Editorial: 'European elections at a critical time'
With some justification, the elections to the European Parliament on Friday are considered to be the most important for some time, probably in the history of the European Uni on. While the EU's achievements since its foundation have been sustained and unequalled, it also faces several existential threats. Voters in Ireland cannot be neutral in this challenge. Neither can the EU itself be a bystander to its own manifest shortcomings. Urgent reforms are required for the EU to have a long-term future as the only credible vehicle of hope for countries who want to secure high standards of living and the protection of basic democratic values.
There is, therefore, a requirement for voters to oppose the creeping and cynical Euroscepticism which is such a powerful tool in the hands of populists, both on the far right and far left. The most effective way of doing this is to vote for the centrist parties which remain committed to the positive European Union ideal, while also promoting reforms which can improve the Union.
Europe's handling of the recent economic crisis showed an organisation too slow to act and with insufficient ability to help regions and countries at critical moments. The Union has still not addressed many of the failings exposed in the period 2008-12. A core part of the euro crisis and its economic impact was the failure to create a genuine monetary union. There are serious flaws in the structure of the eurozone. These flaws have not been fully addressed. The banking union is also incomplete, and the European Central Bank continues to work with one hand tied behind its back. At a wider level, at less than 1pc of European income, the EU's budget is marginal to shaping the economic future of Europe. The goal of making Europe a dynamic, knowledge-intensive economy is the correct course, but the programmes for delivering this are too small to make a significant difference. There remains much work to be done to make Europe fit for purpose to meet the needs of its citizens.
That said, to maintain, as some of the more populist parties do, that the EU is an undemocratic entity run by elites for elites, is patently untrue. The Brexit negotiations have shown the Union to have returned to the spirit of solidarity which defined its creation and growth. There have also been many other positive developments. The Lisbon Treaty gave extra power to the Parliament. It is now a co-legislator alongside the Council of Ministers which is made up of the 28 governments. In the next two years alone, the European Parliament will vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, reforms to the CAP which could affect farmers' livelihoods and the environment, climate actions, the next EU budget in which Ireland will want funds for regional development, broadband, the Border, Erasmus and research, and also on EU citizens' rights such as new consumer protections and parental leave. Ireland will have 13 MEPs out of 700, so this country needs to send the very best team to Europe, candidates of ability, experience and substance, people who will work with Government to get the best out of Europe for our communities, families and for Ireland.