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Address to The Europa Institute, University of Edinburgh

European Union, Minister Paschal Donohoe, Speech, Europe, Great Britain, 2013

Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends from Scotland, from Ireland, from across Europe and from elsewhere, feasgar math. 

Opening Remarks

I want to first of all thank you, Chairman, for your kind words of introduction.  It is an honour to share a platform with a distinguished jurist whose career has included long and excellent service to the Court of Justice of the European Communities.

I just arrived in Edinburgh this morning and had a particularly excellent meeting with Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop. The Cabinet Secretary visited Dublin earlier this year as part of our joint efforts to enhance Irish-Scottish cooperation and I was delighted that we could further develop that work today.

Indeed, deep though the relationship between Ireland and Scotland is, this work in identifying opportunities for cooperation economically and culturally is ongoing.

President Higgins visited Iona in July to mark the 1,450th anniversary of the arrival of St. Colmcille to these shores.

My colleague, and the Government Chief Whip, Minister Paul Kehoe, was here earlier this week to meet with Joe Fitzpatrick, the Minister for Parliamentary Business, and a delegation of Irish officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and An Garda Síochána will travel out to Edinburgh at the end of this month for an exchange of information exercise.

When I reflect on that 1,450th anniversary, on the binds of history between Ireland and Scotland, I feel at home here in Edinburgh University and I would like to say a special thanks to Professor Drew Scott for organising this event. 


I made reference to the binds between Ireland and Scotland and the feeling of ‘home’ here. This is because binds also exist on a more personal level for me – as is the case for many Irish people, I have family living in Scotland.

Affinity is also created for me through your art and literature. While some may justifiably look to the artistic achievements of your past for this affinity, it has always existed for me on a more contemporary level.

When I think of writers like Iain Banks, John Burnside, Irvine Welsh and the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, I always think of a body of work that is distinctly modern, distinctly Scottish and of the highest possible level.

The variety, the fun and the focus on story always reminds me of what I hope Irish literature has to offer and I could not avail of this opportunity to speak to the Europa Institute without mentioning this. 

The Europa Institute

The Europa Institute has an impressive history of achievement. You are the longest-established specialist centre of its kind in the country. Throughout the past 45 years, the Institute has made an enormous and valuable contribution to the study and understanding of European institutions, policies and laws.

At this moment in British and European history, your work has never been more relevant and important. With the change taking place in the Union, and with an awareness of the change to come, debate, discussion and inquiry is essential. The Europa Institute has, therefore, a critical role to play and I’m thankful for the opportunity to address you. 

The Enlightenment

The concept of inquiry, which I just mentioned, has a particularly Scottish providence and which would be remiss of me to not acknowledge given my presence this afternoon in the University of Edinburgh.

In 1900, William Robert Scott introduced the term ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ to capture the seminal contribution of Scotland to the birth of the Enlightenment era across Europe.

Adam Smith, David Hume and many others were the anchors of a period in our history which decisively changed how we view the world and the concept of progress in this world. Reason and rationality were central to this new vision.

The great philosophers and academics of that time, many indeed who taught at this University, believed that through living in the light of reason, human understanding could be advanced.

T.M. Devine noted, in an analysis entitled, ‘The Roots of the Enlightenment’, that their work was motivated by, “the fundamental belief in the importance of reason, the rejection of that authority which could not be justified by reason and the ability through the use of reason to change both the human and natural world for the better”.

This laid the foundations for the work of William Adam in architecture, for the Hunter brothers in medical education and for the first Industrial Revolution in the work of James Watt on the steam engine.

This fundamental belief in the importance of reason and its ability to change both the human and natural world for the better pulses as strong today as it did 200 years ago.

The Enlightenment values of improvement, reasoned inquiry and practical benefit permeates through our actions and informs the direction of our choices.

And this is very relevant to our discussion here today.

First, because of how this thinking influenced everything that we take for granted.

Second, because the Enlightenment and Scottish philosophers, such as Hume and Smith, massively influenced the creation of modern politics. This is, politics focused on the notion of making choices, through collective decision making and delegation, which should lead to the advancement of everyone.

I believe that this is the intellectual birthplace for many of the concepts that underpin the European Union.

With this in mind, I want to address:

1. The contemporary relevance of the Union;

2. Recent Irish involvement through our 7th Presidency of the Council of the EU; and

3. The current situation in Ireland.

I will also have concluding comments on some collective challenges and opportunities. 

Globalisation – mutual dependencies

We often hear about the “challenges of globalisation”. Indeed, Kofi Annan once remarked that, “the greatest challenge we face today is to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for the entire world's people.”

I do not see globalisation as a condition inflicted upon us by a powerful other or as a symptom of our worst instincts. It is a natural consequences of our desire to communicate and exchange, amplified on a vast scale by the communications’ revolution.

