Navigation path

Impact of EU membership on Ireland

More than half of Ireland’s current population weren’t born when the nation voted to join the European Economic Community (EEC) back in 1972.

It’s undoubtedly the most significant step the country has taken in its journey as an independent nation but most of us aren’t old enough to remember what living in Ireland was like before we became a Member State.

For more than four decades now European Union membership has helped improve almost every aspect of Irish life, from how we work, travel and shop to the quality of our environment, our opportunities for learning and the way our businesses buy and sell their goods and services.

These changes are now so much a part of everyday life that we can thankfully take them for granted.

Even though we were an independent country long before we joined the European Union, Ireland in 1973 was still economically dependent on the UK and struggling to find its feet in the international community.

That’s no longer the case, and Ireland now exports all over the world and influences global events through its voice in the European Union.

So let’s take a look at just some of the ways EU policy, legislation and funding has helped improve Irish life.

Economy and Jobs

  • Two men shaking hands against backdrop of an EU flagIreland's membership of the European Union greatly facilitated our move from an antiquated, agriculture dependent economy into a modern one largely driven by hi-tech industry and global exports.
  • The country has been a net recipient of European funds since we joined the EU, and will remain so throughout the duration of the current EU financial plan, the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). This basically means we get more money out of the EU than we put in.
  • The EU focuses on economic progress by investing in growth and jobs through initiatives like the multi-billion-euro Youth Guarantee scheme that’s aimed at tackling youth unemployment.
  • Ireland has a small, open economy that’s heavily reliant on exports. Being part of the EU's Single Market makes it easier for Irish businesses to trade on both European and international markets.
  • Our open economy also makes us vulnerable to global events, such as the 2008 world financial crisis. However, Europe’s response to that crisis means that as a member of the EU and the Eurozone group we’re now better protected from future financial turmoil.
  • Having the Euro as our currency means Irish companies exporting to other Euro Area countries don’t have to worry about fluctuating exchange rates when invoicing.
  • Ireland’s recovery from the financial crisis was aided by a three year EU/IMF financial assistance programme that ran from 2010-13. The programme was successful and in 2014, just after it was completed, Ireland had the fastest growing economy in the EU.
  • EU membership has helped Ireland attract billions of euro in direct foreign investment, creating thousands of job opportunities for Irish people.
  • Irish exporters can also sell more easily and cheaply into lucrative global markets like South Korea, South Africa and Central America thanks to international EU trade agreements. A new trade agreement with the USA that could increase Ireland’s GDP by 1.1% or €2 billion is currently being negotiated. As a small nation, it would be difficult for Ireland to negotiate such agreements outside of the EU structure.
  • As EU citizens, Irish people can live and work freely in any Member State, and that means more opportunities and job choices for Irish workers. Irish citizens working in other EU countries enjoy equal treatment in accessing employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages
  • Workers’ rights have been improved through EU regulations including measures that improve working hours, conditions and contracts.
  • Irish jobseekers and students can upload a CV to Europass, which makes skills and qualifications easily understood in Europe for enrolling in education or training programmes or getting work in another Member State. The EURES website also makes it easier to find a job in another European country.
  • European legislation on equality in the workplace has ensured that Irish men and women are entitled to equal pay for doing the same job. They also have legal protection when it comes to equal and fair treatment at work and women are entitled to maternity leave. More women can now access the labour market thanks to EU legislation that led to the abolition of an out-dated marriage bar for women in public service jobs in 1973.
  • More than half of Irish women (55.9%) are currently in employment, with about 35% working part-time. Back in 1973, when Ireland joined the EU, women made up just 25.4% of the total workforce. That figure has now risen to over 46%.


Education and Training

  • Child sitting with book against backdrop of map of EuropeEU funding has helped improve education standards in Ireland and created lots of opportunities for studying abroad.
  • The EU’s financial instrument for investing in people, the European Social Fund (ESF), is contributing €610 million from the EU budget into Ireland’s €1.15 billion Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) that runs until 2020.
  • The EU’s Youth Guarantee initiative is providing jobs, training and education for Europe’s under 25s. Ireland will receive €68 million under the initiative to increase employment, social inclusion and skills for young people.
  • Irish citizens choosing to work or study abroad can have their Irish qualifications recognised throughout the European Union under the European Qualifications Framework.
  • In 1973 when Ireland joined the EU just 27,135 Irish students reached third level education. By 2015 that figure had increased to 173,649. Almost 60% of women in Ireland aged 30-34 have attained a third-level education according to figures from Eurostat in 2014.
  • A total of 2,762 Irish students took the opportunity to study abroad during 2012/13 through the EU’s Erasmus Programme. Erasmus, which was launched by former Irish Commissioner Peter Sutherland in 1985, allows students to spend time studying at a university in another European country.
  • Ireland welcomed 6,277 students from other EU countries during 2012/13. UCD, UCC and UL are among the top 100 Erasmus host universities in Europe.
  • A third of Erasmus students have a partner of a different nationality, compared with 13% of those who stay home during their studies. A total of 27% of Erasmus students meet their long-term partner while on Erasmus. The European Commission estimates that around one million babies are likely to have been born to Erasmus couples since 1987.
  • A new €14.7 billion Erasmus+ fund for education, training, youth and sport was agreed on in 2013 during the Irish EU Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The fund will help tens of thousands of Irish students to study, train, work or volunteer abroad.



