Representation in Ireland

Impact of EU membership on Ireland

Ireland became a member of the European Union on January 1st 1973 following a referendum in which 83% of voters supported the move.

Back then it was called the European Economic Community (EEC) and most of Ireland’s current population won’t remember the historic event for good reason – they hadn’t been born yet!

That’s why it’s important to reflect on Ireland’s EU membership and the many positive impacts it’s had, and is still having, on the country.

Joining the EU is undoubtedly the most significant step the country has taken on its journey as an independent nation. 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 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.

Membership has also provided support in times of need, so let’s take a look at just some of the ways EU policy, legislation and funding has helped improve Irish life.

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 to a one now largely driven by hi-tech industry and global exports.
  • The country was a net recipient of European funds up to the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) EU budget. This basically meant we got more money out of the EU than we put in. Ireland is expected to become a net contributor to the MFF for 2021-2027. Contributions from Member States are based on their financial capacity.
  • According to figures from Ireland’s Department of Finance, Ireland has been technically a net contributor to the EU Budget since 2013. However, from 1973 up to 2018 the country had a net benefit of over €40 billion.
  • The 2020 European Semester report for Ireland shows that Ireland has made remarkable progress in strengthening its financial sector and improving employability since 2014. Much of that success is a result of EU membership.The report also said that Ireland is experiencing strong economic growth, with real GDP growing by 8.2% in 2018.
  • The EU budget provides a significant contribution to job creation and training in Ireland through the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). From 2014 to 2020 the ESF supported nearly one million Irish people. The European Commission is proposing to invest €1.2 billion in Ireland through ESF and ERDF funding over the period 2021 to 2027.
  • 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 euro area (Eurozone) group we’re now better protected from future financial turmoil.
  • 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 Ireland now has one of the fastest growing economies 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 Canada, Japan, South Korea and Singapore thanks to international EU trade agreements. More agreements are on the way or are currently being negotiated.
  • 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, fair treatment at work and both parents are entitled to maternity and paternity 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.
  • For over 30 years, Irish students and staff have moved between European universities in the Erasmus programme, with over 50,000 Irish students taking advantage since 1987.
  • The EU’s financial instrument for investing in people, the European Social Fund (ESF), is contributing around €610 million from the EU budget into Ireland’s €1.15 billion Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) that runs until the end of 2020.
  • 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 2018, there were 231,710 enrolments in the higher education system.
  • Erasmus+ students coming to study or work in Ireland are responsible for encouraging more than 25,000 visitors to the country, adding over €14 million to the Irish economy.
  • An EU impact study published in 2019 found that between 2014 and 2018, two million students and staff in higher education around the EU undertook a learning, training or teaching period abroad with the Erasmus+ programme.
  • The impact study also revealed that students who take part in Erasmus+ boost their employability skills, with a large majority (72%) saying it had been beneficial or highly beneficial in finding their first job.
  • Erasmus+ can also help students with their romantic lives. The impact study found that 23% of Erasmus+ graduates live with a partner with a different nationality to their own, compared to 13% of non-mobile graduates.
  • The European Commission estimates that around one million babies are likely to have been born to Erasmus couples since 1987.
  • The European Commission wants the future EU budget to allow as many as 1,000,000 young people to benefit from an Erasmus exchange.
  • Funding of almost €170 million was allocated to Ireland for Erasmus+ 2014-2020. Funding is made available to all types of formal, informal and non-formal education. This includes schools, youth organisations, adult education groups, and vocational organisations.


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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 helping 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.
  • Direct payments accounted for 30% of the average Irish farmer's income in 2017.
  • Only farmers currently active benefit from income-support schemes, and young Irish farmers are strongly encouraged to set up in business through the CAP.
  • In the period from 2014 up to 2020 the CAP invested €10.7 billion 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. 
  • The CAP beyond 2020 will aim to prioritise small and medium-sized farms, encourage young farmers to join the profession and focus on better rural development.
  • It will also include measures to combat climate change. An external study published by the European Commission in 2019 showed how the CAP has already helped reduce non-CO2 emissions from agriculture by more than 20%.
  • Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 has a budget of over €4 billion, co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) 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 7.7% of national employment in 2018. 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 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.
  • 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.
  • According to a Eurobarometer survey, published in 2018, 64% of Irish people agree that the CAP benefits all European citizens and not only farmers. A total of 74% agreed that the CAP contributes to boosting investment and growth, and increasing the number of jobs in the agriculture and food sectors.


