Why EU adds up for Ireland
Prof Dermot Keogh looks at how Irish third level studies have enjoyed huge development and strategic investment since joining Europe in 1973.
May 9 was named Europe Day as it commemorates the historic declaration by French foreign minister, Robert Schuman in 1950, proposing the establishment of a High Authority over French and German coal and steel production — the traditional sinews of war.
Persuasive arguments for a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) had been sent to him on May 4, 1950, five days before, by another architect of European integration, the French civil servant, Jean Monnet, who wrote: “Wherever we look in the present world situation we see nothing but deadlock. … From such a situation, there is only one way of escape, concrete, resolute action on a limited but decisive point, bringing about on this point a fundamental change, and gradually modifying the very terms of all the problems.”
Both the Monnet memorandum and the Schuman declaration were examples of the radical thinking that led, not without difficulty or internal opposition, to the signing of the Treaty of Rome, on March 25, 1957, and the emergence of the European Economic Community (EEC) of the original six [France, Germany, Italy and the three Benelux countries], and the nine in 1973 [adding Ireland, Great Britain and Denmark] and Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1980s and to 28 members in 2013 [ see the ‘Timeline’ panel, below].
Soon, perhaps, to be 27 with the regrettable departure of the United Kingdom.
The process of EU enlargement, including the reunification of Germay, has integrated former dictatorships, like Greece, Spain and Italy, and the command economies of liberated Eastern bloc countries, into a democratic community which is intent upon deepening integration still further. The disruption due to the latter phases of enlargement was minimal on the functioning of the EU and the impact of membership on countries formerly under Soviet control has been positive and profound, replacing authoritarian rule with democracy.
Today, on Europe Day, 60 years after the singing of the Treaty of Rome, the Irish have much to celebrate. As a citizen of the union, I can live, work and study in any of the member states. There, my fundamental rights are respected and my constitutional entitlements guaranteed. I don’t need a visa to travel to member states and there I can, in most cases, use a common currency.
Moreover, I can fly at an affordable cost, thanks to the work of European institutions which broke the international airline cartel that held citizens to ransom charging outlandish prices and forcing passengers to stay a Saturday night to qualify for a cheaper fair. The creation of an EU society with open borders — and the free movement of goods, capital and labour — is the work mainly of a postwar political leadership with vision.
Growing up as I did in the 1950s, I witnessed a country dying before my very eyes. There was an annual haemorrhage of emigration to Britain which often included my family members and friends. Ireland had expanded its political independence, declaring itself a republic in 1949, but the economic reality was very different. By the mid-1950s its economy was in a dire state and questions were raised about the sustainability of the Irish nation-state. Its largely rural economy remained a provider of cheap labour (in the form of emigration) and unprocessed goods (predominantly live cattle) to the urban-industrial British market. London’s cheap food import policy was a structural constraint. Dublin’s fiscal and monetary policies were largely a re- flection of the British model and mores, and the direct linkage of its currency to sterling limited flexibility.
Irish industrial protectionism had failed miserably by whatever yardstick one chooses to measure it in the post-war world. By the mid-1950s it seemed as if the Irish national project was on the line unless economic growth could be delivered and at this point the British market no longer seemed to be a safe for the future as its economic growth was sluggish relative to the dramatic growth rates achieved by the members of the EEC, propelled by a buoyant West Germany economy. While the EEC Six enjoyed an “economic miracle”, Ireland asphyxiated behind a protectionist economic wall.
In the early 1960s, the taoiseach, Seán Lemass, advised by Dr Ken Whitaker, applied to join the EEC but failed to do so when the British application was blocked in early 1963 by Charles de Gaulle. Irish membership of the EEC, which came in 1973, accomplished another phase in the country’s struggle for independence. Paradoxically, through interdependence, this country surged forward in the 1970s — in spite of the conflict in Northern Ireland — reducing its dependence on British markets by revolutionising Irish agriculture and developing an agribusiness with access to a large continental market. Membership obliged a reluctant Irish state to introduce equal pay for women. The civil service was internationalised through the new demands of working within the EEC. Ireland, led by the minister for foreign affairs, Garret FitzGerald, played a role in developing common foreign policy positions on international questions. Most of all, membership changed the relationship between Ireland and the UK. Both countries, now equal members of the EEC, had to abide by community norms.
At a personal level, membership of the EEC holds a great significance for me. It provided an educational opportunity I would not have had in Ireland. I received a doctoral scholarship to the European University Institute when it opened in 1976.
Later, teaching at UCC, I saw the transformative power of the Erasmus/Socrates programmes, funding the mobility of tens of thousands of students to cross from one member state to study in another and to have their work credited in their home university. There were EU funding opportunities for transnational research consortia at third level which gave successive generations of Irish students an opportunity to complete doctorates and post-doctoral research.
I witnessed the linguistic revolution in Irish universities — where the interaction between students from different countries helped to improve language competences and introduce students to new languages other than the narrow range being taught traditionally at third level in Ireland.
Legacy of peace
Just how far the European continent has developed since the end of the Second World War in 1945 may be lost on the citizens of a union, many of whom have come to take so much for granted. Does this spring from an ignorance of a contested past in Europe? Authoritarianism, endemic in European culture, needs to be combatted in every generation. Knowledge of the continent’s history will help successive generations to continue to defeat and contain the seductive voices of radical populism.
Tragically, the UK will leave the EU. The British prime minister, Theresa May’s letter that started her country’s formal withdrawal reflects the poverty of English nationalism. She wrote that the referendum “was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination”. Scotland did not vote to leave. Northern Ireland did not vote to leave. Objectively speaking, where was there a loss of British self-determination over 40 years of membership?
The EU will be weaker as a consequence of Britain leaving. But a Britain outside the EU will yet confound the rhetoric of the Brexit lobby by leaving the country much weaker economically and carrying less clout internationally.
Unquestionably, Ireland faces a hopefully manageable nightmare in an unchartered context of Brexit. However, the departure of the British may be of far less consequence to the EU if President Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric and introduces an era of U.S. mercantilism, and a foreign policy isolationism which could yet have a serious impact on Washington’s continued commitment to regional defence pacts around the world, Nato in the case of Europe.
Jean Monnet wrote in May 1950, as quoted above: “Wherever we look in the present world situation we see nothing but deadlock.” Whatever the future, Ireland’s national interests and the prosperity of its citizens will continue to be best protected through ongoing active membership of the EU.
Dr Jimmy Murphy and Katie Lynch, both of the Beaufort Institute, UCC, in 2013 with then Research & Innovation Minister Sean Sherlock, discussing their LeanWind project, a €15m Horizon 2020-funded initiative to reduce costs for offshore wind farm...