The Global Island: important victories of the Irish diplomacy

by André Francischetti Moreno

              Seán Lemass, an Irish politician who advocated for an active role of Ireland in the international community, said, “Irish people are citizens of the world as well as Ireland.” Often called “the global island” due to the worldwide presence of its diaspora, Ireland is now taking further steps to leave its footprints in the international political scenario. In the past years, the European country struck substantial diplomatic victories which go from assuming a protagonist role in the Brexit negotiations, to securing a seat on the United Nations Security Council and reaching the presidency of the Eurogroup. The latter two can be traced back to a public policy launched in 2018 by the Irish government whose main goal is to turn Ireland into a main political actor by 2025. 

              The United Kingdom`s decision to leave the EU raised several questions concerning the Irish border with Northern Ireland (UK), trade, cooperation between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the UK, and the Good Friday Agreement. On the one hand, a no-deal Brexit which implied hard borders could undermine the regional political stability and revive old rivalries. Having this in mind, Dublin lobbied for the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was finalized by the European Commission and May’s government to guarantee a free-border island. On the other hand, Brexit’s economic damage severely affects both countries as their supply chains are highly integrated, and they are close trading partners. Only in 2018, goods exported to the UK amounted to roughly 11.5% of total Irish goods exports (nb the growth of the pound sterling is estimated to be 1% or 2% lower per annum after Brexit, which is bad for the Irish export business). Based on this interdependency, Ireland gained an important leverage power to bring the UK to a softer Brexit. Additionally, Ireland, Cyprus, and Spain were granted by the European Union with an enhanced role in the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. The European Commission itself stated that it would respond positively to any requests of these countries.

              Global Ireland 2025 is an initiative that aims to increase Ireland’s role in Europe, the United Nations, and the world. In practice, this global vision involves, among others, opening up new embassies and consulates, building new air and sea connections, welcoming more international students, and expanding existing missions. A further aspect of the plan is to promote Ireland’s values of peace, humanitarianism, equality, and justice. The benefits of such a complex plan are various: presenting a unified and positive image of Ireland, increasing the infrastructure to support the Irish diaspora, developing tourism, doubling Eurozone exports and diversifying trade (beyond the UK), influencing multilateral institutions and attracting investment.

              In June, Ireland won a two-year-long seat for 2021/2022 in the United Nations’ Security Council, debunking the more influential and powerful candidate, Canada. Some reasons for that were the good relationship which Ireland sustains with the islands and African countries, its position in favor of a two-state solution in the Middle East and being the only EU country in the race. President Higgins highlighted that the campaign “engaged with social global issues such as peace-building and peacekeeping, the elimination of global poverty, the strengthening of multilateralism, and reform of the United Nations.” Irish PM Leo Varadkar declared that Ireland will use this position to advance causes such as “peace and security, conflict resolution, reconciliation, climate action, sustainable development, and gender equality.”

              One month later, Paschal Donoghoe, the Irish finance minister, won the presidency of the Eurogroup against the Spanish candidate, Nadia Calvino, who was preferred by countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Spain. Facing a predicted recession for 2020 of 8.7% in the Eurozone, Donoghoe described himself as a “bridge-builder” who will seek to bring together conservative nations with the ones who have a looser approach to public finances. Donoghoe reinforced the importance of reinstating financial targets along with the recovery plan for the European economy. 

              In brief, the increasing presence of Ireland in key positions worldwide represents a significant shift in the more restrained international approach of the country in the post-2008 period. This phenomenon was influenced by the Brexit process, which pushed Ireland for an active role in the negotiations, and by the Global Ireland 2025 plan. Irish PM Leo Varadkar said that Ireland must assume a leadership role so as to be in the heart of the European community and, more ambitiously, at the “center” of the world. Lastly, one can see that it is noteworthy to keep an eye on the Celtic island because Ireland is on the rise.

