Address by the Minister for European Affairs, Paschal Donohoe TD to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Berlin

7th February, 2014

Ireland – a committed member of the European Union:

In the early 1950s, Heinrich Boll, travelled to Ireland; a trip which inspired his book, ‘Irish Journal’. On first setting eyes on our shores, Boll wrote:

‘Seagulls greeted it, the gray silhoutte of Dublin became visible, vanished again, churches, monuments, docks, a gasometer, tentative wisps of smoke from a few fireplaces’.

On his return 13 years later, his impression was that:

‘Ireland has leaped over a century and a half and caught up with another five’.

It is of leaping, of huge changes, that were previously unimaginable, and the direct challenges that these changes pose for governments that I will speak today.

I will do this by addressing a number of themes.

First, how change through globalisation creates a contemporary rationale for the EU.

Second, the change that has taken place in Ireland.

Third, the changes and potential changes that await Ireland and the Union.

All changed, changed utterly

In the globalised world of today, change is happening at an extraordinary rate. The words of our own William Butler Yeats, as he reflected on events of significance to Ireland, writing ‘all changed, changed utterly’ have never been more fitting for the world than they are today.

This is created by globalisation, which, as defined by Martin Wolf, is ‘movement in the direction of greater integration….a necessary consequence [of which is]…the increased impact of economic changes in one part of the world on what happens in the others’.

It is the Industrial Revolution of our time.

However this deeper integration is not thrust or inflicted upon us. It is not an imposition of an anonymous other.

It is a natural consequence of the human tendencies and desires to communicate and trade, amplified to a world level by technology. Due to this change, the world has become a smaller place.

Depending on interdependence

This deeper interconnection has yielded huge benefits.

Since 1950, global exports have grown by 6% per year.

European per-head incomes have increased by 49% since 1980.

This integration has had extremely important political consequences.

Thomas Friedman famously developed his ‘golden arches theory of conflict prevention’ – the concept that no two countries that have a McDonald’s have been to war since a McDonald’s was set up in either state.

And while I do not subscribe to the fact that chicken mc-nuggets keep warring factions at bay, there is a profound truth in the concept that countries that have strong economic links are very unlikely to go to war with each other.

This is a European truth. The very premise of the European Union; born as it was out of the aftermath of devastation. The aspirations of the architects of the Union strove to bring nations closer together and to minimise the potential for war. Their success is indisputable.

Risk and Globalisation

The economic crisis has pointed to other consequences of globalisation. We must address how the economic proceeds of global integration are allocated. For example, the World Bank recently estimated that 4 million children live in extreme poverty.

Interdependence can also enable the spread of risk.

A problem somewhere has the potential to be a problem anywhere. The velocity and scale of risk has accelerated.

This is not just confined to economics. The spread of diseases, such as avian flu, and the consequences of climate change all demonstrate that inter-dependence can create deep challenges, in addition to the great benefits that I earlier emphasised.

Ulrich Beck, the German sociologist, has described this as the ‘might’ society; what might happen if a crisis strikes, if the markets collapse and the unthinkable happens? The non-knowing, as he puts it ‘washes all known landmarks away’.

The ceaseless efforts of governments to re-establish ‘landmarks’ creates the new contemporary rationale for the Union.

Contemporary rationale for the EU

Only by working together can we manage this interconnection and change to our benefit.

Only by working together can we minimise risk and maximise certainty.

That is what the EU offers. The ability to structure interdependence through values and the rule of law.

This contemporary rationale is built on the grounds of utility. However, the foundations of this argument rest on the overwhelming need to maintain peace and security on our continent.

Rationale for Irish membership
This is profoundly relevant to Ireland. We have always been a committed member of the European Union. The benefits of our membership are clear and strong.

Economically – when we joined, our average income was significantly below the then European average. Despite recent difficulties, it is now greater than the current average.

Socially – Union membership has allowed, required or inspired better educational opportunities, a cleaner environment and vital progress in areas such as gender equality and workers’ rights.

Politically – enabling an extraordinary transformation in our relations with the United Kingdom and with our country leading seven Presidencies of the Council of the European Union.

