Representation in Ireland

Impact of EU membership on Ireland

More than half of Ireland’s current population wasn’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 on 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

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    Ireland'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.
  • According to European Commission figures, Ireland’s net gain from EU budgets has been €44.6 billion since 1976.
  • 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 global 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 an EU country, Ireland is part of one of the strongest economic areas in the world. The EU has 7.3% of the world's population, but accounts for 23% of nominal global GDP.
  • Ireland is benefiting from the Investment Plan for Europe that aims to mobilise at least €315 billion for investment projects. A major project to build 14 primary health care centres around the country was one of the first to get the go-ahead.
  • 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.


Education and Training

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    EU funding has helped improve education standards in Ireland and created great opportunities for studying abroad through Erasmus +, the EU’s study and work abroad programme.
  • 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.
  • Since Ireland joined the EU, Irish agencies and State bodies have received almost €6.5 billion in investment from the ESF.
  • 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.
  • Around 50,000 students from Ireland have participated in Erasmus + since 1987. A survey carried out by the Higher Education Authority in 2016 found that Erasmus+ students coming to study or work in Ireland are responsible for encouraging almost 25,000 visitors here, adding €14 million to the Irish economy.
  • According to an Erasmus impact study, 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.
  • Funding of almost €170 million has been allocated to Ireland for Erasmus+ 2014-2020. Over 77% of this will be allocated to education and training, with a further 10% focussing on youth.


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    The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is primarily funded through the EU budget framework plan (MFF). It supports Irish farmers as well as 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.
  • Only farmers currently active benefit from income-support schemes, and young Irish farmers are strongly encouraged to set up in business through the CAP.
  • Currently, Irish farmers receive EU funding of €1.2 billion every year through CAP funding and since 2007, Irish farmers have received a total of €10.5 billion.
  • In the period from 2014 up to 2020 the CAP will invest €10.7 million in Ireland’s farming sector and rural areas, with additional co-financing from Irish authorities.
  • 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 almost €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. Today, the agri-food industry is still an important part of our economy, providing 8.4% 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 vast majority of Irish beef exports are sold in 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.
  • It also helps protect our environment as the CAP includes measures that encourage sustainable farming and protect the land for future generations.
  • To improve the balance of the food supply chain in Ireland, EU instruments (such as Producer Organisations) help farmers to get better organised and to market their products better.
  • 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.
  • According to a Eurobarometer survey, published in January 2016, 69 % of Irish people agree that the EU fulfils its role in ensuring a fair standard of living for farmers and that Irish agricultural products are of good quality, healthy and safe.


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    Being a part of the European Union means Ireland can act in unison with other Member States to tackle global environmental challenges like climate change.
  • 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 thanks to EU rules, and marine life around the Irish coast has benefited from cleaner sea water and beaches.
  • The European Commission has called on Ireland to improve the collection and management of waste water in 38 agglomerations around the country as required under EU law. If Ireland fails to act, the case may be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.
  • Active raised bogs across Ireland’s midlands in counties Offaly, Roscommon, Galway, Cavan, Meath and Westmeath as well as Ardagullion Bog in Longford are being restored in a €5.4 million programme with support from the EU’s LIFE fund.
  • 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.


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    Irish 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 also come into force.
  • As an EU national, you can freely travel with your cat, dog or ferret if it has a European Pet Passport.
  • Consumers have strong protection when purchasing package holidays, timeshares or holiday club schemes, even when buying online.
  • 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. Rates for making calls have been reduced to just 5c more than the cost at home and from June, 2017, there will be no mobile 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.


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    The 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 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 is allowed.
  • 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.
  • A new EU-wide Online Dispute Resolution platform is now available, providing consumers with a one-stop-shop aimed at resolving disputes over online purchases.
  • The European Commission is proposing new rules to make it easier for authorities to enforce consumer rights in e-commerce. The rules will also clarify the rules on unfair commercial practices online. 

Research and Innovation

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    Being 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.
  • Several thousand Irish projects have benefited from hundreds of millions of euro in 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 58 ERC grantees (20 women and 38 men) with total EU funding worth approximately €97 million. The top three hosting institutions are Trinity College, University College Dublin and the National University of Ireland, Galway.
  • 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.
  • Ireland's small and medium-sized enterprises are ranked best in the EU for innovation, according to the EU Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2016. Ireland is also characterised as a ‘Strong’ innovator, the second highest category out of four.
  • 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.
  • Over 440 applicants from Ireland have secured almost €180 million of funding for research and innovation projects through Horizon 2020 so far.

Other benefits

  • EU membership has supported the peace process in Northern Ireland through investment in cross-border programmes and the creation of the Northern Ireland Task Force (NITF) and the PEACE Programmes.
  • Ireland will benefit from €3.3 billion in European Structural and Investment Funds between 2014-2020. That’s an average of €729 per person and the funding will focus on projects in Research and Innovation, the Digital Economy, SME competitiveness and the Low Carbon Economy.
  • Over the years, the EU has helped fund many of Ireland’s major tourist amenities, including the interpretive centre at the Cliffs of Moher and the redevelopment of Lough Key Forest and Leisure Park.
  • Major infrastructure projects have also benefited from EU funding such as five major inter-urban roads, including the M1/M4 between Dublin and Galway and the M1/M9 between Kilkullen and Waterford as well as the Dublin Port Tunnel, the completion of the M50 and the DART.
  • EU funding of €36 million is helping to roll out affordable, quality broadband to rural Ireland.
  • EU funding helped preserve the landmark Christchurch in Cork and restore it into a vibrant space for arts. It’s one of thousands of local projects funded by the EU.
  • 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.
  • Being part of the EU has made a real difference to Irish people’s lives at a local level. Click here to find out what the EU has done for your county.