It is easy, as Ireland struggles to cope with impossible bank debt, to scoff at the fact that the Nobel prize for peace has been awarded to the European Union.
That the honour was bestowed by a country that steadfastly remains outside the EU adds to that possibility.
It would be even easier if you are one of the millions of Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese, or Italians facing life-changing hardship because the euro was set up without the political and monetary foundations needed to secure the currency’s integrity.
Naturally, you would scoff if you are one of those Little Englanders who would like to see Britain leave the EU. That particularly patronising bluster would end the very moment Britain faced the world and its markets alone and unable to send a gunboat upriver to shell some forlorn colonial capital.
Apart at all from the primary achievement of the EEC/EC/EU — the maintenance of peace on a continent riven by war after war — the great social and, despite everything, economic advances we have enjoyed make that scoffing shortsighted. We have come to take for granted how Europe has driven legislation on social change and protection and without that influence this would be a very different country.
The EU offers the kind of security we, as a tiny nation, could never build for ourselves. Just this week there will be an example of that when EU leaders meet to try to agree a set of rules on international banking.
No matter how resolute our intentions, and there is little evidence we are, we could never impose meaningful controls on the role international banking plays in our society. We have paid a heavy price for that but maybe, just maybe, an EU-wide approach might.
Another version of that mismatch can be seen in the controversy about cutting the State bill for medicines. Pharmaceutical companies employ 25,000 people in this country and that, as unemployment hovers just below 15%, is a pretty big stick. Naturally, drug companies use it to every now and then remind our negotiators of what is at stake. That stick might seem less intimidating if there was an EU-wide policy on this issue.
Still another mismatch can be seen in the legal tax avoidance schemes used by multinationals such as Google, Starbucks, Microsoft, and many others to minimise tax bills. Standing alone, Ireland can do little other than grin and bear these practices. But an EU policy would be a deterrent of a different colour. Without the force of the EU these issues will always be resolved in a way that puts the interests of business far beyond any notion of social obligation to the countries and populations that host these companies.
The EU has a huge and growing democratic deficit which must change, the euro must be re-engineered to give a more secure future, and, in Irish terms, our bank debt must be reviewed so we can at least be optimistic about the future.
Despite all of those issues our EU membership has had more influence on our country than any other event since we achieved independence and if the peace prize does no more than make us consider the alternatives the decision of the Oslo jury has been vindicated.
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