Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, today (Monday), spoke at DCU on European Economic Policy – What’s in it for Ireland. MEP Hayes took this opportunity to discuss Ireland’s economic relationship with the EU and to discuss where we go from here.
“If we look at the economic, social and political developments in Ireland since our independence, it is clear that while the first few decades marked an era of economic and social stagnation, our membership of the EEC in 1973 totally changed the way we do business, how Ireland is perceived and it provided huge opportunity for development.
“Until Ireland joined the EEC we had a very one-sided and dependent economic relationship with Britain. Membership of the EEC, now the EU, has profoundly transformed this relationship economically, socially and politically.
“The value to Ireland of strong political engagement with Europe was recognised in particular by Garret FitzGerald and a tradition of engagement has continued to the present day. Ireland is a small open trading economy but membership of the European Union provides us with the opportunity to trade freely in a single market of 500 million plus people. That is Ireland’s economic opportunity and our challenge.
“Attracting Foreign Direct Investment has been a central strategy of Irish Economic Development for more than 50 years and it has been tremendously successful. Ireland is the location of choice for many international ICT, pharmaceuticals, financial services and medical devices companies, particularly companies from the United States. These companies provide well paid, stable employment, and Ireland’s membership of the EU is one of the factors that attract these companies to base themselves here.
“Membership of the EU has been good for Ireland but it has meant that we have increased competition and there is no doubt that in order to continue to attract Foreign Direct Investment we must be prepared to fight our corner where necessary. and to recognise that improvements could be made across the Eurozone.
“Looking at the Eurozone response to the recession, unemployment in the US and Britain is close to 6%, in the Eurozone it’s 11.5%. Growth in the Eurozone in 2014 is below 1% while growth in the US and Britain is over 3%. There is a definite gap here and Europe’s lag in digital technology is, I believe key. Jean-Claude Juncker has recently announced a €300 million investment on IT networks, energy networks, transport and education, research and innovation in order to address this shortfall.
“The EU Digital Agenda launched in 2010 and upgraded in 2012 aims to create a Single Digital Market with EU wide standards and regulations. It has been estimated that 900,000 new jobs can be created directly in this sector, a further 1.2 million jobs in developing IT infrastructure and 3.8 million new jobs in the long-term.
“The recession bankrupted several EU countries including Ireland and almost broke the euro. Many experts, advisers and stakeholders gave their opinions about how this crisis was dealt with. It is clear however that without the existence of a bailout, this country would have faced total collapse. Reforming the EU banking sector is a bit like carrying out open heart surgery while the patient is walking around but it is essential that the EU has a banking system which is fit for purpose and a currency which is robust.
“The European Investment Bank is one example of an unexploited source of infrastructural investment that can drive growth. €850 million in new EIB lending will be made available to Ireland this year and a €300 million social housing programme which will deliver almost 2500 social housing units in Ireland is being developed. We’re currently at an advanced stage of negotiations on an historic EU-US Trade Agreement. Since 2010, more than 14% of all US investment to the EU has gone to Ireland. A successful outcome will allow for the removal of tariffs and bureaucratic obstacles that currently make it difficult to trade and do business with the US.
“The biggest losers from the prolonged recession were those who lost their jobs and young people unable to find jobs. The EU has responded to youth unemployment by introducing the Youth Guarantee which was negotiated at EU by Joan Burton under the Irish Presidency of the EU.
“Despite the many setbacks and despite the recent severe economic recession Ireland is now one of the most developed countries in the world. According to the UN Development Index, Ireland ranks no. 11 in the world. Sometimes it is easy to forget how far we have travelled in the last forty years but we must remain confident in our capabilities and in the relationship that we have developed with Europe.”