Address to the Open Europe Conference

17th January, 2014

photoAs the debate continues in the UK about that country’s future relationship within Europe, I travelled to London to address a conference which was hosted by the EU reform think-tank, Open Europe. I did this for two reasons. The first is that I believe it is important for both sides of the debate to be represented at such forums. Second, I think that conveying Ireland’s EU experience is helpful in framing and advancing the debate.

Joined on the panel by the UK Minister for Europe, David Lidington, and Austria’s former State Secretary for European Affairs, Reinhold Lopatka, we each set our country’s position in terms of engagement with, understanding of and feelings towards the EU.

I told of how positive the experience of EU membership has been for Ireland, since we joined 40 years ago, and how supportive this and all previous Irish governments have been of the Union during that time. I also expressed confidence in the continuation of that support long into the future.

I recounted how our membership of the Union has benefitted us, not least in terms of how it has positively impacted on our relationship with the UK, and how, despite the fact that Ireland has, in the past, differed in the choices we have made in respect of Europe (joining the euro not least among them), it is my firm view that the European Union is stronger with the UK in it.

As our nearest neighbor, the links between Britain and Ireland are manifold; geographical, historical, economic and political, and our membership of the Union has allowed that relationship to grow and prosper; resetting, in many ways, the terms of our engagement. As our main trading partner, there is little doubt that an exit by Britain (or a ‘Brexit’ to which it is now commonly referred) could have significant consequences for Ireland, as well as for the UK.

I believe that engaging in this debate is vital. So too is using the tools that are already in place which enable Member States to most effectively make their views known.

In my view, the European Union should be seen more like family and less like a business; when presented with challenges and difficulties we need to make it work not cast it aside in the hope of finding a new one. This is in all of our interests.

The debate that is underway in the UK is an important one. And one in which I am happy to engage. The European Union, and indeed the Single Market, afford countries opportunities that simply wouldn’t be otherwise possible. Continued membership and robust participation in the Union is, I believe, the most effective platform in which to advance Irish, and indeed British, interests now and well into the future.