Stability, jobs, growth – these are Ireland’s goals for the presidency of the Council of the European Union this year. In connection with this, on Thursday 10 January, MC Pat Kenny was joined in Dublin City Hall by citizens, politicians and journalists to officially launch the European Year of Citizens 2013 and hold a Citizens’ Dialogue to allow the Irish to voice their opinions on EU membership.
After the official launch, Pat Kenny kicked off an engaging Citizens’ Dialogue with Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, and Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding.
They engaged in a lively debate with audience members, who asked the tough questions. Minister Creighton was asked about the recent 2013 budget and stated that, although a tough budget, it was necessary for “laying the foundations for future growth”. Vice-President Reding reiterated the idea of growth. “Europe is about people, not institutions” she said.
A frequent theme throughout the event was youth. Many audience members were concerned about employment, understandable since Ireland’s unemployment rate has risen from 13% to 30% since the recession hit. One major issue that was brought up was the extended work life of the elderly. Many Europeans are now forced to work past the age of sixty-five to manage their expenses. The knock-on effect is that young people in these countries, including Ireland, cannot attain employment as the turnover of workers is too low to allow recruitment. The Vice-President acknowledged that the young are the worst affected by the current crisis and suggested that we need to respond with increased investment in the future. The solution, Vice-President Reding believes, is growth; the need to grow the economy to make it sustainable.
Questions were also raised about the controversial issue of the European Parliament’s location in Strasbourg, and the extra costs this entails every year. Vice-President Reding acknowledged that this is an issue but that it was the historical context of the location in Strasburg that has kept the location active, a fact which perhaps we are not all aware of.
With an inquisitive audience, the event was overall a great success. The general vibe from the citizens present was that they supported the ideals of the European Union but felt that now Ireland is suffering as a result of this membership. With any luck, the goals outlined by the politicians will be fulfilled and faith in the union will be restored.
For more information, check out www.eu2013.ie