1. Euroscepticism and the European Parliament elections

Local and national issues dominate the Irish campaign

The main top­ics in the Irish cam­paign were local and nation­al issues due, at least in part, to the fact that vot­ing in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions took place on the same day as local elec­tions and two nation­al by-elec­tions.

One set of issues that was con­sis­tent­ly raised relates to the econ­o­my, aus­ter­i­ty and unem­ploy­ment. Unem­ploy­ment in Ire­land was 11.8 per­cent in April 2014, with youth unem­ploy­ment at 24.3 per­cent. The focus of the dis­cus­sion was gen­er­al­ly not on the Euro­pean pol­i­cy respons­es to these issues and relat­ed rather to the nation­al dimen­sions.

Oth­er recur­ring issues dur­ing the cam­paign involved pub­lic accep­tance of ener­gy infra­struc­ture, pri­mar­i­ly wind farms and elec­tric­i­ty pylons, to which there is strong oppo­si­tion in cer­tain rur­al com­mu­ni­ties. Con­tro­ver­sial gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives such as the restric­tion of sub­sidised med­ical care and the intro­duc­tion of water charges and a local prop­er­ty tax also fea­tured in the cam­paign.

It is impor­tant to note, how­ev­er, that Irish pol­i­tics tends to be pre­dom­i­nant­ly per­son­al­i­ty-based, as opposed to issue- or par­ty-based. The 2014 Euro­pean elec­tion cam­paign has not diverged in any sig­nif­i­cant way from this tra­di­tion, although the typ­i­cal cam­paign­ing style of direct­ly can­vass­ing vot­ers was some­what dis­turbed fol­low­ing the redraw­ing of the con­stituen­cy bound­aries this year. This was neces­si­tat­ed by the reduc­tion of Irish MEPs to be elect­ed from twelve to eleven; as a result, three 3‑seat euro-con­stituen­cies were re-divid­ed to cre­ate two larg­er 4‑seat con­stituen­cies (South and Mid­lands-North-West). The Dublin 3‑seat con­stituen­cy remained unchanged.

The role of the “Spitzenkan­di­dat­en” or lead can­di­dates for the posi­tion of Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent was not sig­nif­i­cant in the Irish cam­paign. The “Spitzenkan­di­dat­en” did not fea­ture on any elec­tion posters or in any of the lit­er­a­ture deliv­ered by Irish polit­i­cal par­ties to house­holds around the coun­try. Despite some atten­tion to this aspect of the elec­tions in the broad­sheet media, it did not fea­ture in the tele­vised debates between the can­di­dates in Ire­land.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly then, there has been min­i­mal pub­lic engage­ment with the lead can­di­date process. Recent IPSOS research found that only 29 per­cent of Irish peo­ple sur­veyed had an opin­ion on Jean-Claude Junck­er, and the fig­ures were even low­er for Mar­tin Schulz (25 per­cent) and Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt (21 per­cent).

Growing Euroscepticism?

Right-wing Euroscep­tic can­di­dates and par­ties are large­ly absent from the nation­al polit­i­cal land­scape, although some British-owned anti-Euro­pean news­pa­pers do pro­duce Irish edi­tions (for instance the Sun­day Times, the Irish Dai­ly Mail, the Irish Sun). Those Euroscep­tic politi­cians that exist are over­whelm­ing­ly on the left and pre­dom­i­nant­ly out­side of the main­stream.

The two par­ties in coali­tion gov­ern­ment, Fine Gael and Labour, are broad­ly pro-Euro­pean. It is notable, how­ev­er, that nei­ther of the gov­ern­ment par­ties topped the poll in any of the three con­stituen­cies. Labour failed to win any seats, mean­ing that Ire­land will have no rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the strong Social­ists and Democ­rats group­ing in the new Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

Bri­an Crow­ley, a sit­ting MEP from the main pro-Euro­pean oppo­si­tion par­ty, Fian­na Fáil, had a resound­ing vic­to­ry in the South con­stituen­cy and will serve a fifth term in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. How­ev­er, no oth­er Fian­na Fáil can­di­dates were elect­ed, point­ing to a trend of pro-Euro­pean par­ties both in gov­ern­ment and oppo­si­tion los­ing ground.

Sinn Féin, a left wing par­ty com­mit­ted to reunit­ing the island of Ire­land, won three of the eleven Irish seats in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Lynn Boy­lan, incom­ing MEP who topped the poll in Dublin, describes her par­ty as “Eur­o­crit­i­cal”, which she defines as nei­ther Euroscep­tic nor Europhile but crit­i­cal­ly assess­ing each piece of leg­is­la­tion on its own mer­it. She also indi­cat­ed that the rea­son she stood for elec­tion was that she was ‘fed up with peo­ple telling us that we should some­how be grate­ful to the Euro­pean Union’. Sinn Féin received 19 per­cent of first pref­er­ence votes nation­al­ly.

