We don’t owe the Europeans anything

29th September 2000

I am not a European, whatever that might be.

I’d be very surprised if a European identity has penetrated the Irish mind to any great extent. Certainly, I’ve never heard anyone I know describe themselves as European.

When we talk about Europeans we mean those on the continent, like Germans, Italians, Spanish, Finns. I’m not sure if the Russians qualify as Europeans in the Irish psyche.

We don’t think of the British as Europeans either, something that won’t upset them at all.

Our identity is still overwhelmingly and singularly Irish, with America and Europe as useful counterpoints to our difficult relationship with Britain.

Yet we like the idea of the EU. We think the EU has been good for us; has made us richer. The media have peddled this line for so long now that the danger is that this is the only thing we like about the EU.

So I’d like to set the record straight and add my tuppence worth about where we go from here.

The EU is not, and never was, a charity. The reason countries got involved was out of self-interest. In Europe there are two principal reasons why the EU is vital: Economics and war.

War was the most immediate problem. After the last disastrous, murderous world war it became obvious that if Europe followed the same route of competition and militarism, then all that would be left would be a gigantic hole in the north Atlantic.

Once the fear of another war got the Germans and French talking then anything was possible.

For the last two centuries economists have known and proven that free trade benefits all countries. Except in the short term.

Faced with the prospect of an economic upheaval, countries always resorted to tarrifs and protection.

The EEC promised the first real free trade zone in the world followed by the now functioning Single Market.

But the old problems still existed.

Take, for example, Ireland and Germany. In a single market there could only be one winner. Germany had the technology, the infrastructure, the industry and the capital. To get involved in free trade with Germany would have involved a massive shock to the Irish economy.

To offset this there would have to be economic transfers from Germany to Ireland. This is why Ireland received structural funding.

It was compensation within the context of the single market. It is not correct to describe this as a begging bowl.

The single market works as a matrix and all across the EU there were structural transfers to ensure the single market got off the ground.

The critical point to note here is that Germany also benefited enormously. The German economy is export led and I wouldn’t be surprised if pound for pound the Germans benefited more from the EU than we did.

But these are subtle points. It’s difficult to make the case that we contributed as much as we got when the stress has been on the pounds and pennies received.

In one area we have contributed enormously – namely fishing.

Did you know that the land mass of Ireland is just 10% of our national territory? The Europeans take around £800 million worth of fish out of Irish waters each year.

In five years’ time we will be net contributors to the EU. Perhaps that will be the time to renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy.

So we don’t owe the Europeans a bean. And if we don’t owe them and we’re not dependent on them, why should we transfer more power to them, especially when there are plans afoot to downgrade Ireland’s role at the highest level of the EU.

In this country, instead of giving more power to Europe, we should be taking power from our Government and giving it to local communities.

I’d prefer a local identity to a European identity any day.


As well as that…

Long live the Euro

You might conclude from the main column that I’m a eurosceptic and you’d be wrong.

One of the EU projects that I’m very much in favour of is the euro. I hope it’s the precursor to a single world currency.

An enormous amount of exploitation, inefficiency, inequality, pointless economic activity and truth is hidden behind the dozens of currencies that operate around the world.

Prices are a fundamental fulcrum of human activity on this planet. And we have a global economy.

The ghouls that hide in the trading floors across the planet buying and selling money, hedging and gambling on a whim have an enormous effect on the lives of billions of people.

A single world currency would destroy their control of trade prices and would empower a huge number of producers in the Third World.

The euro is an altogether more modest project. But there will be price clarity across the EU, not to mention ease of travel.

The use of interest rates to control economic activity in any one area will be lost. I always thought that it was unfair for mortgage holders to have to pay up whenever inflation wobbled.

So long live the euro and let’s hope that it is a short stepping stone to the bigger prize.