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Column: With public trust in the EU declining, we need to ensure people feel connected

A forward and outward looking European Union is what we need, writes Dominic Hannigan TD, who says national parliaments should have an enhanced role in shaping the future of the EU.

Dominic Hannigan

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY, telecoms entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, and Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn TD are among those addressing almost 300 European parliamentarians yesterday and today in Dublin Castle on fostering a forward and outward looking European Union.

It is a timely gathering, which comes at a defining chapter in the European Union’s history. The unprecedented economic and financial crisis of recent years has shaken the European Union to its core.  As the instability in the Union has receded, the last number of months has seen the emergence of an important debate at European level and in the Member States regarding the future shape of the European Union.

The survival of the EU integration project depends on finding an answer to the question of democratic legitimacy. There is a case to be made, therefore, that national parliaments should have an enhanced role in shaping the future of the EU, particularly in underpinning the credibility of moves towards genuine Economic and Monetary Union.

An economic union

The creation of this real economic union, which would include an annual European Semester process for economic policy coordination, presents both opportunities and challenges for national parliaments and parliamentarians. These steps mean that EU countries, and particularly euro area countries, will no longer be able to formulate conduct their economic policy in complete isolation from other EU countries. This process for enhanced budgetary surveillance also provides a valuable opportunity for Oireachtas Members, for instance, to feed into Irish national budgetary decisions in a more meaningful way than ever before.

Building on the gains conferred on them by the 2008 Lisbon Treaty, parliamentarians must also help to bridge the democratic deficit between Europe and its citizens in explaining and debating changes at European Union level with their constituents. With public trust in the Union declining across Member States we can play an indispensable role in better connecting the public to the EU.

While playing an ever more proactive role in EU oversight, parliaments in capitals across Europe, including in Dublin, will need a change of focus to rise to these new challenges.

Shaping European legislation

The European Affairs Committee has hosted a national debate on Ireland’s role in an evolving European Union in recent months and among the issues we have considered is how Oireachtas Members can play a more meaningful role in shaping European legislation.

Irish politics, and our parliamentary system in particular, needs to be better equipped to track European legislation more efficiently, with too much time in the offices of Leinster House taken up with local concerns. Among the more provocative suggestions in our national debate was by RTÉ journalist Seán Whelan who ventured that our entire electoral system required reform to ensure our politicians had more time to spend working on complex legislation from Brussels requiring careful scrutiny.

Underpinning our discussions with our fellow parliamentarians in Dublin Castle is the need to foster a forward and outward looking European Union.

Transparency needed to foster confidence

It is my firm belief that Irish and European citizens and civil society should be at the forefront of this debate. In that spirit, the conference will be addressed by three young Europeans from diverse backgrounds, each of whom will share their perspectives on the future of the European Union.

While the unprecedented economic crisis of recent years has prompted much introspective debate, the EU probably needs to be more assertive about its positive role in the wider world. Both as the world’s largest donor and through the successful accession of new Member States in the last decade, the European Union could and should be using its considerable soft power more proactively on its doorstep and further afield.

We are hosting sessions on development and enlargement with a view to progressing what have been among the European Union’s most effective policies. Informing our debate on these two topics will be leading thinker in international development Mo Ibrahim, and the High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina Valentin Inzko.

It was Bismarck who said that “the man who wishes to keep his respect for sausages and laws should not see how either is made”. A consistent criticism of European institutions is that too much business takes place behind closed doors, which is why all the proceedings were broadcast and webcast live.

By conducting all of these the proceedings in the open, we will provide the citizens we serve with a window into discussions and debates between European parliamentarians, as we seek to contribute to a European Union that delivers for people across its Member States and the wider world.

Chairman of the Irish EU Affairs Committee, Dominic Hanngan, TD. More information on the COSAC Conference can be found on

Read: President Higgins: ‘Lack of public confidence in the EU cannot go unchecked’>

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Dominic Hannigan

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