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Debate Room: Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Nessa Childers debate the EU's merits

EU leaders gathered in Rome this weekend to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the accord that spawned the European Union.

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For over 60 years, European nations have worked together to create our continent’s longest period of peace, stability and prosperity. 

This anniversary should have been a time of celebration, but instead the EU is standing at a crossroads and many are calling for radical reform. We asked two of our MEPs to talk about what the EU has really done for Ireland.

TO MARK THE 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the leaders of what is now the EU went back to Rome, where they issued a proclamation declaring where they believe we should all be headed.

Would that they would also go back in time, to an EU pre-Nice, pre-Lisbon because those two treaties have led us to where we are now; with the UK already voting to leave, and with many other member states having significant minorities who would take the same route if given the same opportunity. The EU is on the brink of disintegration.

The presentation of both the Nice and Lisbon treaties to the Irish electorate was wholly dishonest. All that was presented to us by those who sold us the deals (including both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, by the way) were the flowery promises of peace and prosperity for all.

Did they tell us?

  • What exactly full Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) would mean?
  • That the vaunted new currency, the euro, was so seriously flawed in its design that when it collapsed – as was inevitable – it would take down the banks and national economies of several member states, Ireland being one of the hardest hit?
  • That because they didn’t have even the most basic currency structures in place to deal with troubled banks, we would have to pay €69.7bn of our own money to bail out those banks (though in fairness, the EU would “lend” us most of those billions, at exorbitant interest rates of course)?
  • That our national budget would now become merely a regional budget, Brussels and Frankfurt with the real control over the purse strings?
  • That part of the new ambitions was an EU Army, that we were signing up not just to shared security, but to shared security AND defence?
  • About the enormous power we were about to divest from our own authorities and vest in unelected and unaccountable EU institutions such as the ECB and the European Commission?

There are undoubtedly areas such as climate change, circular economy and food quality where in depth collaboration with our neighbours makes total sense.

The original European project was an extremely positive force and had the potential to be a real community. With Nice and Lisbon, however, we were sold a pup – we have gone too far, too fast, heading down a blind alley at breakneck speed.

The wall isn’t very far away.

Luke Ming Flanagan is an MEP.

Italy: Stop Europe Demonstration In Rome Stop Europe Demonstration In Rome, March 25 2017. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE EU IS a bit like good health, we tend not to appreciate it until it is at risk. As it reaches a decent 60 years of age, we find it suffering from a number of afflictions that call its very survival into question.

Yet, for all its contradictions, shortcomings and serious mistakes, the benefits of our common European project are easily forgotten.

Role of women and minorities

Let me emphasise the transformative influence of European integration for the role of Irish women and minorities in society. Over the decades, a steady stream of equality and socially progressive legislation dragged our greying, male cohort of leaders by the ear into a new world.

In this world, workers cannot be discriminated against on the basis of gender or marital status. Social security rights were also made equal. National equality authorities had to be established and provisions were made against sexual harassment.

Maternity leave rights were guaranteed, including for self-employed mothers, and health and safety protections put in place for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Pregnancy is no longer a valid reason for dismissal. The four months’ worth of parental leave guaranteed by EU law can be split among both parents.

Other pieces of EU legislation have been fleshing out the rights enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, tackling discrimination on grounds such as racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation and gender.

Unfortunately, these matters are still not consensual, and an EU law proposal to prevent such forms of discrimination beyond the workplace has lingered for a decade in the hands of EU governments, who are yet to find agreement to approve it.

The EU has made a positive, if often invisible, difference in our daily lives across a vast array of policies, ranging from consumer protection to the environment.

It’s only as good as our representatives

I don’t mean to paint a blue and yellow, starry-eyed picture where all is well and good with our Union. As a set of political institutions, the EU is only as good a force as the representatives we choose to put at its helm, and often national governments take it, only to blame Brussels for a course they charted themselves.

This was very much the case in the run up, and the response to, the financial and economic crisis, led by the political constellations which Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael orbit in Europe.

The heyday of socially progressive legislation in Europe preceded the current austerity-obsessed cycle, now under pressure from an increasingly frustrated electorate. That era showed what the EU can do and how it can work for the benefit of citizens.

If we don’t put social justice at the fore, the siren calls of the far right will be trapping us in the errors of the past.

Nessa Childers MEP, Dublin, is an independent non-party member of the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

What do you think. Is the EU a positive thing or does it need major and dramatic reform? Let us know in the comments below.

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