Maureen O’Neill explains why a century after the start of the First World War, it is important to ensure a strong European Union
100 years have passed since the catastrophe of the First World War followed all too soon by a Second World War. These terrible events drew together a group of people with a vision for a unified Europe that would surmount conflict and focus on building a strong and shared economy and establishing a fairer and more social Europe.
This vision has currently brought together 28 European States, which for all their national differences and perspectives, contribute to the development of the European Union. Yes, it has flaws. Yes, it sometimes feels bureaucratic and No it is not about Brussels ruling the rest of us. It is about each member state through our national governments making joint decisions and setting joint agendas. Does it always work smoothly or achieve all its goals? No, it doesn’t but this is a symptom of forgetting the overall imperative of working towards a collective good, which sometimes means reducing our particular desires and expectations.
Apathy is not good enough if we want the EU to make a difference to our lives
As a member of the European Economic and Social Committee, I have felt privileged to be part of the framework that enables debate, provides different perspectives and influences how we think as a union. For me the benefit is in finding the mutuality as well as the tangible benefits that arise from being part of a union. It should enable us to question our values and positions from an informed and wider viewpoint.
We might grumble about the benefits but they are there – the common agriculture policy, infrastructure investment in roads and transport systems, anti-discrimination directives, working hours, good health and safety, support to life-long learning, a focus on social protection (even if rather vulnerable at the moment) open borders, peace-building and on and on...
What would be our loss without European funding for a range of projects in the voluntary sector that benefit people at local level, research investment or exchanges across different disciplines in different member states?
We must use all the democratic processes available to maintain a strong and peaceful co-existence. To use our mutual strengths to develop a European Union that is not only strong economically but also focuses on the wellbeing of our citizens. Apathy is not good enough if we want the EU to make a difference to our lives. To make sure that we have MEPs who will fully participate in the functioning of the European Parliament and to ensure that our national governments are committed to a structure from which we benefit and stop shilly-shallying about our membership after 40 years. If we want reform then this should be on the table for the Council of Ministers for decent negotiations. What organisation does not need review from time to time? There must be more cohesion between the European Parliament and our national government as well as the institutions and importantly a proper commitment to stakeholder involvement on the key issues affecting society.
The slogan for this election is Act, React, Impact – if we don’t act by voting we will be much less powerful in reacting to the outcomes and the impact on our lives will be that much weaker and perhaps less acceptable. We need to acknowledge much more strongly the benefits of being part of the EU rather than focusing on the irritations. We need to make co-decision making between the European Parliament and national parliaments have a positive impact and that by involving stakeholders in a more structured and strategic way we can offer an influential reaction.
Let’s make the last 100 years count by acting.