Writing exclusively for The University Observer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin TD, believes Ireland’s open economy can only flourish with a Yes vote.
In these turbulent times, one thing at least is certain: the EU is vital for Ireland. World events have highlighted the importance of a strong European Union providing global leadership and capable of dealing with the economic downturn. The Lisbon Treaty represents an important step towards resolving our present difficulties. Now that we have our legal guarantees in place to address the genuine concerns of last year, there are plenty of reasons for approving the Lisbon Treaty.
The purpose of the Lisbon Treaty is to reform the EU, making it more dynamic and effective. Next Friday we will be asked if we want a better functioning Union or one that has its hands tied by out-of-date rules.
If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that Ireland is best equipped to deal with the current financial and economic crises with the full force of the EU behind it. The liquidity provided to Irish Banks by the ECB has proved indispensable. The ECB has also ensured that our interest rates are at an all-time low. There is no doubt that the EU has helped Ireland to weather the economic storm.
We need to keep this big picture in mind as we weigh up the merits of the Lisbon Treaty next Friday.
Few would disagree that we have benefitted from our membership of the European Union. As a member of the EU, Ireland has direct access to 500 million consumers. Prior to joining the EEC in 1973, Britain was the main destination for Irish exports. Now 63% of all our exports go to the EU.
Ireland’s membership of the EU and participation in the Single European Market has been the most significant factor in broadening our country’s economic horizons and ending our dependence on Britain.
The Single European Market has helped indigenous Irish companies to develop their export performance. Two out of every three jobs in Ireland now depend on exports.
Equally, it has helped Ireland to attract a vastly disproportionate share of foreign direct investment, particularly from US companies. Multinational companies view access to European markets as a key factor in their investment decisions. With only one per cent of the Union’s population, Ireland attracted 25 per cent of all new US investment in Europe in the decade up to 2005.
Our status as a positive member of the EU has been fundamental to attracting a thousand foreign companies to locate here. These companies have created 150,000 jobs directly, and approximately 200,000 others indirectly.
Our capacity to continue bringing in investment will be crucial to our future prospects.
A resounding Yes vote would send a strong political message to foreign investors that we are fully committed to the EU. At a time when competition for foreign investment is very strong, Ireland would not benefit from sending out confused signals about our future in Europe.
As someone who has participated in many meetings with people who invest in this country or are considering it, I can say very clearly that Ireland’s place as a positive country at the heart of Europe has been a critical competitive advantage.
This is the model that has worked for us before; we must now decide if we want to abandon it.
Those who say that we can reject Lisbon, and leave our standing within the Union and our international reputation unaffected, are seriously mistaken.
I have not met a single serious job creator who believes that there is any conceivable positive economic side to a No vote.
A further rejection of the Treaty would undermine our hard won image as a good place to do business. This would ultimately cost us jobs and investment. Failure to pass the Treaty would also leave us in unchartered territory with regards to our European neighbours. Having addressed our concerns in relation to tax, the right to life, neutrality and the retention of our Commissioner, they would find it difficult to understand our motivation for voting No again. There is no doubt that the goodwill that we had built up over 36 years of pro-active membership would be diminished. Compromise and goodwill are the lifeblood of a union that is based on a shared sense of respect and responsibility.
The vote on Friday is about creating a stronger, more dynamic Union. It is in all of interests to ensure that Ireland is part of a reformed Union that is better equipped to deal with the current economic challenges.
Micheál Martin TD is Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Director of Elections for Fianna Fáil’s Lisbon referendum campaign.