Stronger resolve is needed on rule-of-law issues in Europe, since the actions of some member states have “gone too far,” a webinar heard this morning.
Speaking at the webinar entitled ‘State of the European Union 2021: What Will It Mean For Ireland?’ Stephen O’Shea of European Movement Ireland said: “The challenges to the EU law, and democratic backsliding, cannot continue.”
“The mechanism to apply rule-of-law conditionality to EU funding is welcome, but we need to go further.
“In foreign policy, the EU needs to stop talking about being a global player, and get on the pitch,” O’Shea added.
“A lack of coherence and capacity continue to undermine our ability to match our global ambitions with reality,” he said.
And pooled sovereignty does not equal lost sovereignty, O'Shea told the webinar, moderated by journalist Emmet Ryan of the Sunday Business Post.
MEP Deirdre Clune said the European health union is an area that will see big changes, with a strengthening of the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Control.
Ciarán Cuffe MEP added that health has not traditionally been an EU competency, so it took some time to respond to the virus crisis.
He added that there was also an ideological challenge in the virus response, which had involved restricting the movement of people within Europe – which is one of the ‘Four Freedoms’.
“There was a sharp intake of breath from the European institutions to the challenge of doing this in the early days,” he said, and this required moments of careful thinking.
“The COVID crisis showed us that we do need ‘more’ Europe, in the right areas. I would argue we need more Europe in the area of health provision – and in terms of climate action.”
Cuffe predicted a row in the months ahead in terms of prioritising EU spending on development aid, health and education.
Danny McCoy of IBEC also predicted clashes ahead of carbon reduction, because passion to do the right thing on the environment often combines with "a fair bit of ignorance".
Values and prices
“When your values and prices align, that’s great. But the gap between values and prices around the environment still remain extreme, in my view,” he said.
Ireland saw this in the unwillingness to actually pay appropriate prices for utilities, such as water, he added.
“It doesn’t augur well for what’s about to unleash on the Irish electorate and businesses.
The scale of carbon reduction is significant, he warned, particularly against the backdrop of an economy that is growing and scaling upwards.
“It’s not as if we have a modest growth rate, the two things are going in opposite directions,” he added.
He warned that the impact would be immense, when people find out what 'net zero' actually means for their businesses, which may become unviable.
Danny McCoy added that Ireland’s “spectacular” wealth creation over the last decade had provided an opportunity to redirect resources.
Wealth has come from intangibles such as intellectual property, he said.
Carbon reduction challenges
“This is really about, can we envisage a future that’s intangible, and the EU is probably the best mechanism to bring that about,” he said.
Ciaran Cuffe said that neither industry, nor agriculture, nor transport, really want to take on carbon reduction challenges.
“It’s kind of 'pass the parcel on a Belfast bus',” he said.
“Nobody wants to actually unwrap the actual steps that we need to take to reduce our carbon production.”
He added that Irish agriculture did not need to keep on increasing its output exponentially.
Patricia King of ICTU said that, as a rich country, Ireland should pay its workers a decent wage.
While the reality of climate action was non-negotiable, King said that some workers might lose their jobs in non-viable sectors, and must be helped to reskill.
“That is going to be a huge job in Ireland, because we are not anywhere near ready,” she commented.
“Our experience in Bord na Móna was not good. We have hundreds of workers in that organisation who ended up unemployed,” she said.
Changes in transport, agriculture and energy must not “kill our economy, but transform our economy,” she added.
Reforms will affect a lot of people, she predicted, and work must be put in to prepare people to work in sustainable companies.
The trade union movement was pushing hard for a just transition, she added.
“Our experience to date has not been good,” she said.