Bruce Arnold: Britain could teach us a thing or two in butting heads with Brussels
Published 07/01/2013 | 17:00
The determination to keep our feet on the ground during our six-month presidency of the EU is welcome. We are a small country supposedly on a path to recovery and, if our leaders are correct, we are heading towards solutions – mainly concerned with economic stability and growth and with the creation of jobs. There was a touch of George Orwell's '1984' in the rosy picture given recently by the Taoiseach as well as Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore and the Minister of State for European Affairs,Lucinda Creighton.
They were putting recovery in the forefront of their confident forecasts. This might create new confidence, a focus on trade and the promise that "we become the first country in the eurozone to exit an EU-IMF programme". Ireland a success story so soon again? Ms Creighton stressed the modesty of our presidency. Everyone applauded. The Methodist choir sang 'An Irish Blessing' and we went away to get ourselves ready.
The event conformed with myth-making which is part of our current self-evaluation as it is also that of the EU. The award of the Nobel Peace Price to our European/EU rulers was the latest bit of such myth-making, an attempt to create the erroneous idea that Europe's great contribution over the past 60 years has fostered peace where there was war and has spread democracy, protecting and enhancing it.
The EU has not done that. Democracy has been diminished not enhanced. We do not elect those who primarily govern us. We are now governed by EU bureaucrats unelected and overweening in their arrogance. Others have fought the wars establishing peace.
The EU, from its earliest formulation in 1951 (the European Coal and Steel Community), has helped Britain and the United States confront the Soviet Union.
The EU is not a democratic federation. What we joined 40 years ago was a trade alliance offering better terms than EFTA or the tighter Anglo-Irish equivalent, or so we thought at the time.
The more damaging myth for Ireland was that we needed Europe more than Britain. This led to our embracing the euro and submitting to a supranational authority while surrendering the sovereignty whereby a state is the sole author of the laws prevailing in its territory.
Do our politicians think it indelicate or impertinent to refer to the circumstances that now govern our lives? Do they think it ill-judged to put forward the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale we love to hear?
The reality we face is a Franco-German hegemony based on the euro. Other powerful EU states support that and are judged on their economic worth and ability to stand alone. Germany has a central role in this developing superstate and, apart from simpering self-regard in the encounters and embraces between Enda Kenny and Angela Merkel, Ireland's presidential role is marginal.
This is not the case with the United Kingdom or with Northern Ireland, or indeed Scotland whose future will lie with the UK.
Britain has spent the same period of time as ourselves being an EU member with a difference. Recent government thinking embraces growing recognition of the damage to Britain's national interest caused by the terms of its relationship with the EU as euro countries seek to integrate further. Each member state has its own way of recognising the dangers. Ours happens to be a slavish submission to EU authority combined with a foolhardy hope that something will turn up.
Our most intelligent political move would be to relate more closely to Britain and forging common bonds with political thinking there. These embrace a belief in the absolute certainty that the UK will depart in some form or other from full EU membership tempered by a more conciliatory belief that a new deal is an option. Behind both views is the speculative one that the euro crisis will put paid to the EU as it currently operates because its operation is fatally flawed.
Whichever of these options materialises, and no matter when, we are seriously involved. Our real trading interests top our list of priorities. Northern Ireland and the tangled relationships that could emerge from an ill-conceived and unprepared exit or change strategy are also significant factors.
Within the UK, David Cameron is seen as seeking a different arrangement with Europe. If he arrives at a solution that suits him he is likely to seek the British people's view by way of referendum. Unlike ourselves, Britain does not like the extent of Brussels' jurisdiction. Its own democratic system, as judged of course by those who use it or comment on it, is a vital part of Britain's heritage and is increasingly threatened by 'the unelected' in Brussels and Frankfurt.
This growing disenchantment is reinforced by the EU attitude to the UK. The continental EU fears the UK more than it fears any other member state because the biggest challenge comes from London. Briefly, when we voted No to the Lisbon Treaty, we were seen as a democratic threat. But the combination of Fianna Fail, Labour and Fine Gael put paid to that threat and led to our current enslavement.
The difference between Britain and us is monetary. We foolishly joined the euro. Britain stayed out. As one London commentator put it: "Monetary union is impelling its participants toward fiscal integration, debt pooling, a common finance ministry and thus, by implication, political federation."
This means for the UK that the European Community, after four decades, has changed irreversibly. Our view should be the same.
We blithely pat ourselves on the back in a way that borders on the inane and plough on into EU presidential glory without precaution or intelligence.