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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

‘Soldiers of Destiny’ No More? Ireland’s Role in an Ever Centralising EU


"Sinne Fianna Fáil, Atá faoi gheall ag Eirinn" are the first two stanzas of Amhrán na bhFiann, Ireland's national anthem, and translates to "Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland". This is the essence of how Fianna Fail, the major party in Ireland's governing coalition, led by Taoiseach (PM) Micheal Martin, sees itself: as the purveyor of heartfelt patriotism. Slowly, however, the EU is centralising, and Ireland's unique position within the union is being compromised, and it's starting to look like Ireland's post-COVID future is in the EU's hands.

To understand Ireland, it is key to understand the evolution of Fianna Fail and its relationship with the European Union. What federalism meant and still means to Fianna Fail and Ireland is so vastly different to the UK's view, but the future of federalism, one can only see starting from the Irish perspective.

Ireland matters to the UK because it shows what would've happened had we remained a member during this pandemic. It shows a European Union going in the same, old, centralising direction that it was going in before.

The reason why this issue is important is because the Irish Taoiseach only recently implied the possibility of the EU Commission getting tax-raising powers during a meeting on the EU coronavirus budget. "Europe needs to give far more detailed consideration to other proposals, including...a digital tax", clearly signaling that the Irish government would approve the plans to centralise taxation across Europe. This is not the only situation in which Ireland has been at the forefront of radical EU-wide change, however. Over the course of their membership of the European Union, the leaders of the party have slowly eroded Irish sovereignty, now to the extent to which the benefits are no longer.

From 1932 to 2011, Fianna Fail had the most seats in the Dail, the Irish parliament, and led the most governments in Ireland's history. It is also proudly nationalist, still committed to a united Ireland.

Ireland joined the EEC at the same time as the UK but took a very different view on it. They saw giving up their sovereignty as a way of, in fact, establishing their independence roughly 50 years after the state's creation, particularly during a period of sluggish economic growth, especially in comparison to much of western Europe. To Ireland, accession meant jumping out of the shadow left by the British. Now, in an ironic twist of fate, Ireland now lies under the shadow of the British, serving as a parrot for the strongest Europhiles, and on the forefront of their continent-wide battles (think Apple) as well as their most expansionist ideals.

It was in the 1980s that a low-tax business-friendly regime, as well as common market membership, a period famously associated with the Fianna Fail-led government of Charles Haughey, as well as the government led by Fine Gael (their main rival), led by Garrett FitzGerald. Despite the personality clashes between the two main leaders at the time, there was a consensus that this was the key to growth, and it was. In the wake of the Sinn Fein surge during the last election, however,

Ireland's place within the EU as the archetypal foreign investor-friendly, free trade, and often low tax nation has slowly clashed with bureaucrats in Brussels, which often tends to believe that economic outliers undermine the unity of the European Union. Under the previous Tory-lite Fine Gael-led governments of Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar, Ireland was keen to oppose Brussels' 'tax harmonisation' plans, as it would attack Ireland's reputation as a bastion of free-market success. Indeed, Ireland under a Fine Gael Taoiseach was keen to revive the Celtic Tiger once associated with Fianna Fail.

Therefore, a Fianna Fail Taoiseach hinted at supporting a union-wide digital tax is a significant turnaround. What does this mean? It means that Ireland can no longer chart its own path to recovery and success, and that the prosperity that existed for decades, particularly under Fianna Fail governments led by Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds, and Bertie Ahern, cannot be emulated again.

Public polls showed that centralisation was never a major concern in Ireland, but there were areas of conflict which demonstrated how economic outliers didn't rub nicely with the European Commission. The Apple case is the best example. In 2016, the EU alleged that Ireland had given illegal tax benefits to Apple and ordered them to pay €13 Billion back to the Irish government. The Irish parliament, however, rejected the payment. Moreover, the Irish government said the Commission's actions were "an intrusion into Irish sovereignty", as tax policies were excluded from EU treaties. On the 15th July this year, the European General Court ruled in favour of Apple, stating that the commission "did not succeed in showing the requisite legal standard". The unprecedented attack on the economy and reputation of a member state then wasn't taken nicely now.

Yet, during a pandemic, these tax-raising powers are being floated as viable. The mere floating idea suggests a change in direction by the Fianna Fail Leader. It shows that, if anything, even a member like Ireland was willing to cede to the EU, and was thus an acknowledgement that the EU is bound to be under attack in the long term. Hence, the logic would be that ceding such powers was necessary to justify the European project. It is, however, with those concerns in mind that it becomes clear these moves will be the European project's undoing.

It highlights a lack of understanding or reflection in the aftermath of Brexit and the refusal to change course. The longstanding belief that a more centralised Europe, led by the commission, is automatically a more united Europe. Even though the EU hasn't taken any moves and it isn't likely tax-raising powers will be their primary concern, among other issues, we should expect it to be part of the long-term plan.

Regardless of what your political leanings may be, the necessity for all nations to be able to chart their own path, with their own decisions, couldn't be more important. Governments need to be able to implement policies which best suit those who hold them accountable. If greater centralisation occurs without the proper consultation, where the driving force behind policies and ideas is the knee-jerk pro-Europeanism and 'faux solidarity', then the potential of countries like Ireland with their own unique exports, culture, and economic systems within the union will not be unleashed.

So, what if Fianna Fail has changed? What does that mean for Britain? The change of approach by Ireland shows that in the EU, 'harmonisation' means 'homogenisation'. What this shows to Britain is that the EU seeks homogeneity in the name of unity, that Britain's free-trade based, financial services-driven, free market economy within the EU, under the thumb of the commission, will not be tolerated. This shows that Ireland,

This, more than ever, shows that Britain's future outside the EU can only be beneficial, if done right. Ireland's precarious position has shown that the UK wouldn't be able to play it both ways, were it still in the EU. A 'different' political and economic culture with a clearly different orientation simply doesn't fit into the EU's agenda of further centralisation.

The party which sees itself as the face of anti-British rebellion, of Irish nationalism, is now on its way to making a turnaround. This proposal makes clear that post-COVID, power will lie in Brussels. 

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