Three inde­pen­dent can­di­dates were also elect­ed, with two of the three, Mar­i­an Harkin (ALDE) and Nes­sa Childers (NI), re-elect­ed from the pre­vi­ous par­lia­ment. New to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment is left-lean­ing inde­pen­dent politi­cian, Luke “Ming” Flana­gan, who was already well known as a nation­al politi­cian. He was the most pop­u­lar can­di­date in the vast Mid­lands-North-West con­stituen­cy. His elec­tion lit­er­a­ture explains that the Euro­pean project has ‘gone too far’ and describes mon­e­tary union as ‘a calami­tous mis­take’. He believes that ‘the future of Ire­land and Europe is best served with­out the Euro cur­ren­cy’.

Despite the strong link between these results and local, nation­al and per­son­al­i­ty issues, broad­er changes in Irish atti­tudes towards the EU can be detect­ed. On one hand, since entry into the EU-IMF recov­ery pro­gramme, trust in the EU among Irish peo­ple is 23 per­cent­age points low­er than before the cri­sis began. Thus, the cri­sis and the bailout have had an impor­tant impact on Irish atti­tudes towards the EU. On the oth­er hand, some recov­ery is now in evi­dence, and trust lev­els have improved over the last year. Fur­ther­more, the lat­est Euro­barom­e­ter sur­vey (Stan­dard Euro­barom­e­ter 80, Autumn 2013) shows that 40 per­cent of Irish peo­ple still have a pos­i­tive image of the EU – high­er than the EU aver­age (31 per­cent) and far above the fig­ures in each of the oth­er bailout coun­tries.

Irish turnout down but still strong

Ire­land elect­ed eleven MEPs for the 2014–2019 leg­is­la­ture, with a turnout of 51.2 per­cent.

Over­all the results were:

Fine Gael (EPP) 4 (unchanged)
Sinn Féin (GUE/NGL) 3 (+3)
Inde­pen­dents (var­i­ous) 3 (+1)
Fian­na Fáil (ALDE) 1 (-2)
Labour (S&D) 0 (-2)
Social­ist Par­ty (GUE/NGL) 0 (-1)

Ini­tial sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis has found a strong cor­re­la­tion between vot­ers’ posi­tions on nation­al issues and the votes cast in the Euro­pean elec­tions and only a weak cor­re­la­tion between views on EU issues and votes cast.

If the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in Ire­land are viewed as a mid-term ver­dict on the gov­ern­ment, it is clear that a strong neg­a­tive mes­sage has been sent to the Labour Par­ty, which lost both of its Euro­pean Par­lia­ment seats. Fine Gael, the main gov­ern­ing par­ty, retained the same num­ber of seats as before the elec­tions, despite a reduc­tion in the num­ber of MEPs to be returned from Ire­land.

The turnout of 51.2 per­cent is well above the EU aver­age, as has been the case on the last two occa­sions. Turnout has declined from 58.64 per­cent in 2009, although it is dif­fi­cult to draw con­clu­sions from this data when numer­ous types of elec­tion are held on the same day.


2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Russia’s violation of international rule of law a concern for Ireland

Irish for­eign pol­i­cy is tra­di­tion­al­ly focused on the pro­mo­tion of human rights, dis­ar­ma­ment, mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and the inter­na­tion­al rule of law. Ireland’s view, con­sis­tent with that of oth­er EU Mem­ber States, is that the inter­na­tion­al rule of law was vio­lat­ed by Rus­sia with its annex­a­tion of Crimea. The Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore TD, con­demned Russia’s actions in Crimea and called on Rus­sia to respect Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty. Ire­land was among the coun­tries in the EU that were in favour of expand­ing the list of indi­vid­u­als in Rus­sia to which sanc­tions should apply. Efforts will con­tin­ue to try to restore rela­tions with Rus­sia in the future at bilat­er­al and EU lev­el. Nego­ti­a­tions will be del­i­cate and dif­fi­cult and will depend on find­ing appro­pri­ate and peace­ful solu­tions to this seri­ous cri­sis.

As Ire­land is geo­graph­i­cal­ly dis­tant from Rus­sia, future rela­tions between the two coun­tries do not fea­ture promi­nent­ly in pub­lic dis­course. Nev­er­the­less, Rus­sia is one of Ireland’s most impor­tant trade part­ners out­side of the U.S. and EU. Irish firms export­ed goods and ser­vices worth about €637 mil­lion to Rus­sia last year. Irish min­is­ters have led a num­ber of trade del­e­ga­tions to Rus­sia and an Ire­land-Rus­sia Joint Eco­nom­ic Com­mis­sion has been oper­at­ing for sev­er­al years. This is a for­mal inter­gov­ern­men­tal body deal­ing with all aspects of trade devel­op­ment between the two coun­tries.

