On Thursday 16 November 2017 the IIEA co-hosted the first Future of the EU27 University Roundtables in partnership with the Maynooth Centre for European and Eurasian Studies.
Working with Professor John O’Brennan, Senior Lecturer and Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration, we invited 6 students to participate in a panel debate entitled ‘Ireland and the Futureof the EU: Leading the way, following the crowd or left behind?’
Taking place the day after the launch of the Citizens’ Dialogue on the Future of Europe, the event provided a timely forum to engage with students and hear their views on what the EU represents, how the EU should change and where Ireland should look for strategic alliances post-Brexit.
To open the event, IIEA Director General Barry Andrews set the scene by outlining the five scenarios set out in the European Commission White Paper on the Future of Europe, underlining the pressing need for debate to take place among as broad an audience as possible.
To get the discussion underway, Paul Cunningham, Editor of RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, began by asking the panellists what the European Union represented to them, recalling his own memories of experiencing European history ‘live’ in Berlin in 1989, and in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
For some members of the student panel, the classic rhetoric of the EU as a bastion of peace and its role in the prevention of war was considered too distant to be the defining advantage of EU membership.
Rather, these students saw the opportunities of economic prosperity, freedom of travel and the promotion of a rights-based culture as the most substantial benefits of the EU for both Ireland, and the other Member States.
Nonetheless, some panellists firmly believed that the EU does have an important role to play in the area of defence and security, and that its capacity to integrate military capabilities – through initiatives such as Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) – and to prevent terrorism through the sharing of information, should not be understated.
Another student pointed out that the individual Member States, particularly smaller ones such as Ireland, would be far less effective at promoting peace and security globally without cooperation through the European Union.
Regarding the White Paper scenarios for the Future of Europe, the panellists were broadly in agreement that the fifth scenario, in which the EU does more together across a number of areas, would be the best path to adopt. However, most students expressed reservations over the EU’s capacity to do this, given the current climate of nationalism and disenchantment within many countries.
One student was of the opinion that before the EU embarks on further integration, there needs to be a stronger sense of purpose; leaders must be sure of how and why this integration should be pursued. Furthermore, it was felt that unless the EU communicates better with European citizens, moving forward with the fifth scenario is likely to be met with opposition in many countries.
Brexit, a source of much concern and pessimism in Irish society, was framed in a positive light; several speakers believed that Brexit will give Ireland the opportunity to step out of Britain’s shadow and play a leadership role within the debate on the future of Europe. The panel agreed that leaving the EU did not appear to be a good idea for Ireland, rather they argued that Ireland can best play a role on the global stage by maximising its influence at the EU table.
Overall, the tenor of the discussion was constructive, thoughtful and optimistic. Many thanks to Professor John O’Brennan, Paul Cunningham, and most importantly to the student panellists: Cathal David Coffey, Maeve McNamara, Shane Gough, Anastasia Campbell, Michel Barrett and Ciana Brady for sharing their reflections on the future of Europe.
You can view pictures of the event here.
You can watch the debate here
This event was part of the IIEA Future of the EU27 project, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.