Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Ideals of EU's founding fathers lost on our Irish governments

John Shirley

A couple of weeks back, President Michael D Higgins attended a ceremony in Collins Barracks, Dublin in memory of Irish men and women who lost their lives in past wars or while serving with the United Nations.

You may well ask what has that to do with farming?

My contention is that at its most basic, the EU was established to prevent war and promote peace and prosperity among its members. In particular, it was established to prevent a repeat of the two great European and world wars of the last century, in which as many as 35,000 Irish from the South lost their lives.

The awfulness and hunger of the Second World War was very fresh in the minds of the leaders who formed the initial EEC (European Economic Community). Their motto was 'United in Diversity'.

The flag, with its circle of stars, symbolised ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe. The flagship of this new grouping was the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), which ensured that its citizens would not go hungry.

These ideals remained the driving force which motivated great EU leaders such as Germany's Helmut Kohl and France's Francois Mitterrand, both of whom lived through the Second World War.

In the early days of Ireland's EU (EEC) membership, this folk memory of war prevailed right across continental Europe. In the 1970s, I recall visiting a Belgian farm widow who lost a leg plus one of her twin sons from a German bomb. With an artificial leg she continued to farm, along with the surviving twin son.

Just to illustrate that the Allies weren't all angels, I recall a German farmer in the 1980s whose potatoes were infested with Colorado Beetles, pointing to the skies and saying "Americans". He was referring to the fact that US planes had dropped voracious beetles on German crops during the war which remained.

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The ideals of the EU's founding fathers are needed today like never before. Fundamental issues, affecting every Irish farmer, are up for decision. The overall budget, plus the CAP budget, up to 2020 have to be set and agreed by the Commission and the Parliament.

The EU banking crisis, plus the Euro crisis, needs resolution.

Have the EU member states still got the idealism and the cohesion to face these challenges?

Ireland cannot really complain about the treatment received from the EU over the past 40 years. We certainly benefited from the various manifestations of CAP since joining the club.

The contributions from the EU structural funds are also clearly observable in our motorways, among other things.

For almost the past two years, Ireland has been bankrolled by the so-called Troika of the ECB (European Central Bank) the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the EU Commission.

We may complain about having to repay in full the bondholders who lent money to zombie banks such as Anglo Irish but the prime blame for Ireland's debacle lies with ourselves. We messed up on our economy.

How do we now fare on the ideals for the future of Europe? In the early days of our membership, the Irish were seen as the English speakers who were pro-Europe. Is it that we only paid allegiance to Europe while we were milking the system?

Soviet Bloc

Across Europe, how are the ideals of the founding fathers faring? Close observers of the EU scene reckon that new members from the former Soviet Bloc are now the most enthusiastic Europeans. Cynics could argue that this is because these states are now the prime beneficiaries of the structural and cohesion funds.

But others will argue that their EU ideals run deeper. They will argue that their affection for the EU derives from their recent history of suppression under the Soviet regime and that they were also victims of German aggression during the Second World War.

The atrocities in Bosnia took place as recently as 1995. Former Yugoslav state Slovenia is now an EU member and Croatia is due to join next year. In the eyes of their citizens, this represents new hope for peace and prosperity for themselves and their children.

Ireland will take over the EU presidency on January 1, 2013 for the seventh time.

Ireland will probably be in the EU chair when the new CAP is finalised. This will give the Irish Presidency the chance to give the lead on renewing the CAP commitment to food security.

Only this time around the food security threat will apply globally rather than within the EU.

Ireland's record while holding the EU presidency has been one of competence and fairness.

If only we could show a similar competence and fairness in addressing our internal economic mess.

The Troika and the rest of the EU are showing amazing tolerance of our flawed governance.

It must be galling for EU citizens to have to bail out a country which continues to pay public servants and welfare recipients way more than European norms.

It must amaze the Troika that this feather bedding of an elite grouping remains copper-fastened under a fairytale economic dream known as the 'Croke Park Deal'.

The Troika have hinted at the greed of Irish medics and lawyers.

They have suggested that Ireland unload State assets to pay down debt, but still in 2012 we are facing a budget deficit of close to €20bn.

Still, in 2012, we continue to learn about the amazing perks enjoyed by a sector of society, while others in the private sector are screwed to pay for this lifestyle.

The founding fathers of the EU could hardly have envisaged that the Government in one of its member states would preside over such inequality.

Fógra eile:

Fair dues to the organisers of Tullow Show for offering free stands in their 2012 event (Sunday, August 19) to start up businesses in the locality.

I believe that close to 12 budding entrepreneurs have taken up the offer.

Also new at Tullow show 2012 will be ladies' tug-o'-war.

Indo Farming