Photo by Yan Ming on Unsplash

References

Amaro, S. (2020, July 10). Ireland wins euro zone’s top job in blow to high-indebted nations. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/10/ireland-paschal-donoghoe-new-eurogroup-president-amid-covid-crisis.html

Brexit: The Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/brexit/brexit-the-facts

Brexit: The impact on Ireland: News: European Parliament. (2019, September 23). Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/eu-affairs/20170925STO84610/brexit-the-impact-on-ireland

Chadwick, L. (2020, July 09). Ireland’s Paschal Donohoe wins Eurogroup presidency. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.euronews.com/2020/07/09/ireland-s-paschal-donohoe-wins-eurogroup-presidency-beating-spain-s-nadia-calvino

Connelly, T. (2019, December 13). Ireland granted enhanced role in EU’s Brexit process. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.rte.ie/news/brexit/2019/1213/1098998-brexit-ireland/

Global Ireland: Ireland’s global footprint to 2025. (2018, June). Retrieved from https://www.ireland.ie/media/ireland/stories/globaldiaspora/Global-Ireland-in-English.pdf

Ireland. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/ireland-brexit

Ireland wins seat on UN Security Council. (2020, June 17). Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53085335

Lynch, S., & McGee, H. (2020, June 18). Ireland wins seat on UN Security Council following ‘tough’ contest. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/ireland-wins-seat-on-un-security-council-following-tough-contest-1.4281289

The Billion-Euro Negotiations on the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework

By Lea Schiller

959.51 billion in commitments and 908.4 billion in payments – this is how much money the last Multiannual Financial Framework of the European Union (EU) decided on. The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – is the EU’s long-term budget. Covering a period of at least five but usually seven years, its purpose is to help the adaption of the annual budget and set ceilings for the EU’s payments and commitments (meaning, the amount of legal obligations the EU can enter). Subsequently, the MFF also has a big influence on the contributions of member states to the EU, which can make these negotiations a crucial affair especially for the net contributors to the union, which is why the budget is decided on in the European Council by unanimity. 

This month, the EU debated the budget of 2021-2027. After meeting with all leaders of the member states, president of the European Council Charles Michel called for a special summit on the 20th of February. But what he had planned to finish in one summit would go on to be what Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki described as the “most difficult negotiations in history” on the EU budget. 

After Brexit, the EU is left with an up to 75 billion Euro big hole in its contributions, and member states are in disagreement on how to make up for it. Proposed solutions include bigger payments of the net contributors, and less concessions to the net beneficiaries, but not all members are prepared to agree to this. In what has been labeled as the “frugal four”, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden have joined to advocate for a cap on the EU budget at 1 percent of the gross national income. Describing their demands, Austrian chancellor Kurz stated: “We insist on permanent net corrections to prevent excessive budgetary imbalances and achieve a fair, sustainable outcome.”

When the summit closed after two days of negotiations, the member states had failed to agree on a new budget deal. The proposal that stood at the end of the summit was rejected by the majority of member states. And while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated the document was “moving in the right direction,” though still insufficient, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa claimed it to be “bad” and further claimed it would only make things more complicated. With the summit ending without a budget deal and no date yet set for further negotiations, it is difficult to say when the EU will reach a decision. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković even questioned whether this will happen during his country’s presidency of the Council, which is running out at the end of June.

Photo by Maryna Yazbeck on Unsplash

References

EU budget summit: As it happened (2020, February 22). Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-european-union-budget-summit-live-blog-european-council-charles-michel-multiannual-financial-framework/#1279650

Khan, M., Fleming, S. & Brunsden, J. (2020, February 21). EU leaders propose budget compromise at fraught summit. The Financial Times. Retrieved from: https://www.ft.com/content/c3e2ef6e-53ed-11ea-8841-482eed0038b1

Kurz, S., Rutte, M., Frederiksen, M. & Lofven, S. (2020, February 16). The ‘frugal four’ advocate a responsible EU budget. The Financial Times. Retrieved from: https://www.ft.com/content/7faae690-4e65-11ea-95a0-43d18ec715f5

The European Council (2020, February 11). Multiannual financial framework: shaping EU expenditure. Retrieved from: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/eu-budgetary-system/multiannual-financial-framework/

The European Council (2019, February 25). Multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020. Retrieved from: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/eu-budgetary-system/multiannual-financial-framework/mff-2014-2020/
The European Council (2020, February). Multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027: negotiations. Retrieved from: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/eu-budgetary-system/multiannual-financial-framework/mff-negotiations/

The UK Election: A Decision on Brexit?

