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Ireland's impact on the European Union

For a country with a population of just four and a 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 significance, and we haven’t been shy about using it.

Impact of Ireland on EU policy

The accession celebrations of 1 May 2004 at Aras an UachtarainSince 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.

Ireland has held the EU Presidency six times and through skillful negotiation and compromise, each term has seen significant developments that have had positive impacts throughout Europe.

In 1990 the Irish Presidency – the first after the collapse of the Berlin Wall - developed an approach to German reunification [1] and guided the EU’s first steps towards bringing former Communist states into Europe’s family of nations.

Our next presidency in 1996 oversaw vital talks which helped put meat on the bones of what was to become the Amsterdam Treaty [2]. The treaty put greater emphasis on the rights of EU citizens and increased democracy through more powers to the European Parliament.

In 2004 the Irish Presidency coincided with the historic moment when east and west Europe moved closer than ever before with ten mainly former Soviet Block nations becoming new EU member states.

Ireland invested much time and expertise in helping the new member states prepare for membership. Many of them were inspired by Ireland’s success in Europe and hope to replicate the Irish experience which shows how a small nation can use its influence in a positive way to promote the interests of its citizens.

And in turn, Irish citizens have helped promote the interests of Europe. Despite our relatively small population many of the top positions in the EU’s political and organisational structures have been and still are held by Irish men and women.

Irish woman Catherine Day is current Secretary General of the European CommissionOf the European Commission’s five Secretaries-General since its foundation in 1957, two - David O'Sullivan and current Secretary General Catherine Day - have been Irish. David O'Sullivan is now Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service.

The former Head of the Commission Delegation to the United States – the EU’s Ambassador - was also Irish, former Taoiseach, John Bruton.

Not bad representation for a nation of four and half million in an EU made up of almost 500 million citizens.

Ireland’s proud, deep rooted commitment to remaining a peace-keeping country has also helped influence world powers through EU membership.

Irish Defence Forces as well as members of the Garda Síochána, the diplomatic service and the Irish judiciary have been deployed in a number of crisis management and conflict resolution missions in global trouble spots, most recently in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Chad.


[ 1] Charles Haughey obituary, Irish Times

[ 2] Foundations of an Ever Closer Union by Mark Callanan (Chapter XII – The Irish Contribution to ‘Treaty Making’)


Ireland's influence on peace in Europe

There's no doubt that the European Union has been an 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 about lasting prosperity and peace to both nations and the rest of Europe[3].

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 under the United Nations Charter and it was with this principle in mind that Ireland participated in negotiations leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.

Irish troops in ChadThe 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 22 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 like Kosovo, Chad and Palestine.

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 Government and be voted on in Dáil Éireann before Irish troops or civilian personnel can be involved.

Cooperation between EU member states through 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 for ever, EU funds contributed significantly in supporting the peace and reconciliation process.

The European Community contributes €15 million per year 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.

The EU also set up a special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation – more widely known as the PEACE Programme - which operates in Northern Ireland and in the border regions of the island.

Various European regional aid programmes have contributed to promoting growth and jobs in Northern Ireland over the years but the PEACE Programme introduced in 1995 and renewed in 2000 is specifically tailored to help with the area’s unique needs in the drive towards lasting reconciliation and stability.

For the period 2007-2013, six new European programmes – including the third PEACE Programme - will deliver €1.1 billion for new investment in the region.


[ 3] The Treaties


Last update: 17/08/2012  |Top