Ireland supports a common European policy to promote stability in Eastern Europe

Ire­land sup­ports the East­ern Part­ner­ship as a means of pro­mot­ing democ­ra­cy, rule of law and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in the EU’s neigh­bour­hood. Recent events in Ukraine high­light the impor­tance of sta­bil­i­ty in Europe’s neigh­bour­hood and the need for a com­mon Euro­pean pol­i­cy to that end. Although Ire­land is geo­graph­i­cal­ly dis­tant, it is famil­iar with the chal­lenges fac­ing the region fol­low­ing its 2012 Chair­man­ship of the OSCE, dur­ing which it led nego­ti­a­tions on frozen con­flicts in Moldo­va and the South Cau­ca­sus.

Among the gen­er­al pub­lic, sym­pa­thy lies with the Ukrain­ian peo­ple in their strug­gle for democ­ra­cy but there has been lit­tle polit­i­cal or pub­lic debate about the future of EU rela­tions with Ukraine or oth­er East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. Ire­land sup­ports the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment which her­alds a stronger rela­tion­ship between the EU and the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries and sup­ports all EU attempts to de-esca­late ten­sions in the region at inter­na­tion­al fora such as the UN, the OSCE and the Coun­cil of Europe.

Irish government supports EU enlargement to Turkey

Ire­land is tra­di­tion­al­ly a sup­port­er of EU enlarge­ment, includ­ing to Turkey. Dur­ing the Irish Pres­i­den­cy in 2013, progress was made on open­ing a new chap­ter in Turkey’s acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions and suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have con­sis­tent­ly backed Turkey’s even­tu­al acces­sion to the EU. At the lev­el of pub­lic opin­ion, how­ev­er, it is not clear to what extent the Irish pop­u­la­tion would sup­port Turk­ish mem­ber­ship of the EU.


3. Power relations in the EU

Ireland conscious of German leadership role

Ireland’s rela­tions with Ger­many have been con­sis­tent­ly pos­i­tive and friend­ly and Ger­many has been regard­ed as an ally of small­er states such as Ire­land. The Irish Gov­ern­ment and peo­ple recog­nise the piv­otal role that Ger­many plays in the EU. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, Ger­man lead­er­ship in Europe was under­stood in the con­text of the Fran­co-Ger­man ‘motor’, but now, with the decline of France’s influ­ence, Germany’s role has been fur­ther enhanced.

Amongst the gen­er­al pub­lic, Chan­cel­lor Merkel is wide­ly recog­nised and is con­sid­ered to be a key leader in the EU and one of the deci­sive fig­ures in Europe’s response to the eco­nom­ic cri­sis. The Irish Prime Min­is­ter, Enda Ken­ny enjoys a close polit­i­cal rela­tion­ship with Chan­cel­lor Merkel and, as lead­ers of Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties, the two meet reg­u­lar­ly on the mar­gins of Euro­pean Coun­cil sum­mits.

On eco­nom­ic issues, Ger­many is seen as the prin­ci­ple advo­cate of sta­bil­i­ty and fis­cal dis­ci­pline in the EU. Germany’s strong focus on con­sol­i­da­tion and aus­ter­i­ty dur­ing the eco­nom­ic cri­sis pro­voked some lim­it­ed anti-Ger­man sen­ti­ment amongst the pub­lic at large, in par­tic­u­lar as there was a view in Ire­land that Ger­many itself was not deeply impact­ed by the cri­sis and per­haps did not appre­ci­ate the social impli­ca­tions of aus­ter­i­ty for the Irish peo­ple.

The role of the Ger­man Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court in EU mat­ters is of some impor­tance in informed polit­i­cal and legal cir­cles; how­ev­er, the IIEA Work­ing Group on Ger­many has not­ed a lack of detailed and nuanced under­stand­ing of Ger­man polit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tion­al struc­tures amongst the Irish media and the pub­lic.

Oth­er aspects of Germany’s Euro­pean and for­eign pol­i­cy that attract atten­tion in Ire­land include Germany’s strength­en­ing rela­tion­ship with Poland; Germany’s posi­tion of sup­port­ing con­tin­ued UK mem­ber­ship of the EU; and Germany’s strong polit­i­cal and trade links with Chi­na.