By Lea Schiller

The British polls opened at 8 o’clock on the morning of the 12th of December. Just 12 hours later, the first estimates gave the Conservatives an absolute majority. A few days afterwards, this result was confirmed. The United Kingdom had overwhelmingly voted in favour of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party, granting them 365 seats out of 650. This made it the party’s biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third term in 1987. Meanwhile, the Labour Party lagged behind with 203 seats, which marks their biggest defeat since 1935. They lost many of their seats in traditional Labour constituencies in the North and the Midlands, and especially among the usually Labour-based working class, where many changed their vote to Conservative.

That Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech outside 10 Downing Street, saying the election results provide him with “an overwhelming mandate … to get Brexit done”. And while the distribution of seats in the Parliament certainly backs his claim, the distribution of votes tells another story entirely. In total, all parties who openly campaigned in favour of leaving the European Union combined only gained 47% of the votes while attaining 56% of seats. The Conservatives alone are right now in a position to go through with Brexit – but this is largely due to Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, in which only one Member of Parliament represents each area and therefore causes the votes for the other candidates to be irrelevant.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the results have been met with mixed feelings. Regret over the UK’s decision to leave is still prevailing, but as the President of the European Council expressed, the decisive vote promises clarity that is important for the next round of Brexit negotiations. Because even though Johnson is preparing to ratify the Brexit deal in January, this would only end the UK’s EU membership – and the more complicated step of negotiating a future trade deal still awaits. Johnson has promised to deliver this by the end of 2020, but in Brussels, few believe this is possible (Adler, 2019), even if the Prime Minister sticks to the Free Trade Agreement the EU is currently preparing to offer. And since this deal hinges on the UK agreeing to keep EU regulations, there are doubts on whether Johnson will consider this to be a good offer. For now, the direction the new government in London will choose is unclear.

And there is one other noteworthy outcome of this vote: in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained 13 seats, granting them 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats. In 2016, Scotland voted in favour of remaining in the EU – ever since then, tensions have been rising between Edinburgh and London. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon described a possible independence referendum as having been “very much at the heart of the SNP’s campaign”, and after their success in the election, she believes she has the mandate to offer people a choice. Another independence referendum for Scotland might therefore be on the way.

Looking forward, Boris Johnson has set December of 2020 to finish all trade negotiations with the EU. If he cannot make this deadline, he will have to ask for another delay in the summer. And as long as no trade deal has been signed, Britain will remain in a transition state, in which it will still have adhere to EU law, even if by then it has legally terminated its membership. So even though the election has given the Conservatives a comfortable majority, complications and uncertainties are not yet out of the way and the Prime Minister will have to work to deliver Brexit in the time he promised to his voters.

Photo by Habib Ayoade on Unsplash

Resources

After election victory, Boris Johnson says ‘We are going to unite’. (2019, December 13). The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/13/world/europe/uk-election-brexit.html

Adler, K. (2019, December 13). UK general election: EU prepares for Brexit hardball. BBC News.Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50777995

UK results: Conservatives win majority (2019, December). BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/election/2019/results/england

Curtice, J. (2019, December 13). General election 2019: What’s behind the Conservative victory? BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-2019-50774061

Watch Johnson’s first full speech as returning Prime Minister (2019, December 13). CNN. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2019/12/13/boris-johnson-full-speech-downing-street-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/brexit-uk-politics-news/

Twenty Years After the Belfast Agreement

A Historical Review on the Troubles and Brexit Implication to Northern-Ireland’s Future

By André Francischetti Moreno

“I’ve seen cruelty and injustice at first hand; so, then one fateful morning I shook bold freedom’s hand; for right or wrong I’d try to free my land”

This excerpt, taken from The Wolfe Tones’ song Joe McDonnell, refers to a terrible period of British history. The Troubles were a conflict of great violence in Northern Ireland, in which an ethno-nationalist catholic minority fought against the British Army for civil rights and unification with the Republic of Ireland. However, the Irish nationalist feeling refers to the island’s cultural renaissance, in the beginning of the twentieth century. Conflicts between Catholics and the Protestant population of Ulster date back to 1916, peace has prevailed for several decades in Northern Ireland, established after Ireland’s independence recognition in 1922. However, 1960s economic decline and marginalisation of the Catholic minority revived old tensions. Furthermore, civil rights agitation from 1968 brought a violent response from the state and loyalists, culminating in severe rioting in August 1969. 

