Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs

Task Force Report on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and Doing Less More Efficiently: Discussion

2:00 pm

Dr. Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan:

Senator Richmond and another member mentioned communication and he suggested that the European Commission needed to be less balanced and should fight more to defend the case of Europe and what it does. I would agree but at the same time, at national level, domestic politicians do not do that. I have heard it in Ireland and France many times. During the economic crisis, I heard plenty of extreme criticism of the European Commission which I think, quite honestly, went overboard. In France, it was exactly the same. The European semester involved France offering further structural reforms. They were required but the French finance Minister absolutely rejected them and stated that France is a sovereign country, when actually it is signed up to the European semester. We are meant to implement those rules yet we have one of the biggest countries, and a founding member state, contradicting them publicly through its finance Minister. That is not the right way.

In terms of the Commission being less balanced, I totally agree but I do think domestic politicians have a big role to play, not only in fighting for Europe but in educating the citizens as well. This brings me to the schools programme that the Chairman mentioned. I was financed by the European Commission to develop a schools programme at primary level. The blue star programme currently in place is not child friendly or teacher friendly, in my opinion. Teachers are interested in Brexit and can hear what is happening, but have no knowledge and do not know how to go about devising their lesson plans and so on. I have devised the programme with a primary school teacher and, as the Chairman mentioned, I have piloted it in three schools. My role is not to defend the European Union. My role, as an academic and a teacher, is to educate. I put out to them and we discussed the positives, the negatives, Brexit, Northern Ireland, and these kids are six, seven, 11 and 12 years old. It is amazing what questioning comes from them. I would say it is not from the parents because the parents know very little about the European Union in general. It is interesting to see their reasoning. Domestic politicians have a duty to educate citizens when it comes to understanding the role of the European Commission. In the Brexit debate, we heard claims that the European Commission imposes decisions on us. The European Commission does not do that; it makes proposals that are decided by the MEPs and the Council. That is a task which falls to domestic politicians.

To answer Deputy Haughey's point on how we are doing in terms of communicating Europe, and what this national Parliament can do, I was saying over lunch that I came to Dublin three or four years ago on Europe Day and I was shocked not to see the EU flag flying above the Dáil. Those are symbols that can trigger the European citizens' interest and make them wonder what is happening. Nobody knows about Europe Day or, by extension, about the different aspects of Ireland's engagement with the Union and so on. On that point, this national Parliament could do a lot better through symbolic actions but also through communication with the citizens.

There was a question about the 2004 enlargement. The Deputy was saying that up until the 2004 enlargement, there were quite similar members in the European Union and that the enlargement brought in a different group of countries. However, the economic crisis only hit older member states. Let us imagine the 2004 enlargement had not happened. The economic crisis would have hit Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy, exactly the same way, and the migration crisis would have just hit the borders closer to Italy, etc. I am not exactly sure why-----


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