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    Being a part of the European Union means Ireland can act in unison with other Member States to tackle climate change. EU policies to protect natural habitats, keep air and water clean and ensure proper waste disposal are reflected in Irish legislation and the European Commission helps all Member States apply EU environmental law correctly.
  • The global environment can’t be protected at local level alone but Ireland’s EU membership ensures cross-border cooperation between other Member States and with the rest of the world. 
  • Tackling the global climate emergency is a top priority for the European Commission. The new European Green Deal includes key policies aimed at ambitiously cutting emissions, investing in cutting-edge research and innovation and preserving Europe’s natural environment.
  • EU rules have meant Ireland has had to act on water pollution, waste disposal, air quality, 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.
  • Most of the 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.
  • To comply with EU policy, the Irish Government published a new Climate Action Plan in 2019 that includes over 180 actions and a timeline for delivery aimed at getting Ireland’s environment performance back on track.
  • The European Commission’s projects of common interest (PCIs) include major investments in infrastructure that will help Ireland’s transition to a greener environment.
  • PCIs that will improve Ireland’s energy connectivity include a Celtic Interconnector between France (La Martyre) and Ireland (Knockraha, Co Cork), a terminal and connecting gas pipeline in Shannon and a Hydroelectric Power Station at Silvermines.
  • The European Commission has been instrumental in encouraging Ireland to take action to protect Irish peat bog habitats.
  • The LIFE Programme is helping fund The Living Bog Project in Clara, Co Offaly, Ireland’s largest single bog restoration project, that will see an area of raised bog the equivalent in size to 7,000 Croke Parks brought back to life.
  • As a result of a Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) 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.
  • Under the EU’s Bathing Water Directive Ireland has to monitor and assess bathing water to ensure it’s safe for bathers.
  • Ireland is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions under EU agreements.
  • Ireland's environment has benefited from millions of euro in EU funding through its LIFE programme.
  • Examples of LIFE funding in Ireland include €4.3 million awarded to the Department’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), for a project focused on improving the conservation status of the endangered Corncrake in Ireland.
  • Over €12 million of LIFE funding was awarded to the LIFE-IP PAF Wild Atlantic Nature programme, which aims to protect and restore Ireland's blanket bog Natura Network along Atlantic seaboard while the LIFE-IP Waters of Life programme is benefiting from over €9 million to help protect and restore high ecological status waterbodies in Ireland.
  • Since 1992, a total of 62 LIFE projects have been co-financed in Ireland including 40 based on environment and resource efficiency and 30 on nature and biodiversity conservation. These projects benefitted from a total investment of €134 million, of which €60 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 mean 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 by plane, train, ship or long-distance bus and coach.
  • 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.
  • Mobile phone roaming charges were abolished across the EU on June 15th, 2017 and providers now must issue a ‘Roam Like at Home’ (RLAH) contract by default to customers. Any calls and texts made in EU countries are deducted from plans consumers have with domestic providers here in Ireland. Providers must also provide consumers with ‘unlimited data’ plans with a large volume of data for roaming and advise them when they’re approaching their limit.
  • 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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    Being part of the European Union is making it safer for Irish consumers 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. 
  • Thanks to EU regulations, every consumer in the EU has the right to receive clear, correct and comprehensible key information from a trader about the good or service before making an online purchase.
  • Misleading advertising and unfair commercial practices such as aggressive sales techniques are banned in the EU. 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. EU rules 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.
  • 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 Consumer Protection Cooperation Network carries out systematic checks simultaneously in different Member States to investigate breaches of consumer protection law, particularly with online sellers.
  • Food and animal feed sold in the EU are subject to stringent safety requirements. Swift action can be taken protect consumers from unsafe food products through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
  • The EU-led Rapid Alert System for non-food dangerous products (RAPEX) also allows dangerous goods to be quickly withdrawn from the market.
  • The EU-wide Online Dispute Resolution platform provides Irish consumers with a one-stop-shop aimed at resolving disputes over online purchases.

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.
  • Irish research projects and researchers have benefited from hundreds of millions of euro in Horizon 2020 funding.
  • More than 2,100 projects involving Irish organisations have received over €880 million in funding from Horizon 2020. Just over a quarter (560) of these organisations were small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs) who received a total of €214.6 million in funding.The European Commission is proposing a budget of €100 billion for the next the next research and innovation framework programme, Horizon Europe.
  • Ireland is part of the European Research Area (ERA), which means Irish researchers can contribute significantly to global research and development.
  • The European Innovation Scoreboard, published annually by the European Commission, showed that in 2019 amid increased innovation performance across the EU, Ireland remained a ‘strong innovator’ in 10th place and performed above the EU average.

Other benefits

  • EU membership has supported the peace process in Northern Ireland through investment in cross-border and PEACE programmes.
  • The EU has always fully supported the Irish peace process and made avoiding a ‘hard’ border on the island of Ireland one of three issues to be agreed with the UK before entering fuller talks about the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
  • Ireland will be supported by the European Union and Member States regardless of the outcome of negotiations on the EU’s future partnership with the UK.
  • Over the years, the EU has helped fund many of Ireland’s major tourist amenities, including the interpretive centre at the Cliffs of Moher, the redevelopment of Lough Key Forest and Leisure Park and the establishment of a crystal manufacturing and visitor centre at Waterford Crystal following its closure. Over €2.5 million in EU funds was also allocated to help the redundant workers find new jobs.
  • Major infrastructure projects have also benefited from EU funding such as 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.
  • The development of the Luas Red Line in Dublin was facilitated by EU funding of €82.5 million under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
  • Construction of the 5.6km extension to the Luas Green Line was supported by €150 million from the EIB, which has helped with investment in several major Irish infrastructure projects.
  • The Port of Cork redevelopment is part-funded from EU funds as a Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) project, which supports the construction and upgrade of important transport infrastructure across the European Union.
  • Town centres around Ireland including in Athlone and Mullingar have been improved with the help of €1.5 million each from the EU Urban Designated Fund.
  • 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.
  • Being part of the EU has made a real difference to Irish people’s lives at a local level. Click here and here to read just some of the stories of how Ireland benefits from EU membership. You can also find out what the EU is doing for your county by clicking here.