This spiral into violence caused the rise of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), and the deployment of British troops to the region. On 30 January 1972, 14 civil rights protestors were killed by the British Army in Derry on a day that became known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’ It was not until 1994 that paramilitary ceasefires in Northern Ireland, and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement of 1998, put an end in a violence wave which caused 3,500 deaths, of which 52% were civilians.

In 2016, after the UK voted to leave the European Union, new concerns arose as a non-deal Brexit would result in  a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. This meant limited and physically controlled crossing points. In order to avoid this outcome, in 2018, the then British Prime Minister Theresa May, proposed the Northern Ireland Protocol, also known as the Irish backsto). The protocol would keep the United Kingdom in the European Union Customs Union and Northern Ireland partially linked to the European Single Market, until a better solution was found. The Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposed this provision, as it believes that it undermines the integrity of the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Not surprisingly, the backstop was rejected three times by the Parliament and the inability of Mrs. May to conduct Brexit led to her resignation. 

This week, the European Union approved a new draft proposed by the British PM, Boris. Johnson. The main difference with previous proposals is that instead of having customs checks at the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, there would be checks in the UK itself, at ports along the Irish Sea and airports. In other words, products shipped to Northern Ireland, which are suspected to be furthered to Ireland would be taxed (VAT figures as the main consumption tax). In the case they are not effectively furthered, merchants would be indemnified. The next step to formalise this deal is the approval of the British Parliament. Nevertheless, DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy Nigel Dodds put out a joint statement laying out their concerns with the deal terms, “As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT.” Moreover, DUP said: “These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union.”

What happens if the Parliament rejects the deal? According to the Ben Act, Mr. Johnson, who currently holds the minority in the Parliament, would have to request a three-month Brexit delay, unless he can get MPs to approve a no-deal exit by 19th October. While the EU Council President, Donald Tusk, does not rule out an extension, EU Commission President, Mr. Juncker, is more resistant. The British PM repeatedly stated that the UK must and will leave the European Union by the 31st of October, and appealed, “Now is the moment for us to get Brexit done and then together work on building our future partnership, which I think can be incredibly positive both for the UK and for the EU.” 

Twenty years after the entry into force of the Good Friday Agreement, another deal could define the future of Belfast and its relations with London. Now, it is up to the British Parliament and EU leaders not only to issue a careful decision, but to promote a peaceful and smooth transition to the more than 1.8 million Northern-Irish people who do not want a hard border on their island.

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash

Resources

1966 and all that: the 50th anniversary commemorations. (2013, April 17). Retrieved from https://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/1966-and-all-that-the-50th-anniversary-commemorations/.

Brexit deal: What does it mean? (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50084090.

Brexit: EU and UK reach deal but DUP refuses support. (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50079385.

Campbell, J. (2019, January 23). No-deal Brexit ‘means hard border’ – European Commission. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-46961982.

Daly, P. (2019, October 17). Brexit: DUP’s concerns with Boris Johnson’s deal – customs, consent and VAT. Retrieved from https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/brexit-dups-concerns-with-boris-johnsons-deal-customs-consent-and-vat-38604045.html.

History of The Northern Ireland Conflict. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.history.co.uk/history-of-the-northern-ireland-conflict.

Weaver, M. (2019, October 17). DUP says it cannot support Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/17/dup-boris-johnson-brexit-deal.

Exploring Brexit: an unprecedented story

Last Monday, EUSA and Juridische Faculteitsvereniging Grotius organized the lecture ‘Exploring Brexit: an unprecedented jouney‘ with two critically acclaimed speakers Felix Klos and Armin Cuyvers. Felix Klos argued Churchill’s view on Britain regarding the European Union, while Armin Cuyvers discussed about the legal consequences of Brexit and triggering Article 50.

The Event was terrific! We thank the speakers and everyone who attended!