However, our membership of the Union has not all been plain sailing; the outcome of a number of EU referenda held in Ireland over the years is testament to that. There is also regular and robust debate about the role the Union plays in national affairs. That said, the majority of citizens support the EU and see it as a force for positive change within Ireland.

Irish changes

That said, membership of EU offers a foundation upon which national prosperity can be built. Of itself it is not a guarantee of prosperity.

Ireland has been through our most difficult period in living memory. We are faced with an unemployment crisis. Our people have made huge sacrifices to respond to massive budgetary difficulty.

But the Irish people have shown extraordinary resilience in their response:

By implementing a fiscal adjustment equivalent to 20% of our national income.

By improving unit labour costs by a forecasted 21% against the Eurozone average.

By our public and civil servants fundamentally changing how they work while their wages were substantially reduced.

These difficult changes have yielded some important positive changes while we work hard to secure further progress.

Irish bond yields have reduced by ten percentage points. Almost 60,000 jobs were created last year with our monthly unemployment rate falling for 19 months in a row.

All of this enabled us to be the first country to successfully exit an EU/IMF programme.

But we are not there yet. Much remains to be done. Our levels of unemployment are still unacceptably high and my Government will continue to work tirelessly to reduce them further.

I want to emphasise this commitment. We will pursue the agenda of driving our competitiveness, restoring our national finances and increasing investment in our economy. Why? Because we still have too many unemployed and because we must ensure that the huge sacrifices made by the Irish people deliver a more secure and certain future.

I want to conclude with what remains to be done and some changes or potential changes that matter to Ireland. These are in the areas of the protection of Union values and the British debate on Union membership.

An Irish consequence to a British debate
As a representative of a country that votes frequently on our relationship with Europe, I absolutely respect the debate underway in the United Kingdom. I also believe:

That the European Union is stronger with the UK as a strong and committed member.

Such a referendum on EU membership has strategic consequences for Ireland. This is due to our sharing a land border with the UK, our shared interests in Northern Ireland and the scale of our trading relationship.

There are Irish consequences to this British debate.

Ireland has, when necessary, made different strategic decisions to the UK towards the EU and in the EU. Our membership of the euro is a clear example of this. Based on our national interest, Ireland will continue to do so.

EU membership was an essential element in the progress Ireland has made. This Government is determined that our continued membership of the Union will play an equally essential part in our journey in the future.

Union of values

Within this pursuit of banking unions, currency unions and the single market, we must never lose sight of the cornerstone of the Union; that we are first and foremost a Union of values. These values centre on democracy, the rule of law, respect for diversity and the search for inclusivity within an EU of nearly half a billion citizens.

The practical expression of these values are the freedoms enshrined in Union membership; the movement of goods, capital, services and people.

These qualities are a core element of the DNA of modern Ireland;

As a country which is the most globalised nation in the western world, and the second most globalised nation overall;

As a nation that continues to live and work overseas and allow others to do the same in our State.

The maintenance of these freedoms enshrined in Union membership is paramount. They create an intricate deal – a grand bargain – which is at the core of the Union.

Their erosion runs the risk of the entire architecture weakening.

These freedoms are articulated through our existing Treaties. The maintenance of these Treaties and the full use of all they offer provides the essential framework for addressing the change that I earlier emphasised.

Value of Unions

I have already emphasised the benefits and challenges of globalisation and how this provides a contemporary rationale for the EU.

Support for this world view is essential for a small country, embedded economically and culturally in global integration. If this rationale applies for nations like Ireland, I also believe that it is crucial to the future prosperity of larger Member States.

A Union which allows all countries, small and big, to develop in unison and have their voices heard, is a Union that will show the same durability in the future, as it has done in the past.

To do so, we must advocate what we have constructed.

Advocate the strengths of the Union, of how it helps us all succeed in a way that no country could on its own. In doing so, we must be vigilant in not giving the middle ground to those who have an open agenda of destroying the Union that generations have built. The centre must hold.

In the words of your very own Konrad Adenauer: ‘When the world seems large and complex, we need to remember that great world ideals all begin in some home neighbourhood’.

This is our neighbourhood; an Irish neighbourhood, a German neighbourhood and because of this, the neighbourhood of the European Union.