Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Reports of EU's decline are greatly exaggerated

Downing on politics

A protester at a ‘March for Europe’ demonstration against Britain’s
decision to leave the European Union in London at the weekend. Photo: PA
A protester at a ‘March for Europe’ demonstration against Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in London at the weekend. Photo: PA
John Downing

John Downing

Everyone who is anyone was obliged to say "nothing has changed" in the wake of the Brexit vote on June 23.

But we know that was not true. Global money markets were doing handstands several times over before the rest of us could get a handle on things.

The palpable air of instability had done the damage and totally upended the national and EU authorities' stress that "nothing would change for at least two years" - the minimum length of time it would take for Britain to actually un-hitch its wagon from the other 27 EU member states.

Uncertainty has a ripple effect across Europe with many playing a wait and see game before committing to investment. This could stall growth and affect economic recovery in the Irish domestic market.

Let's not labour the fact that the UK "Leave" comes at a very bad time for Irish farming and agribusiness, as it heaps uncertainty upon gloom in most key markets. Neither is this a time to go all Pollyanna with ninny-hammer, empty-headed optimism. But we badly need to find reasons to be cheerful.

We have been over the facts before, and we are especially cognisant of dark noises going off about a reduction in the overall size of the Common Agriculture Policy, coming from Berlin, one of CAP's key funders. There have already been clear soundings from Netherlands and the Nordic states among others over the CAP budget.

But all signs are that we may have to live with Brexit until 2019 at least, before we may get a final outcome on the UK exit terms, upon which so much depends for Irish farming. So, we had better get used to it and try to focus on the things we can affect and influence.

These include improving efficiencies and also sourcing other markets inside the EU and beyond. We also need to put some focus on the positive, if only for the good of individual and national mental health.

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News that Ireland is getting more access to the US beef market is positive. We clearly need more but we must not succumb to the slough of despondency. One of the biggest threats arising from the UK voters' Leave verdict was that the departure of such a large member state would start a chain reaction leading to the EU's break-up. That threat persists.

That Roman Empire did not break up on a given Tuesday in February in 476 AD. Its decline was a process of failures and losses which slowly built to total demise.

Similarly, we may be looking at the beginning of the end of the "European project." But predictions of the EU's death may be excessive.

Before the Brexit vote there was growing anti-EU sentiment across the 28 member states. One study put it nudging 50pc on average, at an understandable 72pc in Greece, and a disquieting 62pc in France.

Post-Brexit, support for staying in the EU has surged following the vote's knock-on instability: In Denmark its 69pc, up 10pc; Finland 68pc, plus 12pc; Sweden 52pc, plus 3pc; Germany 52pc, plus 13pc. That's not resounding stuff - but it's positive.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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