To Be Part of Europe Project, Yes or No?

The ongoing debate of whether the euro zone can remain as it is intact of all existing countries and possible accession states is the question that each national leader is pondering over.  For the people watching there is much confusion as to possible outcomes.  If there were a referendum in Ireland on any new agreement, the mood on the ground would be more negative than positive towards such a vote.

Our experiences of referendums have never been clear cut, Maastricht and Lisbon needing two national votes to be passed.  Our apathy to changing the statue quo on anything in Ireland has been derived out of suspicion, some based on fact some based on speculation.  Which ever way you analyse this another referendum will not be any clearer to the voting public.

There are bigger questions, admittedly posed to throw our status into question, which has never been answered in a comprehensive manner.  Do we as an Irish Nation want to be part of the EU of not.  This question should not strike at the heart of our ambitions, expectations, or allegiance to the EU project.  We can be united with our neighbours within the EU without being minor partners of the EU.  The arguments for and against are many, varied and valid.  Is it better to be within and fight your corner or be outside fighting from the fringes?  No defective answer can be acclaimed.  The E.U. concept has significant merits, however like the role out of any initiative it has flawed delivery.  Was it primarily a financial union sought or something more federal aligned they were looking for?

Financial union in itself is a moot point for many, having to give up fiscal control to viewed foreign authorities, even though our appointees / government would be at the heart, never thrilled the business community in Ireland.  Dare I suggest that it was greater than the fiscal union idea that has brought Europe to were it is.

As with any partnership there needs to be equal status for all members regardless of their means.  Unfortunately this was never really thought through.  The dominant powers in the markets e.g. German & French economies wanted a greater say in how structures should be managed.  They wanted to create a somewhat unequal partnership, were Ireland as a small nation would have less voting rights that them, due to the size of their economies.  Coupled with the ever niggling of the U.K. in exercising their veto the project has seen this project rumble from problem to problem.  The UK for their part never liked the idea of giving up control of their currency as they can increase or decrease the pound value dependent on market pressures.  The euro cant.  The UK whilst having problems of political infighting and their commitment to the EU project has always been overshadowed by the “are you in or out” statement.  They want the best from the EU yet want to give up little by way of collateral to defend it remaining the overriding power structure.  They do however have autonomy.  Autonomy to buy into what serves them well and opt out of what doesn’t.  Yes legal frameworks have not been fully implemented as the European community desired, again the UK maverick outlook on this doesn’t affect their mindset or sense of britishness.

Ireland accession in the early 70’s was hailed as building a strong bond with the powerful which would bring significant dividend to us, indeed the wider European community.  It has, but at what cost? Again the partnership model as envisaged then (70’s) was of equal share, unlike now a serious imbalance in 2011 speak.  Speaking to people I hear rhetoric such as “…the Germans want to rule Europe without firing a single shot…” and “…the French only want to ensure their own banks don’t fail, because they are over exposed in Ireland etc…”

These comment don’t really go to the heart of the issue.  Not to say they are correct or incorrect, or even misguided and silly arguments.  They are what some people feel. The Irish have now been forced into looking like the whipping boys (girls) of Europe.  We do as we are told given the bail out we received.  Our fiscal destination is controlled by large euro powers and left to the our national government to implement what these powers want.  Fiscal control in one thing, what more will be on the cards if we revolt.  Would we get the Greece treatment? 

Watching news broadcasts over the past number of months, you get the growing sense that the EU powers do not want to see this project sink, more for self interest than any resounding common allegiance for their neighbours or letting the ‘family break up’.  This, a cynical, simplistic view! This may also be of comfort to the UK who have witnessed the power shift with interest.  Commentators frown on the UK standpoint.  Maybe the UK are positioning themselves not only as some saviour of the project, but also as the ones who kept the project from being dominated by Franco German interests.  This hasn’t been a view shared by anybody I know, yet as with many political stunts there is always an underlying motive.  The UK motive may be as simple as keeping the euro sceptic on board, but I feel that there is more to it than just this. 

The substantive question of do we want, indeed need, to be part of Europe is a simple question in the light of the above.  That answer is yes.  Yes, but with the precondition of complete and unconditional equality.  The benefits to Ireland are numerous.  I wont comment on the Lisbon message rolled out by all political parties bar one, to vote for “jobs, jobs, jobs”  What I will say, being on a border region within our own Island, we have benefited more than lost.  We should have NOT lost anything like we did, but the flip side of the argument was that we did get structural, peace building, infrastructural funds which may have never got.

The various clauses Ireland got enshrined such as VRT etc have only furthered the sceptic in us.  If this, most unique, project falls, will we as a country be thrown into more chaos than is the current situation.  Maybe, maybe not.  The EU/IMF bailout would be addressed differently in that bond holders would not be the overriding concern.  The repayment scheme might also be details at the discretion of our government and not the other way around.  The “punt” may arise again.  It wasn’t a great currency before, but in some small way it was ours and we felt we had money when holding a twenty pound note.

I’m not advocating we leave or run the risk of being banished from this project.  But we MUST affirm our status as an equal partner.  We must assert ourselves as Europeans from Ireland.  We must re-establish our governmental rights as a nation, a sovereign nation.  To finish this comment, I will return to my mantra of we MUST stand up for our nation and PEOPLE first before all others.