about the proposed new basket of EU own resources, we support a common consolidated corporation tax, a financial transaction tax and a digital tax. We voted in favour of a European public prosecutor’s office in order to strengthen the fight against fraud in the European Union. We support an extended mandate for the European Medicines Agency, to mention but a few.

Your columnist, reflecting comments made by the Taoiseach, laments the fact that “the public often has little understanding of what goes on at EU level”. We agree with this sentiment. That’s why we record and release a weekly podcast, “I4C Trouble with Daly and Wallace”, in which we discuss the events of the week in the parliament. We were the ones who tabled a call for a European Parliament TV to promote public awareness of and engagement with the work of the parliament.

We both sit on four parliamentary committees. Our attendance records at committees and at plenary sessions are second to none, and, a website providing a quantitative analysis of parliament activity, has consistently listed both of us among the top five MEPs, excluding the president of the parliament and various chairs, in terms of plenary speaking contributions. We have tabled hundreds of amendments to individual legislative proposals, and, for example, tabled exactly 86 amendments to the European Commission’s EU climate law proposal to try to entirely reimagine the proposal as a genuine decarbonisation strategy.

We are not Eurosceptic. We are internationalists, and believe in a peaceful and socially just Europe. We want a Europe of peace and plenty, not a Europe of war and austerity. We oppose the brand of blind Europhilia that promotes EU integration at the expense of social good, that ignores the fact that the EU is primarily a neoliberal project founded on the European Semester Programme and the Stability and Growth Pact, led by big business rather than citizens.

In the European Parliament we challenge militarism and fiscal restraints, and promote improving environmental and labour protections and defending fundamental rights and the rights of migrants.

If Stephen Collins and the Taoiseach want to retain their European Union, they are going to have to grow up, put aside their paternalism and learn to accept criticism of their own ideologies. They will need to learn to respect democratic decisions even when they don’t agree with them, instead of dismissing the electorate as “slow learners”. – Yours, etc,



European Parliament,