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Ask me Anything

Junior Chamber Ireland organise sessions called ‘Ask me anything’ with local MEPs.

It was my turn last Thursday with pupils from St Louis Senior Primary School in Rathmines, Scoil Mhuire in Sandymount and Harold’s Cross National School.

Their questions were excellent and in this week’s column I will set out their questions and my, hopefully helpful, answers.

Yu Lin Cong asked ‘why did it take Ireland until 1973 to join the EEC and have we benefitted since?’

Ireland joined in 1973, 16 years after the EEC was set up. Along with the UK, Denmark and Norway, we applied to join in 1961 but the French President Charles De Gaulle, who liked Ireland, didn’t really like the UK. He blocked the UK’s application and Ireland at that time was too dependent on the UK to join on our own. Since we joined in 1973, we have become far less dependent on the UK which in my view has been a good thing.

Leon Stuart asked ‘Why did Britain leave the EU and how will this affect Ireland in the future?’

Britain voted to leave in a referendum in 2016 so it could control all of its own laws. This has made the operation of the Peace Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement, complicated. Ireland has used the opportunity of the UK’s exit to find new markets for selling our goods especially in France and Germany.

Lauren Asple asked ‘What language do you speak when talking to other MEPs?’

Most EU business is in English even though English is not an official EU language (Irish is our national language). This is a great advantage for Irish MEPs. I can speak French informally to the few French MEPs who don’t speak English.

Marina Moran asked ‘How has C19 affected your work?’

At first, I stayed at home in Dublin and didn’t go to Brussels much in 2020. I wasn’t able to meet new colleagues or to meet constituents in the way that I would have liked. Life has almost returned to normal thanks to the vaccine and the Digital Covid Certificate. However, it still hasn’t been possible to bring visitors over to Brussels.

Alex Smith asked ‘Is the EU still expanding and how can new countries join the EU?’

In theory, EU membership is still open to any European country that respects the values of the EU. Top of the queue at the moment are countries in the region known as the Western Balkans, especially Serbia and Montenegro. However, the appetite for enlargement of the EU is not very high as countries that are already members, especially Poland and Hungary, no longer fully respect the EU’s values.

Jayden Daly asked ‘If 2 EU countries went to war what would the EU do?’

Tough question. If this happened it would be a massive crisis for the EU. This is why Turkey will not be an EU country while it occupies part of Cyprus. Relations between Ireland and the UK were very bad when we joined in 1973 but obviously not at war. The EU would firstly try to mediate and if that didn’t succeed would provide aid and assistance to the Member State that had been attacked. But it would be a disaster for the EU.

Fiona Gonzalez asked ‘What is the difference between being in the EU and not being in the EU?’

Being in the EU means solidarity when you are in trouble, like when Ireland needed help on Brexit, and also a better way to deal with global problems like climate change and trade. A good example is the way that Ireland was able to secure supplies of Covid vaccines. Eventually we led the most successful vaccine campaign in the EU.

Liam Smith asked ‘What does the EU do for homeless people and for refugees?’

The EU does not deal with homelessness however efforts are now being made to have an EU-wide definition of homelessness so proper comparisons can be made. Also EU rules on social housing may be loosened in the future.

The management of refugees has been a very tough political issue. I would simply say, the EU does not do enough for refugees.

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