Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Alliance Building to Strengthen the European Union (Resumed): European Council on Foreign Relations
I welcome our guest and thank her for her informative submission. It is very important to discuss coalition-building in Europe, particularly at present. There are two sides to that argument. It is hugely important that EU member states form coalitions. The downside of that is that those coalitions could be wrong footed at some stage in the future and an association or group could find itself at a disadvantage numerically by virtue of smaller groups associating together. It is important that smaller countries also have an association with larger and more powerful economies for two reasons. One is to ensure that there is overall recognition of the need for coexistence while the second is to ensure that the smaller countries know they are not insignificant and should not be overlooked. In this country, for example, from time to time we have heard that we only represent 1% or 1.5% of the population. The implication being that we mean nothing. That is incorrect. Ireland is an integral part of the EU. Irish citizens have equal rights along with every other citizen throughout the EU regardless of what part in which he or she resides.
There is another issue, namely, the advent, or reinvention, of nationalism. To my mind, this is a rejection of the concept on which the EU is based. It is a dangerous route to take that could have tragic consequences. There could be a disregard for smaller countries that would grow with the passage of time and would eventually end up in a division within Europe that would not be to the advantage of either the European people or the global economy and community.
We must refer to another issue in the context of Brexit. Our nearest neighbour is leaving the EU regardless of whether it crashes out, walks out or performs a controlled landing. Obviously, we would prefer a controlled landing and I think the British would. However, not everybody in the UK agrees with that. As a result, we may face some difficulties.
The crucial element now emerging is the extent to which the 27 European Union member states stuck together with a single common purpose regarding the Irish situation and the impact of Brexit on the European Union. How it came about, what happened, what should have happened and what did not happen are immaterial at this stage. It is happening and we must deal with that. We hope that the UK will rejoin the European Union at some stage in the future. I cannot see any alternative and believe it is inevitable. I hope it happens. However, we may have to rely on the European Union to an even greater extent in the future by virtue of our geographical position and isolation, and we are on the periphery of modern Europe, the extent to which we trade with our next door neighbours, the extent to which we will have to replace that trade with alternatives and the extent to which the European Union might look on Ireland in the future as a minor player.
We have often heard that we must bring Europe closer to the people. I believe it is the opposite - we must bring the people closer to Europe. All member states and potential member states must recognise that they are Europeans to start with and must commit themselves to the acquis communautairein the way originally envisaged. They must continue that after becoming members of the European Union. There is little sense in practising the acquis communautairebeforehand and deciding afterwards to be selective in doing so by accepting A, B and C, but not the rest. That does not work. I cannot see how a union the size of the European Union can exist economically without a single currency. I have said this many times previously. Plenty of people disagree. The problem is that when there are numerous currencies within the European Union that will always allow speculation to take place to the extent that it will disadvantage smaller countries at particular times in the crowding and rush of the markets that takes place from time to time. We all know that.
We acknowledge the role played by our partners throughout the European Union in the Brexit talks. It is crucial and must continue. Any crack in the uniformity of the member states' attitude will be not only the end of the debate but also the beginning of the end of the European Union, which is a much more serious issue and will unfold very quickly thereafter. We acknowledge and compliment our European colleagues on the work they have done and the work that remains to be done. We hope to play an important role in the formulation of European policy in the future, as we believe we have done in the past.