It is an opportunity to realise the natural human potential to reason, collaborate and cooperate. History as shown us, without fail, that people, societies and countries work the best and achieve the most when they do so together.

As David Hume said, “the mutual dependence of men is so great in all societies that scarce any human action is entirely complete in itself, or is performed without some reference to the actions of others”.

And we can see the consequences of this dependency in our world economy:

Since 1950, global exports have grown at a rate of 6% - an extraordinary rate of increase.

The United Nations calculates that since 1980, average incomes per head have increased by 70%. Within Europe, across the same period, per-head incomes have surged by 49%.

People today are more mobile than at any point in history. A 2002 paper by the Council of Europe estimates that some 130 million leave their own countries each year. The world is becoming a “nomad planet”.

Culture transcends borders with instantaneous effect. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are defining our age. Moulding how we communicate. How we are perceived and how we wish to be perceived. Individually and as Nations.

The Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, who addressed this University some years ago on this very issue, said that globalisation could either be a success or a failure, depending on its management. 

The European Union – a contemporary rationale

And for me this is the contemporary rationale of the European Union. It is about managing globalisation. Not the effects of the process, but the very process itself.

I deliberately use the phrase ‘contemporary rationale’ here as the goals and objectives of the Union have grown and developed as its constituent Member States have drawn together.

Schuman said of the Union, back in 1950, “this proposal represents the first concrete step towards a European federation, imperative for the preservation of peace”. Whilst peace runs deeps in the veins of the Union, for many the rationale and inspiration for consent has changed.

We must work together, because on our own we could not manage, prosper or hope to influence a world in which everything is linked.  

Every time 28 Ministers sit in a room at a Council of Ministers meeting and work together to agree on a compromise which will benefit all Member States, that is the EU managing globalisation, successfully.

Every time 28 Heads of State and Government sit in a room and agree on definitive action, such as breaking the vicious cycle between the sovereign and bank debt, that is the EU managing globalisation, successfully. 

Not Blind to the Faults

Though I am a passionate European and believe that the Community Method is the best possible tool we have in our hands at present for ensuring that the interests of all Member States are strengthened, I am not blind to the difficulties.

I am also deeply conscious of the misery felt by so many due to the economic crisis. The huge difficulty caused by the loss of jobs and wages.

And I fully appreciate how this has changed how many view politics and politicians.

Your own Carol Ann Duffy writes of this in her poem ‘Politics’, of how it:

“...makes your face a stone

that aches to weep, your heart a fist,

clenched or thumping, your tongue

an iron latch with no door...the words on your lips dice

that throw no six”.

Much needs to be done.

Investment for jobs must be prioritised.

Banking Union needs to be finalised to deal with the huge economic, and indeed moral, challenges that finance and large banks pose.

Democratic accountability and legitimacy needs to be further addressed.

However, all of these aspects can be achieved, and are being achieved, through the continued sharing of sovereignty of the Union’s Member States. At every Council Working Group, at every Trilogue, at every Committee. Every day.

It might not be wholesale reform. Indeed, at times it is positively glacial. But it is the single biggest testament to our interconnection, integration, and interdependence. Of the deepest kind.

This was particularly evident during our 7th Presidency of the Council of the European Union. 

The Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union  

For those who closely follow EU affairs as many here do, it is clear that the role of Presidency has changed, in particular since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.

This makes a Presidency lower-profile, particularly in media terms, perhaps, but the responsibility remains extremely substantial, more so than ever before in the area of brokering deals on key EU legislation.

To prove my point on the scale of work involved, I might single out a few – just a few – of the inputs of the work from our six months in office:

We chaired 2,477 meetings in 181 days;

Those meetings led to 200 Presidency policy commitments being achieved, including 80 in legislative form;

To get those important laws agreed, our work included co-chairing 374 trilogue meetings with the Parliament and the Commission, while Irish Ministers participated in 76 European Parliament debates;

People from 213 countries visited our Presidency website;

And over the two days of the Informal Finance Ministers’ meeting in Dublin in April, 1042 litres of tea and coffee were consumed. 

To provide for all that investment of time and resources - and for all that tea and coffee – was quite a challenge for a small country’s government and public service to undertake at a time of major economic challenge for Ireland.

But was it really all worth it?

Emphatically, I say ‘yes’.

Why? Because, as our Taoiseach put it when launching the Presidency on 31 December last, we were determined to be a “recovery country driving recovery in Europe”.

Ireland needed to succeed and Europe needed a country like Ireland to succeed.

So, ‘Stability, Jobs and Growth’ was our Presidency motto. We tested each possible priority against those three simple words. We focused relentlessly on decisions that made a real difference.   

Some of the outputs of our work were:

The €960 billion EU Budget for 2014-2020, with focus on investment in growth - there is no other single EU stimulus package like it; the securing of a negotiating mandate for a future EU-US Trade and Investment Partnership; and the passing of key legislation to complete Banking Union.

