Following Brexit, Is it time for Ireland to examine its own relationship with the EU?
The fallout from Brexit has only just begun, ensuring that the political chaos and economic uncertainty deriving from last Friday’s (24th June) shock result will remain a prominent topic on the global agenda for some time.
The result itself surprised many, including some of the Vote Leave contingent but for others it was deemed a strong indicator of a societal shift and growing mistrust against the European Union (EU) as a whole.
Prominent Remain supporters and EU bureaucrats have since tried to provide a rationale for the referendum result by claiming that sections within the UK media and parliament purposely mislead the UK voters about the perceived benefits of leaving the EU. Some have argued that an over concentration on the topic of migration and other well documented untruths have created a type of “EU political scapegoat” for poorly devised domestic UK policy. However, the negative maligning of the EU in British politics and society is not a new phenomenon and has existed for decades to the merriment of a growing dissenter base.
Is it now time for Ireland to re-evaluate its own relationship with the EU, to investigate whether such euro scepticism exists to levels anywhere near that of our Brexit neighbours and to determine whether such mistrust is unduly fabricated or appropriately warranted?
A Brief History
Following World War II, a new movement of unity was envisaged by influential thinkers at the time, such as Britain’s Winston Churchill and French Minister Robert Schuman, who aspired to “Make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible “. The core object was to create collaborative peace in Europe again and avoid future tragedies of war.
Such unity of thinking led to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC) formed in 1951 and 1958 respectively by six countries namely Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Ireland and the United Kingdom along with Denmark joined the then renamed European Communities (EC) in 1973. Whilst the European Union (EU) as it is known today was established in 1993 following the Maastricht Treaty, another seismic point in its history was the introduction of the Euro currency in 2002.
Since its humble beginnings, the EU has grown expediently in size due to the accession of new member states totalling 28 countries presently, albeit 27 countries once the UK officially leaves.
The benefits of EU membership?
The key advantages for member states is that the EU operates a single market which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between those member states. Therefore, member states are free to trade with other members at no additional taxation, while their respective citizens are open to many more work and educational opportunities.
Another advantage is the significant funding available from the EU for agriculture, community projects and all levels of business and industry within its member states.
From a legal viewpoint, the EU is often criticised as being overly regulatory in nature with too many onerous legal rules and polices, which hold supremacy over domestic law. Despite such reservations, there is little denial however, that many of the legal protections afforded and enjoyed by all citizens of each member state, has either emanated or has been greatly enhanced through EU membership and the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Furthermore, the historical basis upon which the EU was founded, as referenced above, is as pertinent today as when initially envisaged at the end to the Second World War. With the continual and growing instability in the Middle East coupled with a tense period of Russian relations- a strong united Europe based on the promotion and protection of peace, is far too valuable a benefit to not embrace during these testing times.
Despite the array of actual and perceived benefits of EU membership, dissent and scepticism has always existed to some degree throughout the EU’s history and has significantly increased in recent years. A multi-nation survey from Pew Research Center published in June this year in anticipation of the Brexit vote, found that Euroscepticism was on the rise across Europe with the majority of voters in three of the largest countries, namely Britain, France and Spain viewing the EU unfavourably.
There was however, an overwhelming sentiment from the nine out of the ten countries surveyed, that Brexit would be a bad thing for the EU.
Although Ireland wasn’t part of this particular survey, there are still many prominent instances in our history where voter relations with the EU, could be fairly termed as strained.
The Nice Treaty (which reformed the institutional structure of the EU) was initially rejected in June 2001 by the Irish electorate, a decision which was later reversed in a second referendum in 2002. A similar scenario occurred during the Lisbon Treaty (which amended both the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Rome) with a rejection in 2008 and reversal in 2009, following concessions.
Following the devastating economic crash in 2008 and subsequent bailout negotiations with the EU, via the European Monetary Fund (EMF), the austerity deal agreed has been a primary reason for the increase in EU scepticism in an Irish context. The political and economic bruising the Irish Government and citizens experienced at that time, helped to create a damning image of the EU and its institutions.
The EMF’s subsequent dealings with Greece during the Greek’s economic woes, fuelled further anger and criticisms against the EU project. Accusations levelled at the time and still prevalent ranged from deals being too draconian, unjust and too federally focused at the expense of citizen rights and well-being.
Such cynicism and poor voter sentiment towards the EU, has been the catalyst for the substantial support enjoyed by a new wave of invigorated far-right and far-left leaning parties throughout Europe. With such a growing cynicism and anger towards the EU following such recent economic hardships, it is understandable why certain political factions have started to question the necessity of EU membership and thereby lament nostalgically on the subject of greater sovereign rule.
The prominent Vote Leave campaigners in the UK, such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, were successfully able to utilise such hardwired anti-EU rhetoric whist strengthening such positioning through the strategic cultivation of newly charged fears. I.e. widespread migration.
It’s still far too early to predict how detrimental or how successful Brexit will be for the UK and the EU as a whole. Despite certain valid criticisms against the EU and necessary calls for policy reform, it should not be forgotten by any member state what tremendous benefits membership brings on a national and international platform.
Although there seems to be no substantive appetite or demand for Ireland to follow in the footsteps of the UK (for the foreseeable future at least), it is important for the Irish Government and our people to evaluate what exactly EU membership means to us as a nation and as a civil society. This requires clear and constructive communication of membership benefits, as well as drawbacks and challenges, to develop an informed electorate with the necessary measured understanding to invoke change; if required.
This will in turn enhance our ability to embrace the salient benefits and exploit the many opportunities that are still available through our EU membership, factors which now seem more real and relevant following Brexit.
J.O.S Solicitors provide tailored business and corporate law advice and is also one of the only law firms in Ireland, providing dedicated Public Affairs and Lobbying services for commercial businesses, trade and professional bodies, community groups and charitable organisations. For more information please contact us
Jason O’ Sullivan, is a Solicitor and Public Affairs Consultant at J.O.S Solicitors
This publication is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional public affairs advice. No liability is accepted by J.O.S Solicitors for any action taken or not taken in reliance on the information set out in this publication. Any and all information is subject to change and professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication.