Note: Today I am going to take a break from writing about language learning and my preparations for the DELE exam. However, I will return to writing on the topic in my follow-up post next week. 

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a debate organised by the Literary & Historical Society in Dublin on the motion “This house believes the European Union is bad for Ireland.” The event was presided over by none other than the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz as well as several Irish politicians. I thought to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the points raised, giving that they shed light on the direction the Union is heading towards.

I am not a eurosceptic by any means. In fact, I am very much in favour of many initiatives of the European Union, many of which my generation has benefitted from. One only need consider the consequences of our membership, such as the Erasmus program, free-movement within the Schengen area, funding for infrastructure to see that it has had a positive impact on Ireland. Almost all the speakers came to the same conclusion and as Schulz so passionately proclaimed, such benefits are the natural consequence of the “dream”. The “European dream”, as he so called it, means bringing distinct peoples together to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century (such as climate-change), that small nations could not tackle on their own.

Needless to say we all clapped our hands raw at Schulz’s remarks as it plain for everybody what a passionate European he was. That said, there was another conclusion that every single member of the opposition arrived at; the need for reform.

The European Union (as well as both its predecessors the EEC and the ECSC) were founded on the principle of promoting regional cooperation and thereby prevent the events of the Second World War from happening again. Yet as the crisis has come to a head and partly as a result of the policies of austerity of the European Council, we have seen the rise of the far-right across the continent (most notably in Greece) as well as the growth of separatism. Accordingly, one needs to ask: how can we tackle the problems of the twenty-first century if we cannot even tackle those of the twentieth?

The framework of the Union as it currently stands, places far too much power in the hands of the heads of government of the member states without power being transferred to the Union itself. Thus the Union possesses a monetary union (embodied in the Euro) without a fiscal one, capable of raising taxes and monitoring the member states’ spending. Elected bodies such as the European parliament don’t possess legislative initiative of their own, hindering its ability to act. Overall these flaws have contributed to the oft-quoted “lack of leadership” which has hampered the Union’s ability to respond to crises, such as the one we are faced with today.

So, could it be said that the EU is bad for Ireland? Only in the sense that it currently has major defects that prevent it from functioning properly and don’t necessarily operate in Ireland’s interest. The recent initiatives to solve the Euro debt crisis go some way towards addressing the economic side of reform of the Union. But I can see no other alternative than that of creating a federal Union, answerable to the citizens and with real powers to take action. However, whether that is what the Europeans (and indeed the Irish) want, is another matter altogether.