  • Farmer with cowsThe Common Agricultural Policy is primarily funded through the EU budget framework plan (MFF). It supports Irish farmers and the development of the country’s rural communities by investing in projects that improve living conditions in the countryside and help rural businesses to become more competitive.
  • Irish agriculture has benefited greatly from EU payments. Between 2007 and 2013 the CAP invested €11.7 billion into Ireland's farming sector and rural areas.
  • The CAP will invest almost €11 billion in the Irish farming sector and rural areas for the period up to 2020.
  • Irish farmers benefit from direct payments paid out under the CAP. The funding is aimed at supporting and protecting farmers' incomes.
  • Only farmers currently active benefit from income-support schemes and young Irish farmers are strongly encouraged to set up in business through the CAP.
  • The CAP includes measures to protect the environment including a ‘greening’ initiative that encourages farmers to use agricultural practices that are beneficial for the climate and the ecosystem.
  • Participation in the CAP means that, as a net exporter, Ireland can benefit significantly from being able to easily trade agricultural goods on EU markets, which generally provide better prices than world markets.
  • Between 2007 and 2013 the CAP’s rural development programmes helped provide €5.778 billion to disadvantaged rural areas in Ireland. The programmes were supported by €2.339 billion from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EARDF).
  • Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 has a budget of around €4 billion, co-funded by EARDF and the national Exchequer.
  • In 1973 Ireland’s economy was highly dependent on agriculture, with almost a quarter (24%) of the working population employed in the sector. It’s still an important industry, providing over 7% of national employment. However, EU membership has helped Ireland develop other industries like services, pharmaceuticals and ICT (Information Communications Technology) making our economy more diverse and therefore stronger.
  • The value of overall beef exports from Ireland was €2.27 billion in 2014. The volume of beef available for export stood at around 530,000 tonnes. Virtually all of it was destined for European markets with nearly two thirds going to higher value standard retail, premium foodservice and retail or quick service sectors.
  • The CAP helps guarantee that consumers get food that’s safe and wholesome. There are tough EU rules on the safety of food and animal feed and consumers can easily determine where the food they purchase has come from and what it contains.
  • EU rules also guarantee that organic farming products are genuine, and the CAP offers specific encouragement for farmers to convert to organic farming as well as incentives to improve the quality of their produce.
  • The European Commission has a partnership agreement with Ireland that benefits Irish farmers and rural communities. Under the agreement Ireland is receiving €3.357 billion in total of European Structural and Investment funding over 2014-2020.



  • Hands holding a globe with Europe facing outwardsBeing a part of the European Union means Ireland can act in unison with other Member States to tackle global environmental challenges like climate change.
  • Securing affordable climate-friendly energy for citizens and businesses is another environmental challenge Ireland doesn’t have to face alone. The EU’s Energy Union is developing policies and measures to protect Ireland and the rest of Europe from the threats of global warming and pollution.
  • EU rules have meant Ireland has had to act on water pollution, waste disposal, air quality, energy emissions and preservation of natural habitats.
  • Raw sewage is no longer dumped into the Irish Sea and marine life around the Irish coast has benefited from cleaner sea water and beaches.
  • Most Irish laws on waste management, recycling, air pollution and dumping at sea that have improved our environment are a direct result of European Commission directives.
  • Under the EU’s Bathing Water Directive Ireland has to monitor and assess bathing water to ensure it’s safe for bathers. New, stricter standards were introduced in 2014.
  • As a result of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment following a case brought to it by the European Commission, Ireland introduced legislation  to regulate wastewater discharges from all homes not connected to the public sewer network. That means our septic tanks and private water systems are easier to inspect and that public health and the environment are now better protected.
  • Ireland is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and below 80-95% by 2050 under EU agreements.
  • The EU’s Environmental Action Programme (EAP) ensures care of the environment and protection against climate change is taken into consideration at every stage of all EU decision making.
  • Ireland's environment has benefited from millions of euro in EU funding through its LIFE programme. Since 1992, LIFE has contributed approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment throughout Europe. A total of 57 projects have been co-financed in Ireland including 38 on environmental innovation and 19 on nature conservation. These projects represent a total investment of €124 million, of which €54 million was contributed by the European Union.



