Summit of three shows the EU's elitist streak
Published 23/08/2016 | 02:30
Who would have thought that the decision by Benito Mussolini to banish a group of bothersome politicians to a volcanic outcrop in the Tyrrhenian Sea would have kindled a vision for a new Europe, united, democratic and free of war?
Ventotene was the place where the small but influential group met. The Italian politicians had been interned by Mussolini during the Second World War, and their dream would evolve into the EU. Yesterday its three biggest members - Germany, France and Italy - returned to the island in the hope of reviving a vision that has never looked quite so dim as it has since the Brexit vote.
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi's ambition is to revive that spirit with the aid of Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel. During the dark years of Nazism, Altiero Spinelli wrote a text now known as the Ventotene Manifesto, calling for a free, federal Europe. But, 70 years on, many of those high ideals have been brought back to earth. The EU is struggling to maintain credibility. It is charged with being undemocratic and too central in its decision-making, a charge that will have been strengthened by the imperious decision to limit yesterday's meeting to the three most powerful countries in the bloc. Morally, the EU has struggled to hold its head up given its handling of the migrant crisis. As a trading bloc, it is foundering in its attempts to promote economic growth and observe the budgetary constraints necessary for viability.
The three leaders will also discuss how the remaining 27 EU nations can present a positive economic and security agenda when they meet for an informal summit in Bratislava next month. France wants a doubling of EU investment, Italy wants more political integration, while Ms Merkel wants not more integration but a better focusing of Europe's existing strengths to counter the challenges that exist. The irony of attempting to bridge a democratic gap by calling a meeting of just three members on matters that will directly affect all 27 should not be lost.
The welcome demise of an old social barrier
It is unlikely that there are too many workers left in the Irish labour force who remember the days when it was not uncommon for businesses to have front and back entrances that differentiated between "trade" and "staff".
The news that electricians are now about to shatter one of those strange social barriers that, although invisible, are nonetheless restrictive, will be welcomed.
There is an argument that the traditional demarcations between the trades and the professions have, over time, developed into a means of preserving cabals or maintaining elites.
Therefore, the announcement of the first programme allowing apprentices to gain a degree is refreshing and, if anything, overdue.
Admission to the top of the career ladder should not be limited once qualifications are standardised. And that is why the plan for radical reform of the apprenticeship system is so important.
The elevation of the role of apprenticeships is also timely as it opens up the scope of qualifications and diverges from the well-worn path of the CAO route to a third-level qualification.
Combining job training and college-based learning is eminently sensible.