Austerity vs. growth: A programme country perspective

Irish per­spec­tives on the aus­ter­i­ty vs. growth debate are strong­ly influ­enced by the country’s expe­ri­ence of the EU-IMF pro­gramme and the aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures neces­si­tat­ed by it. The gov­ern­ment entered the Troi­ka pro­gramme in Novem­ber 2010 when it was unable to bor­row mon­ey on inter­na­tion­al mar­kets at sus­tain­able rates. The stric­tures of the pro­gramme gave rise to a feel­ing amongst many Irish peo­ple that aus­ter­i­ty was imposed on the coun­try by the IMF, the EU and, in some views, Ger­many.

The Irish peo­ple did not take to the street in large num­bers to express anti-aus­ter­i­ty views, as has been the case in oth­er pro­gramme coun­tries. There has been a strong reac­tion against a num­ber of spe­cif­ic ini­tia­tives, includ­ing the intro­duc­tion of a local prop­er­ty tax and res­i­den­tial water charges, and there was a small Occu­py camp estab­lished out­side the Cen­tral Bank from Octo­ber 2011 until March 2012. How­ev­er, these protests have not spilled over into mass anti-gov­ern­ment or anti-aus­ter­i­ty move­ments.

Cit­i­zens have reg­is­tered their frus­tra­tion at the bal­lot box. In Feb­ru­ary 2011 a gen­er­al elec­tion was held which saw both of the out­go­ing coali­tion par­ties (Fian­na Fáil and the Green Par­ty) dec­i­mat­ed and a new Fine Gael (cen­tre-right) and Labour (cen­tre-left) coali­tion enter gov­ern­ment with a strong man­date to take the mea­sures nec­es­sary to ensure Ireland’s exit from the Troi­ka pro­gramme as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.

The peri­od of the pro­gramme saw unem­ploy­ment peak at 15.1 per­cent in Feb­ru­ary 2012 and on aver­age 1,000 peo­ple emi­grat­ed per week between April 2012 and April 2013. The ful­fil­ment of the terms of the pro­gramme, how­ev­er, allowed Ire­land to suc­cess­ful­ly exit the bailout with­out a pre­cau­tion­ary cred­it line on-sched­ule in Decem­ber 2013. The main focus of the debate has now switched to nation­al and EU efforts to stim­u­late growth.

Aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures did pro­voke a neg­a­tive response, towards the gov­ern­ment and the EU, which explains, to a cer­tain extent, the sig­nif­i­cant rise in the sup­port for Sinn Féin and inde­pen­dent can­di­dates in the May 2014 local and Euro­pean elec­tions. How­ev­er, the chal­lenges of the last five years have also stim­u­lat­ed entre­pre­neur­ship, in par­tic­u­lar among young peo­ple.

In terms of pre­ferred reform options at EU lev­el, Ire­land is a strong sup­port­er of increased reg­u­la­tion and enhanced trans­paren­cy in the finan­cial ser­vices sec­tor. The gov­ern­ment pri­ori­tised mak­ing progress on bank­ing super­vi­sion dur­ing its Pres­i­den­cy of the Coun­cil of the EU in the first half of 2013 and advo­cates the com­ple­tion of a robust Bank­ing Union. Ire­land also has a pref­er­ence for mea­sures to stim­u­late growth and employ­ment and has been active in the nego­ti­a­tion of the Youth Guar­an­tee at EU lev­el.

UK’s relationship with the EU a cause for concern in Ireland

The pos­si­bil­i­ty that the UK will leave the Union is a cause for some con­cern in Ire­land. As the only coun­try to share a land bor­der with the UK, Ire­land would per­haps be the EU Mem­ber State most direct­ly affect­ed by a UK exit from the Union. The trade and busi­ness rela­tion­ship with the UK is extreme­ly impor­tant to Ireland’s econ­o­my. Bar­ri­ers to trade between Ire­land and the UK would be huge­ly dam­ag­ing. Ire­land would also lose an impor­tant lib­er­al ally with­in the EU on pri­or­i­ty issues rang­ing from tax­a­tion to free trade.

More­over, close polit­i­cal coop­er­a­tion between Lon­don and Dublin has proved to be cru­cial in main­tain­ing peace and sta­bil­i­ty in North­ern Ire­land. There is there­fore con­cern in Ire­land that a UK with­draw­al from the EU would impact the peace process in North­ern Ire­land, which remains quite frag­ile. Ireland’s Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs and Trade, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore T.D., warned in Sep­tem­ber 2013 that a UK with­draw­al from the EU would be bad for British-Irish rela­tions: ‘I don’t doubt that any con­se­quences would be unin­tend­ed, and that we would make every effort to mit­i­gate them. But at best British detach­ment from Europe would slow and lim­it our efforts towards clos­er coop­er­a­tion with each oth­er. At worst it could reverse them’.


This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.