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Both sides now – the EU and Globalisation

EU debate in Milltown Institute Does the EU need more integration or less to meet the challenges posed by globalisation? Eugene Quinn, Director of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, reports on a lively debate in Milltown on this subject.


On Monday, 24 October 2005, at Milltown Park, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (CFJ) and Studies, the Irish Jesuit quarterly, hosted a public meeting featuring John Palmer, Political Director of the European Policy Centre, Brussels, and John Gormley TD, Green Party spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Cathal MacCoille, broadcaster, chaired the meeting, which was attended by over 100 members of the public.

The debate focused on whether the European Union, as currently evolving, is a help or a hindrance to dealing with the challenges to social justice, cohesion and sustainability posed by globalisation. John Palmer argued that if the EU is to sustain its leadership role in creating a global system of peace, security and basic standards of social protection it will need more, not less, integration and the development of a common foreign and security policy. “For as long as the EU Member States pursue separate national agendas, there can be no effective challenge to de facto US hegemony”, he says. Mr. Palmer went on to assert that Europe’s social protections and labour standards are global assets, not global liabilities, and that European standards should become global standards.

According to John Gormley, if Europe is to become relevant again, it must focus on people’s real concerns. “The results of the French and Dutch referenda prove Tip O’Neill’s old adage that ‘all politics is local’. People are far less interested in Europe becoming a major global political and military power and more interested in their own livelihoods. Globalisation – which the European elite has embraced – means for many citizens the inevitable race to the bottom.” Furthermore, he questioned whether there is an appetite for European values in the rest of world and said that in his experience people outside Europe have a much less favourable view of the EU model than its supporters presume.

Both speakers held up Nordic models of government and social provision as examples for Ireland and other European countries to follow – these models showed that economic competition and social coherence can coexist. On a similar theme, Professor Brigid Laffan, UCD, speaking at a conference on ‘The Future of Europe – Uniting Vision, Values and Citizens?’ on 27 September 2005, compared the success of Nordic governments in delivering value for money in public services with the failure of Irish governments to do likewise. She argued that, while many Irish citizens might be prepared to pay higher taxes for improved services, few trust that the government would spend additional revenue wisely.

During the lively debate from the floor at the Milltown meeting, much scepticism was expressed about the present inter-governmental and European Commission plans for the future of Europe – in particular, regarding the currently stalled Constitution ratification process. A Polish diplomat said that it was essential for Europe to create a genuinely free internal market in goods and services to benefit all nations, particularly the new accession states, even in the face of concerns about job security in the older member states, including Ireland. John Palmer concurred, adding that the EU needs to provide security for workers not for jobs and this involves the provision of retraining and upskilling rather than protecting jobs in uncompetitive sectors.

Cathal MaCoille, in his closing comments, remarked that the old vision of Europe, based on Franco-German rapprochement was redundant: its primary goal had been achieved and there was no longer a danger of France and Germany going to war with each other. He urged that now is the time to create a new vision for Europe, not to linger with the old one.