Irish Independent op-ed: Voters must fight to defend EU from those set on its destruction

4th April, 2014

The European Parliament elections, which are just a few weeks away on 23rd May, will result in big changes across the EU. We will have a new Commission, a new Council President and it is expected that half of the incoming MEPs will be elected to the Parliament for the first time.


This European Parliament will also have increased power including in areas such as agriculture, energy policy, immigration and EU funds; things that make a real difference and have a real impact on our lives.


But why should we bother to vote? A recent poll carried out by Ipsos MORI European Pulse stated that 68% of Europeans feel that Europe is on the wrong track and that 60% feel that the EU has had a negative impact on their country and on their lives (Ireland was not among the ten countries surveyed for the poll).


The flip side was that 60% said they felt the EU has a positive impact on jobs and that only 19% would wish their country to leave the Union.


Sentiment, good or bad, in respect of the EU, will have an impact on how people vote in eight weeks’ time. And the rise in anti-EU parties across Europe does little other than to play on the immigration and welfare fraud fears of those finding it hardest to cope.


The economic crisis has sent shock waves across Europe. The concerns and frustrations felt by many about the pace of growth, lack of jobs and improvements to everyday lives are real.  But sending those to the Europe Parliament who thrive on the idea of tearing down the Union we have worked so hard to build is not the answer.


The predictions of the prophets of doom from the extremist Parties of the far left and far right are false. They did nothing to produce solutions to the problems faced by Europe when the economic crisis hit and there are no solutions from these quarters now.


The European Union has always offered small countries like Ireland the best prospect of addressing our difficulties and advancing our national interests. This continues to be the case.


In the years of our accession to the EU in 1973, our GDP was €15 billion. In 2012, it was over €145 billion. Notwithstanding the global economic downturn, this level of growth simply would not have been possible without our membership of the Union. Access to a single market of over 500 million consumers has allowed our agri-food and export services sectors to flourish and allowed us to compete with countries that dwarf us by comparison.


Of course, the EU is not perfect. And improvements are now being made to ensure that we learn from the mistakes of the past so that they are never again repeated.


The creation of a banking union, which will ensure that cost of banking failure is better dealt with and the completion of the single market, including the digital market, will help us to realise the full potential of the EU. This will help us to build a more stable, secure and productive future.


So too will directing the EU budget for the next seven years, which is almost €960 billion, towards growth and jobs. Between now and 2020, over €6 billion of EU funds will be targeted at addressing the scourge of youth unemployment and ensuring that our young people have the opportunities and choices that they deserve open to them.


All of this is because the EU is fundamentally about people. It has allowed peace and prosperity to reign in Europe since its foundation. It has allowed Ireland to transform from being one of the most closed economies in the world when we first joined, to the second most open economy in the world. It provides a platform through which our lives are improved and our values and freedoms are protected.


When we consider the situation in Ukraine and when we reflect on our own turbulent history in Europe, it is important that we acknowledge what our country has achieved within the EU and what the EU itself has achieved in a relatively short period of time.


The European Parliament is one of the largest democratic assemblies in the world. The decisions taken there affect us. It is time we stood up and defended what we have worked so hard to build with as much vigour as those whose goal it is to tear it down.


We have the power to determine the future direction of the EU. We have an obligation to ensure that that direction is in Ireland’s best interest.