Speech: “Ireland in Europe” Minister Lucinda Creighton

For our grandparent's generation, Europe was a no-brainer. For the originators of the European concept, the rationale was clear. All of them had suffered greatly – and witnessed unimaginable suffering – during World War II. You have heard this before and probably don't need me to remind you.LucindaCreighton

But it is extraordinary. People who had seen the worst in human terms were prepared to believe the best of their fellow men. The nationalism which had caused two world wars within thirty five years would have to be suppressed for the greater good. Sovereignty would be pooled, and in being shared, it would be increased.

But since then there is no doubt that the concept of the European project has lost much of its public appeal, for which we can place some blame on the generation which ran the Union – our parents. The European Union has sadly lost some of its ability to engage on a political level with so many of its citizens. To some, it seems to be a series of closed doors; committee rooms full of indistinguishable suits and it appears to have lost the ability to protect its citizens.

And when we consider that there is 44% youth unemployment in Spain, is it any wonder that there are question marks over the "added value" of the European Union? Now, for the first time, probably, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, our generation is likely to be worse off than our parents.

We have great difficulty in describing Europe – which is one of the essential problems. We know it when we see it: we know that Tallinn and Dresden and Zagreb are part of Europe, but we cannot exactly explain why.

So we need to find a means of describing it in terms of what Europe is: maybe a continent of moderation, in climate and in topography, or in its religions and philosophies. Tony Judt talks about an "ethical coherence" and maybe there is something in that. Why do all Europeans abhor the death penalty, or the subjugation of women? There is a coherence about that which we can recognise even if we can't describe it.

We could argue economic policy here tonight, but I actually want to make a broader point. Even twenty years ago, when the first steps towards an enlarged European Union became possible, Europe was a bigger place. It was richer than almost anywhere else in the world and it was among the most innovative economies. That has changed completely.

We no longer live in a bi-polar world, with Europe on the winning team. Now we live in a multi-polar world and the scale of the game has increased immeasurably. It is only by recognising our similarities as Europeans and working together that we can maintain our place in the world and make our voice heard. It also means that if we want to see a world order based on that moderation and human respect which I believe identifies Europe, it can only be made to happen with a united Europe playing a coherent role on the world stage.

Today, it is quite simply nonsense to think that an individual European country could be a player on the economic field against a China or a Brazil or an India. It also not possible for an individual country to deal with the other gargantuan challenges facing us: energy supply, climate change, world poverty. The world may be a better place than it was at the end of World War II, but it is also much more complex. Only a European Union with the correct democratic structures and with economic strength can protect its citizens.

For that reason I would like to share with you some of the other issues I have been working on in the last few months.

Re-engagement with the EU agenda

In an EU of 17, we have 27 voices, each trying to articulate a point of view. If you do not speak, are not audible, are not coherent, you will be forgotten. To influence decisions, we must engage. My Government came into office with an explicit commitment to restore Ireland's standing as a respected and influential member of the European Union.

Members of the Government are availing of every opportunity to meet their EU colleagues, and representatives of the European institutions to underline the Government's constructive engagement with the European agenda and to ensure close working relationships at political level across the Union.

Aside from meetings and discussions with counterparts at and around the GAC, I have very deliberately planned as many visits as I could to other Member States and have met with many of my EU counterparts during my visits, or else during visits of my counterparts to Ireland.

For us this is a two way process. Yes it is about making our voices heard and securing our vital interests. But it is also, importantly, about contribution to the debate, about doing our bit to contribute to and secure the future of the European project.

To underscore how serious the Government is about all of this, we transferred responsibility for the coordination of all aspects of EU affairs to the Department of the Taoiseach. We do not consider this activity to be foreign affairs, but rather an integral part of the day to day domestic agenda of the Irish Government.

Ireland's EU Presidency 2013

It is so important that we engage effectively and meaningfully with the EU agenda because Ireland will hold the Presidency of the European Union for the seventh time during the first half of 2013. This Presidency will also coincide with the 40th anniversary of Ireland's accession to the European Union.

A key factor in the positive perception of Ireland in Europe has been the reputation we have developed over the past four decades for impartial and effective Presidencies.

Ireland's Presidencies have played a key role in the reunification of the European continent. During our 1990 Presidency Ireland oversaw the approach to German reunification. That is a legacy which I am very proud of.

