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Impact of EU membership on Ireland
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The historic decision by the vast majority of the Irish people to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 is undoubtedly Ireland's most important development as an independent nation.

Over the past four decades of membership almost every aspect of Irish life has improved, 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 it’s easy to forget that before we joined what has become the European Union, Ireland was a nation still economically dependent on its UK neighbour and struggling to find its feet in the international community.

So let’s take a look at just some of the ways EU membership has helped change Irish life and Ireland for the better.

Economy and Jobs

  • Person working in call centreIreland's membership of the European Union greatly facilitated our move from an antiquated, agricultural dependent economy to a modern one largely driven by hi-tech industry and global exports.
  • An estimated 700,000 jobs have been created in Ireland since 1973, and trade has increased 90 fold.
  • 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. Border controls within the EU on goods have been abolished, as have customs controls on people.
  • Our open economy also makes us more vulnerable to global events and, as we've experienced in recent times, that includes worldwide financial crashes. However, as we’re both an EU Member State and part of the Eurozone group we’re becoming better protected from future worldwide financial turmoil and can benefit from a co-ordinated, stable recovery with the help of our European partners.
  • EU membership has helped Ireland attract billions of euro in direct foreign investment, creating more job opportunities for Irish people.
  • Thanks to international EU trade policy agreements Irish exporters can sell more easily and cheaply into lucrative global markets like South Korea, South Africa and Central America. Trade talks are also underway with Japan and the USA, which should result in even more opportunities.
  • As EU citizens Irish people can live and work in any Member State, which 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.
  • From 1973 to 2011 Ireland received more than €67 billion in EU funding and contributed around €25 billion, meaning that it has been a net recipient of over €42 billion.


Education and Training

  • Students in front of Trinity College DublinEU funding over the past four decades 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 EU’s new Youth Guarantee initiative is providing up to €8 billion for jobs, training and education for Europe’s under 25s. Ballymun in Dublin is a pilot area for a Youth Guarantee scheme.
  • Students choosing to study abroad can now have their Irish qualifications recognised throughout the European Union under the European Qualifications Framework.
  • Every year around 2,000 students from Ireland benefit from 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.
  • A new €16 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.



  • Farmer with cowsMore than 95 per cent of Irish beef and lamb exports ends up on high value EU supermarket shelves.
  • Participation in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) means that as a net exporter Ireland can benefit significantly from being able to trade agricultural commodities on EU markets, which generally provide better prices than world markets.
  • Irish agriculture has benefited greatly from EU payments. Over the past two decades 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).
  • From 2007 to 2011 Ireland enjoyed a surplus of €9 billion in trade of agri-food products with our EU partners. In 2011, 11 per cent of our overall exports came from the agri-food and drinks sectors.



  • EU funding has helped reintroduce the Golden Eagle to IrelandEU 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.
  • Ireland's environment has benefited from millions of euros in EU funding. Over 50 environmental projects have received a combined total of almost €110 million of LIFE funding, of which over €46 million was contributed by the European Union.



  • Family travelling through airportTravelling 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.
  • The European Aviation Safety Agency established by the EU in 2003 has made flying safer and co-operation between Member States through the Air Traffic Management System means it’s more efficient too.
  • 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.
  • EU regulations on mobile roaming means that it costs substantially less to use your phone when you’re travelling within the EU than it did in 2007.
  • The European Health Card provides basic healthcare access to all Irish citizens while travelling in the EU.



  • Shopping trolley with euro notesThe European Commission’s Consumer Policy Strategy has helped make it safer for Irish citizens to buy goods and services throughout the EU.
  • EU health and safety regulations help ensure food and other consumer products sold in Ireland are of better quality and are safer.
  • The EU helped with the liberalisation of the communications market, meaning we have a better choice of internet and telecoms providers.
  • 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.


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.
  • Over €700 million in new Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I) investments were won for Ireland in 2011 from leading multinational firms including Boston Scientific, IBM, Valeo, EMC, Analog, MSD, Biotrin, Merck, Misys, Ericsson and Covidien.
  • The EU’s Innovation Union Scoreboard for 2013 placed Ireland top of the EU league table when it comes to making knowledge and innovation work for the real economy.
  • Irish research programmes and projects secured over €400 million of EU funding through the Seventh Framework Programme and the Research and Development Fund.
  • Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) attract more EU research support than SMEs in any other Member State.



Other benefits

  • Galway Mayo Institute of TechnologyEU membership has supported the peace process in Northern Ireland through investment in cross-border programmes.
  • The European Convention for the Protection of Architectural Heritage of Europe has ensured that many of Ireland’s oldest architectural sites have been preserved and can still be seen and visited today.
  • The EU has helped fund many of Ireland’s tourist amenities, including the interpretive centre at the Cliffs of Moher.
  • Ireland was allocated over €17 billion in Structural and Cohesion funds during the first three decades of membership to help reduce disadvantage and develop infrastructure, such as our motorway network.
  • From 1973 to 2011 Ireland received more than €67 billion in EU funding and contributed around €25 billion, meaning that it has been a net recipient of over €42 billion.
  • Ireland has received funding under the EU Common Agriculture Policy, Structural and Cohesion funds for investment in infrastructure and human capital including education and training. It has also received EU funding for other priority areas such as fisheries, research and the globalisation fund.


Last update: 09/08/2013  |Top