Tag Archives: EU

Thatcher’s ghost will continue to haunt Britain’s EU relations

150346380-1Europe may have been the issue that led to Baroness Thatcher’s political downfall in 1990, but 23 years later, in the wake of her recent death, it appears that she might just yet win in her fight against an United States of Europe.

When news broke of her death, David Cameron was on a European tour to assure leaders that the UK would stay within a reformed EU when it comes referendum time.  

The audacity of Britain negotiating its membership and, worse, subjecting it to a popular referendum, irks EU leaders. They realize British independence and European integration are simply not compatible.  Either power ultimately resides in the peoples of Europe through their national parliaments or in the ministers and bankers.

A more centralised Europe might be more efficient in governance than the current mess but it certainly will not advance the cause of democracy. Even if the commissioners are popularly elected, the EU is too large and diverse to have a common public sphere where ideas can be debated and decisions made between the European peoples.

Unlike the pro-EU reading of history, which blames European wars on nationalism, Thatcher laid the blame on attempts to unite the continent and correctly saw the EU as another artificial empire.

In its pursuit for more control, the modern nation-state is naturally inclined to curb human freedom at every chance it gets, but national governments are still accountable to the public to an extent that the EU could never be.

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed on a European level,” Thatcher said in her 1988 Bruges speech.

Two years later, in her final speech as Prime Minister, she recognised that “a single currency is … a Federal Europe by the back door.”

While the European Central Bank would be “accountable to no one, least of all to national parliaments.  Because the point of that kind of European Central Bank is no democracy; taking powers away from every single parliament and being able to have a single currency and a monetary policy and an interest rate, which takes all political power away from us.”

Thatcher defined the UK’s relationship first with the European Economic Community, then secured the British rebate and when the EEC was superseded by the EU, she drew the battle lines in the public opinion that has defined the debate of EU membership ever since.

It’s little wonder that when the time comes for the UK to decide on the EU, the British people’s response might very well echo Thatcher’s last speech as Prime Minister of “No. No. No.”

N Ireland debates EU exit but unites to lobby Irish Presidency on CAP reform

EUUN0001As the UK eyes the EU exit door, Northern Ireland is looking to the Irish Presidency of the European Council as an opportunity to lobby on behalf of farmers in upcoming Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) negotiations.

At a Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister Committee report meeting Monday, Members of the Assembly (MLAs) debated EU membership while voicing support of having a strong, unified front in CAP reform.

Stephen Moutray, DUP – Upper Bann, expressed his party’s support for an UK exit but was more concerned about the “single biggest issue facing us from Europe.”

“Europe cannot be discussed without immediately thinking of the rural dwellers and particularly rural families who very much depend on their Single Farm Payments especially at this very difficult time when banks are not lending as they once did.”

Moutray said the Dept of Regional Development, having consulted with farmers and become familiarised with CAP, “are at a strong position to fight the corner of our farming community.”

CAP accounts for half of the EU annual budget. Its average annual subsidy per farm is roughly €12,200 (£10,374) – providing almost half of farmers’ income in the EU. Based on hectares of land, small traditional farmers feel discriminated as 80 per cent of subsidies go to a quarter of farmers – those with the largest holdings.

Proposed reforms would subsidise acreage farmed instead of production totals and limit the amount a farm can receive at €300,000. A third of these “direct payments” would be dependent on meeting environmentally-friendly criteria such as permanently leaving pastures unploughed.

Many small farmers believe these regulations will put their families out of business, stressed Joe Byrne, SDLP – West Tyrone.

“The current negotiations on CAP reform are crucial for Northern Ireland agriculture in particular and indeed, the Northern Ireland regional economy,” said Byrne whose party has been pro-Europe for decades.

“We are lucky at this stage that Ireland has started the six months hosting of the Presidency and hopefully the negotiations can go in favour of our interests.”

Byrne said the Single Farm Payment subsidy is crucial for farmers and many are dependent on it – especially those in higher elevations and less productive land. 

“This CAP support needs to be tailored and tweaked in the interests of the Northern Ireland farming community as a whole across the region.”

“Agriculture contributes £378 million directly into our local economy – worth double the UK GDP average for the region. Nearly 47,000 people are employed directly in agriculture,” said Byrne.

“The agri-food sector is central to this economy. It is the biggest contributor to our local economy. The agri-food industry overall totals £4 billion.”

Public Meeting Report: Launch of the Citizen’s Dialogue and Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union

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