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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.

Over the past four decades 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 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, agricultural dependent economy into a modern one largely driven by hi-tech industry and global exports.
  • Ireland 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). That basically means we get more money out of the EU than we put in.
  • The EU focuses on economic recovery by investing in growth and jobs, including a new multi-billion-euro fund to tackle youth unemployment. Ballymun in Dublin was selected as one of just 18 areas across Europe to pilot the Youth Guarantee scheme, which is now being rolled out to other Member States.
  • Ireland has a small, open economy that’s heavily reliant on exports. Being part of the EU's Single Market makes it easier 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.
  • EU membership has helped Ireland attract billions of euro in direct foreign investment, creating more 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.
  • 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.
  • Workers’ rights have been improved through EU regulations including measures that improve working hours, conditions and contracts.
  • European legislation on equality in the workplace has ensured that Irish men and women are entitled to equal pay for doing the same job, receive equal and fair treatment at work and that women are entitled to maternity leave.
  • 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. Today, that figure has 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.
  • Since Ireland’s accession to the EU the European Social Fund (ESF) has invested over €6 billion in education, training and employment creation in Ireland. The ESF is Europe’s main financial instrument for supporting workers and jobs. Its main focus is on providing access to employment, education and training in disadvantaged areas.
  • The EU’s new Youth Guarantee initiative is providing up to €8 billion for jobs, training and education for Europe’s under 25s. Funding of €302,000 was provided for the Ballymun Youth Guarantee Scheme, with €250,000 coming from the European Commission and €52,000 from the Irish Government.
  • Irish citizens choosing to work or study abroad can now have their Irish qualifications recognised throughout the European Union under the European Qualifications Framework.
  • In 1973 just 27,135 Irish students reached third level education. By 2013 that figure had increased to 164,863. If current patterns of education continue, 89% of young people in Ireland today will obtain an upper secondary qualification in the course of their lifetimes. 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 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 farmers benefit from direct payments paid out under the CAP. The funding is aimed at supporting and protecting farmers' incomes.
  • The latest 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.
  • Irish agriculture has benefited greatly from EU payments. Over the past two decades alone Ireland has received over €30 billion in EU net receipts, around 70 per cent of which were directly related to agriculture.
  • 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).
  • 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 up to 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.
  • Total beef production in Ireland for 2013 was estimated at 520,000 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.
  • Ireland’s Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014-2020 has a proposed budget of around €4 billion, co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EARDF) and the national Exchequer.
  • 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. 



  • Hands holding a globe with Europe facing outwardsEU 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.
  • 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 €3.4 billion to the protection of the environment throughout Europe. A total of 55 projects have been co-financed in Ireland including 38 on environmental innovation and 17 on nature conservation..



  • Family travelling through airportIrish citizens can travel to any EU Member State and stay as long as they like without the need for visas.
  • 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.
  • The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) provides basic healthcare access to all Irish citizens while travelling in the EU. The card entitles you to get healthcare through the public system 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.
  • Irish consumers can easily determine where the food they purchase has come from and what it contains. New rules being phased in from December 13, 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.
  • Back in 1973 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..


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.
  • Ireland ranked third out of 28 Member States in the European Commission’s proposed new Indicator of Innovation Output, published in September 2013.
  • Under the Seventh EU Research and Technological Framework Programme (FP7) 2007-2013, Irish organisations drew down more than €572 million of funding for projects.
  • 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.
  • Irish towns and cities benefited from over €28 million in EU funds through the Gateways and Hubs Investment Scheme between 2007-2013. The funding co-financed projects such as green transport routes, arts centres, tourist attractions, urban renewal, amenity provision, energy efficiency and cultural infrastructure investment.
  • 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.


Last update: 17/09/2014  |Top