Navigation path

Ireland's impact on the European Union
E-mail this pageE-mail this pagePrintPrint

For a country with a population of just over four and half million, Ireland punches well above its weight when it comes to its influence on the world stage.

Membership of the EU has given the Irish people a voice on matters of both European and global importance, and we haven’t been shy about using it.

Ireland is recognised as being a great example of how smaller nations can use their status as an EU Member State to help shape a better future for its citizens, and indeed all Europeans.

Here are a few examples that illustrate Ireland’s impact on the European Union.

Irish Presidencies of the Council of the European Union

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Herman van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, at the June 2013 European CouncilIreland has a proud record of hosting the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We’ve held the Presidency seven times since becoming a Member State in 1973 and each one has been marked with significant achievements that have helped the European Union implement fair policies that benefit not just Ireland, but the EU as a whole. Here are some of the milestones reached during Ireland’s Presidencies.


  • Ireland hosted the first ever official European Council meeting, where heads of state gather to discuss EU events.
  • The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) that lends support to disadvantaged regions was established.
  • A significant step towards monetary union and the Euro currency was taken when a European unit of account, based on a composite basket of the Community currencies, was adopted.



  • It was decided to reinforce the European Monetary System (EMS) and to grant the European Currency Unit (ECU) a more important role. It’s another important step towards the Euro currency and full monetary union.
  • A commercial and economic cooperation agreement is signed by China and the EU.


  • Ireland’s fourth Presidency came just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall and during the collapse of Communism across east and central Europe. A common approach to German unification and on relations with central and east European countries was agreed during the Presidency.
  • The European Council agreed to create the European Training Foundation and adopted a regulation that led to the creation of the European Environment Agency.


  • Agreement was reached on the various elements necessary for the introduction of the Euro currency.
  • Adoption of the Dublin Declaration on Employment to help develop improved conditions in Member States that would lead to job creation.


  • New Member States are welcomed into the European Union at a special Day of Welcomes ceremony held at Farmleigh House in Dublin.
  • The European Commission's Road Safety Charter is signed at Dublin Castle. The charter is aimed at reducing deaths and injuries on European roads.


  • For a full list of achievements of Ireland’s 2013 Presidency click here.



Since becoming part of the European community in 1973 successive Irish ministers and public servants have done Ireland proud, helping to shape the direction and future of Europe.

Catherine Day, Secretary General of the European CommissionOf the European Commission’s five Secretaries-General since its foundation in 1957, two have been Irish. David O'Sullivan held the post from 2000-2005 before handing over to Catherine Day who has been the Commission’s most senior civil servant since then.

David O’Sullivan is currently Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Ireland has also provided the Commission with influential leadership of its various departments, known as Directorates-General (DGs). Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has been Commissioner for Research and Innovation since 2010. She has responsibility for the European Union’s research programme, which will provide many of the economic opportunities and jobs of tomorrow.

Peter Sutherland was Irish Commissioner from 1985-89 and proposed the still popular Erasmus programme for higher level education student exchange across Europe. He later went on to become Director General of the World Trade Organisation.

Another Irish Commissioner who proved influential was Ray MacSharry (1989-1993), who introduced the first major reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The list of former Irish Commissioners also includes: Charlie McCreevy; David Byrne; Pádraig Flynn; Michael O'Kennedy; Richard Burke; and Patrick Hillery.

Thousands of Irish gardai, diplomats, judiciary representatives and medical professionals as well as Irish troops have been deployed on EU peacekeeping duties in global trouble spots like Kosovo, Chad and Palestine.

That’s not bad representation for a nation of just over four and half million in an EU made up of 500 million citizens. 



Irish troops in ChadThere's no doubt that the European Union has been a social, economic and cultural success story but it also contributes significantly to maintaining peace in global trouble spots - and Ireland plays a vital role in directing the EU’s security policy towards the rest of the world.

It’s sometimes forgotten that one of the main driving forces in creating the EU was to heal the deep wounds caused by World War II and to ensure Europe would never so violently tear itself apart again.

The forerunner of today’s European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) founded in 1951, was originally established to forge economic links between former enemies France and Germany in order to bring lasting prosperity and peace to both nations and the rest of Europe.

By the time Ireland joined what had by then become the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 that objective had been achieved, but member states had reservations about what an economically poor and defensively neutral country could contribute to Europe.

As it turned out, the answer was quite a lot.

Ireland’s neutrality is enshrined in both the Irish constitution and EU legislation and was further clarified by the Seville Declarations on the Treaty of Nice in 2002. But as an active member of the European family our neutral position has been given a global voice and can influence the defence policies of other nations.

Ireland’s foreign policy is to help maintain international peace and security and this principle was very much in mind when Ireland participated in negotiations leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.

The treaty included a new EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and it’s through this policy that Ireland’s views are heard on the world stage.

Along with the other five neutral and non-aligned member states, Ireland holds much influence over the other 23 EU nations who are also members of NATO.

The EU’s security policy - which was formulated with the help of Irish politicians and diplomats - is centred on crisis management and conflict resolution.

The vast majority of missions are civilian in nature and Irish gardai, diplomats and judiciary representatives as well as troops have been deployed on peacekeeping duties in global trouble spots.

Ireland’s proud tradition of neutrality is respected within the EU and Irish participation in operations is protected by what is known as the ‘triple lock’ system.

That means missions must have a UN mandate, be authorised by the Irish Government and be voted on in Dáil Éireann before Irish troops or civilian personnel can be involved.

Cooperation between EU member states through the CFSP has also helped tackle crime in Ireland and across Europe. Gardai have exchanged intelligence and experience with European police forces to help in the fights against crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking and money laundering.

Ireland was not directly involved in the two world wars that ripped through Europe in the 20th century but this island has had its own problems with internal conflict.

The Troubles in the North are well documented and while political negotiations eventually saw the bombs and guns put away, EU funds contributed significantly to supporting the peace and reconciliation process.

In fact not counting the mainstream forms of EU financial support from Structural Funds and the CAP, the European Union has contributed over €1.3 billion to the Special EU Programmes for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland since 1995.

The EU is also a major contributor to the International Fund for Ireland, which was set up to promote economic and social development, and to encourage reconciliation between the nationalist and unionist communities. 


Last update: 29/08/2013  |Top