  • Family travelling through airportIrish citizens can travel to any EU Member State and stay as long as they like without the need for visas.
  • There’s now no need to worry about exchange rates and changing money when visiting countries using the Euro.
  • Travelling across the world has become much more affordable thanks to deregulation of the airline industry across EU Member States and Single European Sky legislation that has curtailed uncompetitive practices.
  • EU regulations means airline passengers can be compensated by up to €600 for delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights. If your luggage is lost or damaged you have a right to reimbursement of up to €1,220.
  • EU rules have also strengthened passenger rights for those travelling on planes, trains and ships while regulations covering bus and coach travel have recently come into force too.
  • The European Aviation Safety Agency established by the EU in 2003 has made flying safer, and greater co-operation between Member States on air traffic management means it’s more efficient too.
  • EU regulations on mobile roaming means that it costs substantially less to use your phone when you’re travelling within the EU. It now costs a maximum of 19c (+VAT) a minute to make a call and 5c (+VAT) to receive one. Under a new single market agreement, rates will be reduced further in April 2016 and from June, 2017, there will be no roaming charges when travelling in the EU. Any minutes, texts and data used in EU countries will be deducted from the plan you have with your domestic provider here in Ireland.
  • The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) provides basic healthcare access to all Irish citizens while travelling in the EU. The card entitles you to the same healthcare as locals through the public health systems in EU and EEA countries or Switzerland if you become ill or injured while on a temporary stay.



  • Shopping trolley with euro notesThe European Commission’s European Consumer Agenda is making it safer for Irish citizens to buy goods and services throughout the EU.
  • EU rules require the ‘CE’ conformity mark to be used on many categories of products. This is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product has been checked against essential EU safety criteria and that it satisfies all relevant requirements. Product safety rules are often extended or adjusted to include new products.
  • Misleading advertising and unfair commercial practices such as aggressive sales techniques have been banned in the EU since 2005. This means no hidden costs, no tricks, no false claims, no misleading information and no advertising targeted at children.
  • Irish consumers can easily determine where the food they purchase has come from and what it contains. New rules introduced in December 2014, mean that labels on all food products must include nutrition information on processed foods as well as the origin details of unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. Labels also have to highlight allergens like peanuts or milk in the list of ingredients and be easy to read. The obligation to provide nutrition information will apply from December 2016.
  • Cosmetic products sold in the EU have to undergo expert scientific safety assessment before they are introduced to the market. EU legislation also bans animal testing for cosmetic purposes.
  • Before Ireland became an EU Member State Irish consumers and businesses had to wait months just to get a phone line installed. The EU has helped with the liberalisation of the communications market, meaning that today we have a better choice of internet and telecoms providers.
  • The European enforcement network carries out systematic checks simultaneously in different Member States to investigate breaches of consumer protection law, particularly with online sellers.
  • Products sold in the EU are subject to stringent safety requirements. The EU-led Rapid Alert System for non-food dangerous products (RAPEX) also allows dangerous goods to be quickly withdrawn from the market.
  • Irish consumers have rights when buying in or from any Member State under EU law. These include the right to have defective goods repaired or replaced; the right to return something bought online within 14 days of purchase; and the right to receive helpful advice in Ireland if there’s a dispute with a trader from another EU country.
  • In 2016, a new EU-wide online platform will become available, providing consumers with a one-stop-shop aimed at resolving disputes over online purchases.


Research and Innovation

  • Research and Innovation - promotional imageBeing part of the EU has helped Ireland transform itself into one of Europe’s top innovation nations. This has attracted billions of euro in foreign direct investment (FDI) from companies in hi-tech sectors like Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Pharmaceuticals, Digital Media and Social Media.
  • Since 2007, some 5,000 Irish projects have been selected to receive European Research Council funding. The grants are open to researchers of any nationality provided they are based in, or willing to move to, a host institution located in Europe, where they need to spend at least half of their research time.
  • Ireland currently hosts 50 ERC grantees (33 Starting Grantees, 8 Consolidator Grantees and 9 Advanced Grantees) as well as 10 Proof of Concept (top-up) grants awarded to a number of those 50 grantees.
  • The top three institutions hosting ERC researchers in Ireland: Trinity College Dublin 18, University College Dublin 14, and NUI Galway 7
  • Ireland received over €620 million in grants for research and development through the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which ended in 2013.
  • Ireland is part of the European Research Area (ERA), which means we can contribute significantly to global research and development.
  • The EU’s Innovation Union Scoreboard for 2014 showed that Ireland performs well above the EU average on International scientific co-publications and license and patent revenues from abroad.
  • Irish organisations can draw down a minimum of €1 billion under Horizon 2020, the current EU research, innovation and science programme that has a budget of almost €80 billion.
  • Irish SMEs had the highest success rate (20%) in the first wave of grant applications to the EU’s new €3 billion SME Instrument that’s designed to help innovative small firms get ideas from the lab to the market.


Other benefits

  • Galway Mayo Institute of TechnologyEU membership has supported the peace process in Northern Ireland through investment in cross-border programmes.
  • The EU has helped fund many of Ireland’s tourist amenities, including the interpretive centre at the Cliffs of Moher.
  • A funding agreement with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the South and East Ireland region that’s worth almost €500 million between 2014-2020 aims to support the creation of new quality jobs, enterprises and innovations, and to deliver smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the region.
  • The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) means that Irish criminals can no longer escape justice by fleeing to another EU Member State.
  • Being an EU Member State has helped protect the Irish language. Knowledge of Irish is taken into account for the purposes of recruitment to the EU institutions and EU regulations are all translated into our native language.
  • Water treatment plants, sewage works, rail lines, bus services and the Luas tram system in Dublin have benefited from EU financial support.


Last update: 04/03/2016  |Top