EU Fiscal Stability Treaty Referendum: What Has Europe Ever Done For Us?

In 1973 I was two years old and beginning to make that uneasy transition out of nappies. This was taking up all my attention and so I completely missed Ireland’s entry into the EEC (as the European Union (EU) was called). By 1979 we were electing our first MEPs to Europe I was again distracted but this time by my holiday to London. My Mother took my sister, my brother and I to watch The Empire Strikes Back in Leicester Square while my Dad and eldest brother went to see the Life of Brian (banned in Ireland at the time).

I was doing my leaving certificate in 1989 and vaguely remember the first General and European elections in which I was able to vote. I do remember that voting gave me a tingle. The same tingle I get every time I vote.

On the 31st of May 2012 our country will be called to the polling booth to vote on the EU Fiscal Stability Treaty. I shall not be distracted when I feel the tingle this year.

The Origin of the EU

The First and Second World Wars had nearly destroyed Europe. The idea of tying the countries of Europe economically in the hope to create bonds that would lessen the reason for war came in the form of The European Coal and Steel Company in 1951. It was the first evidence that Europe was growing in a new direction.

Read More here.

Ireland before Europe

 Ironically it could have been partly a knock on effect of our neutrality but Post-War Ireland was in a bad economic state. While other European countries began to prosper through the rebuilding and related industries we were still heavily reliant on agriculture. But mostly it was our almost umbilical economic tie with the UK. They were taking longer to recover from the war and still only bought our agricultural produce at a low price. This stifled our growth.

But since then what have the Europeans ever done for us?

Sanitation

Our water supply and sewage treatment is still our own responsibility but it has risen considerably to bring us in line with standards set down by EU Urban Waste water Treatment Directive. Read More here.

Medicine

The most recent European involvement in health is the new legislation relating to pharmacovigilance (such a new word it has alerted my spell check!) that aim to strengthen the monitoring of pharmaceutical drugs within Europe. Read More here.

Education

How many people have themselves or known somebody who has studied abroad for a year?
Without the EU there would have been less chance to any Irish students and workers have had to study, work and play with our with our European neighbours. Here are a range of successful programmes aimed at introducing us to our European neighbours.

  • Comenius for schools
  • Erasmus for higher education
  • Leonardo da Vinci for vocational education and training
  • Grundtvig for adult education

Read more here.

Wine

Through various different trade agreements the availability of wines has risen considerably. This will generally be viewed as a negative but there will be some evenings when it seems like a great idea.

Public Order

In 1953 Sean Lemass made Ireland the first country to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights which produced the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), ironically our country has been one of the slowest to bring these “rights” home. But since a 2003 Act we are now obliged to interpret our own laws with respect to the ECHR.

Read More here.

Irrigation

When we joined the EEC in 1973 the first economic impact was on our Agricultural sector. Through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) we were able to sell our produce at a higher fixed price than we had been selling to the UK. Though there have been recent heated debates over the new “simplification” and “Greening” of the CAP. So far the majority of it has had a positive impact on the Irish Agri-Sector… and I am sure some of this money had gone into, ahem, irrigation. Read more here.

Roads

You may remember the Maastricht Treaty (one of the many EU referendums we have accepted) well it was the one that provided all of the European funding that has upgraded our road systems in the past twenty odd years.
To quote Tommy Tiernan “Do you know how long it took me to get to Galway… 11 seconds”.
Read More here.

Freshwater System

See Sanitation…. *clears throat and move swiftly along*

Public Health

See Medicine… well this blog is too long anyway 🙂

Brought Peace

The two World Wars of the last century both began in Europe and have not been repeated.

If you are interested here are a few more areas where EU has helped us. (Otherwise just scroll down to My Response to get, eh, well, my response.)

Environment

In the 1950’s our yet to be named carbon footprint seeped in over our boots. It took a while but we started to catch up by implementing
various legislations that have helped to lift Ireland Green status, for example;

  • 48 LIFE projects throughout the years including The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).
  • Battery recycling.
  • Plastic bag levy.

Impact on the Irish People.

Pre-EU our wage rates were an average of €38 per week and air travel was incredibly expensive. Even just getting to the UK was proportionality off balance. Since the opening of borders to out European neighbours we can more easily live and work abroad, air prices have been brought more in line with wages partly through legislation and partly through external forces (not counting Michael O’Leary).
Businesses can trade with other European countries as trade barriers have been broken down.
Despite our own failings in the ICT sector (in particular the roll out of broadband) we still have access to multiple phone and internet providers making communications easier and cheaper.

Of course a significant number of these effects on our country were also helped by our ties outside of the EU e.g. investments from the US and elsewhere.

So up through the 1973 – 2008 everything seemed to be running smoothly. Our politicians had brought wealth to a lot of the country. We trusted them while they trusted the Banking Community who lent money to us and our property developers.
There were a lot of cranes.

2008

The property bubble burst revealing that our banks owned a much smaller amount of capital than was thought. The worlds economy went through a similar seismic shift and cracks appeared swallowing up their cash as well. The Irish people did not have the money to repay our loans. But the European financial speculators has also been making money from our boom and when our banks went, they found themselves in hot water. They had trusted our politicians just as we had. But they could not let our banks fail as it would have started a chain reaction that could very well have brought down the Euro.

Basically to make the Euro less unstable they made us promise to pay it all back. Once the agreement was signed all was well except for the future of the Irish tax payer. The Irish taxpayer, to quote Frank Capra “the people who do all the working and living and dying” in our country.

My Response

I am scared for the future of our country as young bright people flee in droves like they did in the 1980’s. I am scared that Europe has been badly planned and badly policed. Individual EU members were not sufficiently vetted (including ourselves). Euro financiers made as much as they could from our property bubble which lasted longer than anybody could have foreseen. Once it burst they backed away and told us to clean up our mess. But I am more scared to pull out of Europe and the Euro and rely on the kindness of other international powers with whom we have not spent the last sixty years building an integrated relationship.

I talk to small business owners on a regular basis whose aim is to survive so they can prosper in the future. Some are forced to close their doors others, not as many, are already beginning to prosper. These small businesses are the backbone of any economy. It is from them that we will find our next wave of Market leaders who will bring investment back to Ireland.

Europe owes us more than the current and stringent fiscal ties. What binds us is made of stronger stuff. They should realise that by tightening their economic noose around our necks will only serve to prolong any growth that will help get Ireland back on its feet and in turn pay them back.

And why should we pay them back?
Sanitation, education, Wine, Public order etc.

Ireland and Europe got ourselves into this mess and blaming us solely is not going to get us out. It will just create an anti-European feeling amongst the Irish which will damage any future relationships.

Europe owes us a little more than that but we owe them as well.

That is why I am voting yes.

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