Within that seven year budget I mentioned, we agreed key reforms across agriculture, fisheries, research, infrastructure, the environment, education mobility and other areas. And there were results in less “economic” areas such as health promotion, consumer protection, free movement and in the area of hunger and climate justice beyond the Union’s borders.

For Ireland, we were determined to conduct ourselves as an honest broker without blatant national self-interest – such an approach never works for any Presidency and is found out quickly.

But at the same time, we saw the Presidency as an exercise which put Ireland back at the heart of the Union as an agenda-setter and constructive player.

That is a benefit of the different, yet continued, system of rotating Presidencies – all Member States, big or small, bringing their experience to bear and in doing so deepening knowledge in government and among the people of the value of EU engagement. 

European Priorities

So now, in Ireland’s post-Presidency world, in a soon-to-be post-bailout world, we have a renewed and deepened knowledge of the Union and of ourselves. We will make the most of this. Last week, in a speech to our main EU think tank in Dublin, I set out four priority themes to guide us:

First, Engaging with Europe – maintaining a high level of engagement with our friends across Europe, including of course our nearest neighbours. This involves meetings and visits, just like this, to reinforce our alliances and forge ways ahead together in those areas in which are interests are most closely aligned.

Second, An Accountable Europe – ensuring maximum engagement between our Parliament and the EU. This is also personally important to me as a long-standing member of our Parliament’s Committee on European Affairs. It also is at the core of the democratic legitimacy debate which, I believe, needs to become more central to our work.

Third, An Open Europe - in the form of proactive engagement in supporting EU awareness among young people from schoolgoers through to those between 18 and 24. I am particularly concerned that we are creating a lost generation of young Europeans who will disconnect from the EU, from its values and from its philosophy. We must not let this happen.

And finally, Being Effective in Europe – which involves building on our work across the Presidency as we move out of programme country status.

Having returned to growth in 2011, Ireland achieved a second successive year of growth in 2012. Modest growth is predicted for 2013 and the European Commission’s economic forecast for 2014 predicts growth of 1.7%.

Employment growth is predicated to be 1.6% for 2013 and 1.5% for 2014.

However, the support of the 28 Member States of the European Union was a crucial component. The agreement at the June 2012 European Council to break the link between sovereign and bank debt is an excellent and necessary example of this.

Decisions, such as that in June last year and the implementation of a banking union next year, are the part of the process of the European Union mediating, and managing, globalisation. This is the ‘Now’ we are living in. 

Concluding Reflections

I do appreciate that a word that often scares the Irish political system – ‘referendum’ – is close to everyone’s lips at the moment here.

I suspect I might not get away with avoiding it in my remarks this evening.

As your nearest neighbour, we of course are interested both in Scotland and in the UK’s relationship with the EU as a whole, but the debate on both questions is first and foremost a matter for you.

Comments from people outside, however close or however friendly the relations, should be carefully considered.

I will limit myself to briefly comment on the wider question of the UK in the EU. As a country which frequently votes on the nature of our relationship with the EU we respect the debate underway here.

As I have said to my UK counterpart, David Lidington, in our very constructive exchanges, the European Union is stronger with the UK in it, as a positive and committed member.

Not just because of the strength and importance of the relationship between our two countries but because of what the UK brings to debates and decisions in the Union.

But allow me to clearly emphasise a vital point –Ireland is an integrated and committed member of the EU community. And will remain so.

On such a vital topic of national interest we will make our own individual choice on a matter of the highest importance. And we will do so within the framework of the Union.

In 1973, Ireland and the UK took that step because we believed that our people would be best served through the realisation of that natural tendency I referred to earlier - to share, communicate and exchange within a community of equals.

I believe that rationale is a strong now as it was then.

Iain Banks, in his novel prior to his untimely death, ‘Stonemouth’, wrote that, “there was never an end of history, just a perceived end of the need to teach it, remember it, draw lessons from it”.

Let us ensure that we do not lose sight of our shared history within the European Union and let us draw lessons from that.

If I might turn back to where I started, on that deep relationship between Ireland and Scotland. The Irish have been Scotland’s main immigrant group of modern times. By the 1850s, there were around 250,000 Irish-born here and this number increased substantially until the middle of the 20th century. Indeed, T.M .Devine claims that the Irish migration to Scotland was more important proportionately that the Irish movement to England.

I think the affinity between our two countries and our people needs no further illustration.

Our political alliance is one on whose foundations much can be built upon.

Our trade links, which were so crucial to our progress in the past, can be deepened.

Our cultures, which share so much, offer a rich stream from which more synergy can flow.

My visit here today recognises this potential and I it is my hope that we can continue to work together towards its realisation.