Friday 19 January 2018

Higgins: EU decisions could threaten democracy

Lyndsey Telford

President Michael D Higgins has warned economic decisions in the European Union could threaten democracy.

Just weeks after last coming under fire for criticising the EU and its austerity measures, the outspoken president said he was concerned that elected parliaments are often overruled by the markets.


"Speculative markets, even rating agencies, appear at times to be more frequently quoted as the source of ultimate, even enforced decision-making as to economic options for the future, rather than the elected parliaments," Mr Higgins said.


"It is to parliaments citizens look for the expression of the debate and the articulation of the choice of options which might be made available in public policy.

Ireland's President Michael Higgins, left, reviews Croatian honor guards with his Croatian counterpart Ivo Josipovic, right, in Zagreb, Croatia
Ireland's President Michael Higgins, left, reviews Croatian honor guards with his Croatian counterpart Ivo Josipovic, right, in Zagreb, Croatia


"It is something that must give us all cause for concern as leaders."


The president made his remarks during a state visit to Croatia, which will become an official member of the EU on July 1.


His trip coincided with that of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who travelled to Lithuania and Latvia earlier today representing Ireland as current president of the Council of the EU - a post Lithuania will take up next month.


As Ireland's six-month presidency draws to an end, Mr Higgins warned the union must be aware of the social effects of its economic decisions.


He was forced to defend himself last month following accusations that he had gone beyond the constitutional remit of his office by criticising austerity imposed by Europe.


The president, who is not supposed to interfere with politics, claimed there had to be a radical rethink of the EU and how its members handle the ongoing economic crisis.


At the time, Mr Higgins said he would never interfere with matters of legislation and that he takes seriously the oath he took when he entered office in 2011.


Speaking at the University of Zagreb today, the president said Europe must show solidarity with the most vulnerable, and focus on sustainable growth and job creation.


"We cannot allow a crisis in one paradigm of economics to lead to a crisis of political legitimacy," Mr Higgins added.


"We must believe in our intellectual capacities to bring into being a suite of proposals, macro and micro in their economic scope that will serve as effective instruments for our political and social purposes.


"We need a pluralism of policies based on all of our disciplines in the inherited tradition and the imaginative capacity of all our Europeans."


Despite his warnings about the dangers of the EU, the president insisted that countries stand to gain from joining the union.


He said the biggest beneficiaries of the EU over recent years have been the 12 newest member states, which saw their economic growth boosted by an average of 1.75% each year from 2000 to 2008.


He also pointed out the benefits reaped by Ireland since joining the union 40 years ago.


He said only 4% of students went on to third level education in 1973, compared with 48% today; exports have grown and the flow of foreign direct investment from outside the EU has become a significant factor in the country's development.


He said structural funding from Europe had allowed Ireland to invest in its infrastructure which helped modernise the economy.

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