Again in 2004, Ireland held the 'Day of Welcomes' here in Dublin which marked the accession of 10 new Member States and saw the EU expand to central and eastern Europe.

Our task for the presidency of 2013 – our greatest challenge to date – will be to run a presidency that contributes to the renewal of the European project after a traumatic period. It will be a presidency that focuses on growth and jobs, a presidency that puts prosperity back on the European agenda. Above all, it will be a presidency that recognises that the European Union is about the prosperity and security of its people and therefore, for the Union to have legitimacy, its people must be prosperous and secure.

Irish People in Europe, EU needs you – EU Jobs

Because of the complexity of the EU there is a tendency to neglect the human element of the European institutions, which is to ignore the central role that Irishmen and women play in the success of the European project. In fact, here in Ireland we have a great and proud tradition of contributing to workings of the European Union – through its institutions.

Irish people were, and still are, highly regarded for their efficiency, impartiality and their legendary networking skills! They have devoted many hours – some have devoted their lives – to working for the European Union, and this selfless contribution has been an integral part in building the institutions – and the ideas – we have today.

There have only been five Secretaries General of the European Commission. Of these two have been Irish. That is no mean feat. The current Secretary General is Catherine Day. In the new EU diplomatic service, the European External Action Service, the Chief Operations Officer, David O'Sullivan is Irish.

Currently Ireland is well represented in the middle and upper management level of the EU institutions. However, there are insufficient numbers of officials of Irish nationality at more junior grades. This, coupled with the retirement of many officials of Irish nationality, will see numbers falling in the coming years.

There are opportunities for young Irish professionals to seek employment in Brussels. In the next 7 years The European Parliament will renew nearly 50% of its staff; why shouldn't a respectable number of them be Irish?

As I've mentioned, one of the objectives of the Irish Government is to boost Ireland's engagement with the European Union at all levels. Having a steady flow of high quality Irish candidates entering the EU institutions is not only beneficial to Ireland but beneficial to the EU.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of the Taoiseach have been working with various partners to encourage Irish candidates to apply for the EU level career opportunities.

A mailing list has been set up to which those interested in getting updates on EU careers opportunities can sign up. Should you be interested the email is EUJOBS@TAOISEACH.IE.

Next month I will launch a recruitment campaign to raise awareness of the career opportunities available. The campaign will be called "The EU Needs You" and I intend to take it to every third level institution in the country.

As I previously mentioned, Irish graduates are highly sought after in the EU institutions. I urge you to consider careers in the EU, where you can follow in the footsteps of the Irish women and men who have helped to bring Europeans together, and open up the continent ushering in greater mobility for all Europeans.

Many of you here will have formed part of the almost 3 million young, and not so young, Europeans who have availed of the opportunity to study at a university in another Member State. There is no doubt that the ERASMUS programme is one of the most tangible successes of the European project, launched by our own Peter Sutherland

There are many examples of how Ireland's membership of the EU has created greater opportunities for Irish professionals in other EU Member States.

However, it has also created greater opportunities for young professionals at home. Let me give one example. I see that many of the audience are young women: you, more than anyone else here, have directly benefited from Ireland's membership of the European project.

While it might sound farcical and outrageous now, less than 40n years ago the Irish state had a 'marriage bar', which forced women working in the public service to resign from their jobs if they got married. This was only abolished in 1973 – as a direct consequence of our accession to the EU.

CONCLUSION

In closing, I am always struck by how little we appreciate how exceptional the EU is.

Yeats spoke of 'great hatred, little room' for our own troubles in Ireland. He could have been speaking of the European continent for much of its history. Yet, in the middle of the last century something changed: hard-fought consensus displaced the all-too-easy descent into conflict, and what has developed is truly exceptional.

Europeans often seems unaware of the concrete and tangible change that the European project has effected on its borders. In the Western Balkans today Europeans, Irish men and women among them, are working together to heal the divisions of a bloody and awful conflict, and though progress is slow, there is progress. We Irish know, more than most, that there is nothing greater that we can make than peace; nothing more fragile, nothing more powerful. Since the inception of the European project, Europeans have been doing just that.

Ireland has been a part of that, Ireland is a part that, and that is something we can be proud of.

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