FOR many reasons, the EU finds itself collectively looking to the future of the world’s largest economic bloc and reflecting on how the EU can better serve its citizens.
This is not a new phenomenon and such exercises have already resulted in the creation of new treaties, the expansion of competences and the continuation of cooperation.
As part of this process, a conference on the future of Europe is currently underway with panels of randomly selected citizens meeting with political and civic leaders to debate the future direction of the EU.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has posed the understandable question of how the EU can best work for its citizens in terms of healthcare? The ever-changing geopolitical sands lead us to consider the EU’s place in the world as the massive challenge of tackling the climate emergency shapes all discussions.
READ MORE: SNP Conference: Request to open border with UK after independence
I was honored to be appointed as one of four delegates representing the Irish Parliament in this consultative process, giving me another insight into the importance of EU membership to the place of the Ireland in the world as a small open republic.
Joining the EU and its predecessors has been totally transformative for Ireland. Although independent of the United Kingdom for more than 50 years whereas, according to the EEC, Ireland only acquired true independence at this stage; no longer entirely dependent on the UK in economic or social terms.
Irish exports to the UK were 55% in 1973, with the latest figure being closer to 10%. Ireland that joined the EEC is unrecognizable from today’s, an economic hole with overdependence on the food industry, which has seen tens of thousands of its best and brightest emigrate every year.
Membership of the EU has given Ireland unhindered access to the single market and access on favorable terms to many other markets beyond. EU funding has transformed Ireland’s roads, schools, community facilities and produced a highly skilled workforce to complement the ever-growing net immigration. Sectors such as pharmaceuticals, financial services, technology, digital and life sciences have emerged as major employers. For years, Irepand has been a net beneficiary of the EU in fiscal terms, but is now a net contributor. It is a badge of honor in the midst of economic development.
But perhaps Ireland’s societal progress during the period of European integration has been most striking. Ireland in 1973 was a cold place: homosexuality was illegal, women could be fired from their jobs for getting married or pregnant, abortion was illegal, divorce was illegal, the term illegitimate was in our constitution and the death penalty nominally remained in the statute books. While these changes are not limited to European membership, the influence has been massive.
READ MORE: Kent advisers reveal they have ‘contest’ over Universal Credit complaints
Within the EU, Ireland is an equal and has seen solidarity in action on numerous occasions, especially in the face of an English government pursuing the harshest of Brexits.
Despite the misleading comments from some, the future of Europe is bright and Ireland will be at the heart of it. The EU will once again expand and whatever path the Scottish people choose, Ireland’s experience must be seen as encouraging. Needless to say the light stays on.