The European Year of Citizens 2013 was launched last Thursday January 3, Brian O’Connor of The Daily Shift was in attendance…
As I sat among the crowd in Dublin Castle on a wet Thursday afternoon, I looked around and saw many kinds of people who had opinions to voice. One man that I encountered was fluent in French and was conversing fluently with a cameraman working at the event. Name cards with Dutch, American, Irish and French names were on the chests of all of the attendants that I saw.
The buzz of conversation flew throughout the room as people were heavily anticipating the arrival of the likes of Enda Kenny, José Manuel Barroso, Eamon Gilmore, and Lucinda Creighton. The razzmatazz of the room was merciless compared to the usual quiet lobby of Dublin Castle. And with good reason, it’s not very often that one has the opportunity to have a Q & A session with prominent EU politicians.
RTÉ presenter Pat Kenny launched the event at 2pm. The changing times were clear as he announced that instead of turning off your phone, all you need to do is go on silent and tweet to you heart’s content. He then gave a long speech depicting the importance of Ireland’s Presidency.
The debate was split into 3 parts, the 1st part was about the Economic State of the EU, the 2nd was about citizens’ rights and the 3rd was about what our vision of the EU in 2020 would be.
A round of applause was made by the audience as soon as the dignitaries arrived. One of the first points that Enda Kenny made was that we as EU citizens take peace for granted. He defined the EU as a “remarkable achievement ” and a clear indicator of what we have “achieved together”. He defined Ireland’s membership as a time of transformation. He appealed to the charity workers who strive to improve community. More importantly, he made the point that more integration can lead to higher transparency. He wished the audience the best of luck in their discussion.
Kenny was quickly followed by Eamon Gilmore. It was clear that he was aware of the loss of public trust due to the recession. He also clarified that his primary concern was job creation and active engagement with the government. But he also claimed that a focus on a treaty can be confined to an ” adversarial context”. His main emphasis was that during 2013, He wanted the people of Ireland to actively engage with government and community.
José Manuel Baroso gleamed with delight as he reached the podium. His attempt of ‘hello’ in Irish was warmly greeted by the audience with applause. He claimed that the audience had a lot to discuss. His argument was that the economic crisis had to be solved on an international level. He wanted to clarify that the taxpayer had to be clean from problems caused by banks and not punished for them. I was surprised by the audience’s reaction to this claim as it provoked a wild round of applause by the conference’s participants. I noticed that Enda Kenny was not pleased as he did not give applause and the look on his face said it all. He had a vision of growing an economy again and creating jobs “for all EU citizens”. He claimed that there was a need to do this more than ever. He expressed his respect for Irish efforts to tackle the crisis. He was aware that Ireland had the opportunity to help other states to restore economic growth. “Inclusive and smart growth” was how he described it.
What was most significant in his speech was his comment that the EU is not perfect, but it is what “we make of it”.
Then it began. The 1st question was on the Economic Crisis and what the EU could do. Enda Kenny claimed that Ireland was negotiating the promisary notes to be paid after March. The ESM was also mentioned, he outlined the international efforts being made by Financial Ministers. Kenny claimed that Ireland was the only country within the EU that is subject to promisary notes.
Gilmore developed on the issue of the promisary notes by claiming that negotiations were still occurring. Jobs and growth were the two main priorities according to Gilmore.
José Manuel Baroso claimed that the EU is not just Brussels, but every city and every place within the EU’s borders. It was clear that Baroso was making efforts to appeal to the crowd.
Eamon Gilmore claimed that “Europe’s agenda is the same as Ireland’s agenda.” He claimed that certain measures were necessary to tackle the economic crisis.
Baroso agreed with Gilmore. “What is good for Ireland is good for Europe and what’s good for Europe is good for Ireland. This Irish presidency can be great for Ireland and great for Europe” as Baroso enthusiastically claimed.
Soon afterwards, Baroso, Guilmore and Kenny left. I was disappointed by the fact that they were only there for about an hour.
It was a pity that they left so early, as Lucinda Creighton and Viviane Reding went up to the podium and began to take over. The most contructive debate was created after Kenny, Baroso and Guilmore left.
A question was posed to Creighton and Reding about the Budget’s effect on Human Rights. Creighton claimed that it was more of a domestic issue. She claimed that 2013′s budget was the most difficult budget of all to fix Ireland’s economy. She didn’t deny that it would effect all of Ireland’s citizens. But she claimed that foundations were being laid for growth in the future.
Reding claimed that “we have to decrease the youth unemployment”. She emphasised investment and how the youth’s confidence would be restored with employment. It’s a responsibility of all governments to “lay the foundation, that what happens now, won’t happen again”.
Creighton claimed that “we have to ensure that we pay our way”. But it had to be acknowledged that young people are the people that have suffered most in the crisis. They were the ones who “took the brunt of it and took the hit”. She claimed that solutions such as the youth guarantee were a temporary measure.
Fr Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland asked “why hasn’t the EC (European Commission) protected vulnerable countries by making them pay back a debt that they don’t have?”
Creighton claimed that nothing could be done. Reding responded by saying that the EC doesn’t have control over the fiscal power of the EU. She claimed that one of the solutions is to break the relationship between banks and supervisors.
With Greece, she claimed that the Greek government never made a system of taxation where richer people pay more tax. Systems are being built so that it never happens again.
A cypriot MEP called Antigoni Papadopoulou then came onto the floor to demonstrate the inter-institutional work of the EU. She expressed the need to enjoy common human rights and solidarity. “We can share our vision and policies to solve all of these problems, be they economic or social” as she enthusiastically announced.
Reding claimed that gender pay gap “is a nightmare”. She advocated the use of the “female talent” as 65% of Irish graduates are women. “We can’t afford to [forget] them,” she said.
She also said that the EU is the chance to keep a country’s identity alive and for it to prosper. As a Luxembourger, she claimed that the audience only needed to look at her to see small country’s representatives having a say in EU affairs.
The last topic of the day was the EU’s future in 2020.
The first question posed was why the EU is in Brussels and Strasbourg? Reding clearly answered that it was for historical reasons and written into a treaty.
The CAP was addressed also. According to Reding, the Irish will make the CAP a high priority of the negotiation within the EU’s institutions.
Then the debate was concluded. Some of the most distinct words said by Reding was that 2013 was “a beginning of a new adventure, an adventure where politicians are listening” and that “the EU isn’t perfect, we have to acknowledge the efficiencies and strengths to know where we have come from”.
She emphasised the fact that every Irish citizen has a say to influence the direction of the Union. She hopes to bring progress and celebrate Irish citizens in the EU.
They both thanked the audience for participating in this “experiment” and that they hope to encounter them again.
Having attended the conference, I found it a bit too ideal in nature. One of the main criticisms that I would have would be that it was too idealistic. Many topics were discussed within too little time. But what I found to be most frustrating was the fact that many people there didn’t get the chance to ask questions to the 5 politicians at the podium. Having said that, the EU wanted to show that it was adapting to the changing times when it was using social media to tweet ongoing comments and questions for the conference. But one of the main positive elements of the day was the people I met. The diversity of opinion and ethinicities in Dublin Castle epitomised the ideology of the EU – Strength Through Diversity.