|Ireland became a member of the European Union on January 1st, 1973 following a referendum in which 83% of voters supported the move.
Back then it was called the European Economic Community (EEC) and most of Ireland’s current population won’t remember the historic event for good reason – they hadn’t been born yet!
That’s why it’s important to reflect on Ireland’s EU membership and the many positive impacts it has had, and continues to have, on the country.
Joining the EU is undoubtedly the most significant step the country has taken on its journey as an independent nation. Almost every aspect of Irish life has improved, from how we work, travel and shop to the quality of our environment, our opportunities for learning and the way our businesses buy and sell their goods and services.
These changes are now so much a part of everyday life that we can thankfully take them for granted, so let’s have a look at just some of the ways EU policy, legislation and funding has helped improve Irish life.
Economy and Jobs
- Ireland's membership of the European Union greatly facilitated its transformation from an antiquated, agriculture dependent economy to one largely driven by hi-tech industry and global exports.
- From 1973 up to 2018 Ireland was a net recipient of over €40 billion in EU funds. The country is now a net contributor and Ireland's average net contribution from 2018-2020 stood at €377 million. However, Ireland will receive an estimated €915 million in grants from the EU's Covid recovery fund until the end of 2022 and the benefits of being part of the Single Market is estimated to be worth in excess of €30 billion.
- The EU accounted for €63,859 million (40%) of total Irish exports in 2020, an increase of €7,211 million (+13%) on 2019.
- As experienced during the economic crisis in 2010, Ireland’s economic growth is vulnerable to global economic turmoil, but being a Member State helped Ireland’s recovery and its economy is now better protected from future financial shocks.
- The annual European Semester, introduced in response to the global economic crisis, coordinates economic policies with other Member States to prevent anomalies that can lead to financial crashes, such as property bubbles like the one that was a significant factor in Ireland’s financial crisis.
- Single Market access helps create jobs as Irish exporters can sell more easily and cheaply into lucrative global markets like Canada, Japan, South Korea and Singapore thanks to international EU trade agreements.
- As EU citizens, Irish people can live and work freely in any Member State, and that means more opportunities and job choices for Irish workers.
- Irish citizens working in other EU countries enjoy equal treatment in accessing employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages.
- Workers’ rights have been improved in Ireland through EU regulations including measures that bring better working hours, conditions and contracts.
- Irish jobseekers and students can upload a CV to Europass, which makes skills and qualifications easily understood in Europe for enrolling in education or training programmes or getting work in another Member State.
- European legislation on gender equality in the workplace has ensured that Irish men and women are entitled to equal pay for doing the same job. They also have legal protection when it comes to equal, fair treatment at work and both parents are entitled to maternity and paternity leave.
- More women can now access the labour market thanks to EU legislation that led to the abolition of an out-dated marriage bar for women in public service jobs in 1973.
Education and Training
- EU funding has helped improve education standards in Ireland and created great opportunities for studying abroad through Erasmus +, the EU’s study and work abroad programme.
- In 2020, a total of 9,236 participants in 179 Erasmus+ Irish projects benefited from mobility in higher education, vocational education and training, school education, adult learning and youth for a total grant amount of €21.3 million.
- Funding of almost €170 million was allocated to Ireland for Erasmus+ 2014-2020. Funding is made available to all types of formal and informal education. This includes schools, youth organisations, adult education groups, and vocational organisations. Erasmus+ for 2021-2027 has a budget of €26.2 billion for all of Europe.
- Erasmus+ students who are EU citizens and aged over 18 can apply for a free DiscoverEU travel pass that provides an opportunity to explore Europe.
- Between 1973 and 2020 Ireland received over €7 billion from the EU’s financial instrument for investing in people, the European Social Fund (ESF). For the 2021-2027 period, the ESF has been merged with the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and the Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) Programme to become the ESF+. Ireland’s ESF+ allocation is €508 million.
- Irish citizens choosing to work or study abroad can have their Irish qualifications recognised throughout the European Union under the European Qualifications Framework.
- Erasmus+ students coming to study or work in Ireland are responsible for encouraging more than 25,000 visitors to the country, adding over €14 million to the Irish economy.
- The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports Irish farmers as well as the development of the country’s rural communities by investing in projects that improve living conditions in the countryside and help rural businesses to become more competitive.
- The CAP 2023-27 is designed to ensure a sustainable future for farmers, provide more targeted support to smaller farms and to ensure rural areas are protected and developed.
- An external study published by the European Commission in 2019 showed how the CAP has already helped reduce non-CO2 emissions from agriculture by more than 20%.
- Irish farmers benefit from income support paid out under the CAP. The funding is aimed at protecting farmers' incomes and only farmers currently active benefit from income-support schemes. Young farmers are strongly encouraged to set up in business through the CAP.
- In the period from 2014 up to 2020 the CAP invested €10.7 billion in Ireland’s farming sector and rural areas, with additional co-financing from Irish authorities. That figure has been roughly maintained for the 2023-27 period, with about 60% allocated to direct income support and 40% to rural development measures.
- Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2022 has a budget of over €5.6 billion, co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the national Exchequer.
- There are tough EU rules on the safety of food and animal feed and consumers can easily determine where the food they purchase has come from and what it contains thanks to EU legislation.
- To improve the balance of the food supply chain in Ireland, EU instruments (such as Producer Organisations) help farmers get organised and improve marketing for their products.
- The EU Farm to Fork Strategy is making food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. It sets concrete targets that reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, increase land used for organic farming and lower antimicrobials used for farmed animals.
- Being a part of the European Union means Ireland can act in unison with other Member States to tackle global climate change. The European Green Deal is the EU’s long-term strategy to protect humans, animals and plants through key policies and shared targets aimed at ambitiously cutting emissions and preserving Europe’s natural environment.
- EU policies to protect natural habitats, keep air and water clean and ensure proper waste disposal are reflected in Irish legislation and the European Commission helps all Member States apply EU environmental law correctly.
- The EU Just Transition Fund (JTF) assists communities to meet the challenges of the green transition for the period 2021-2027. Ireland has been allocated up to €84.5 million under the JTF and the Irish Government will match this with Exchequer resources. Vulnerable areas, such as the Midlands with its peat workers or west Clare with its Moneypoint coal workers, will be able to avail of structured support through the fund.
- EU rules have meant Ireland has had to act on water pollution, waste disposal, air quality, and preservation of natural habitats.
- Raw sewage is no longer dumped into the Irish Sea thanks to EU rules, and marine life around the Irish coast has benefited from cleaner sea water and beaches.
- To comply with EU policy, the Irish Government has a Climate Action Plan that includes actions and a timeline for more than halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
- The European Commission’s projects of common interest (PCIs) will improve Ireland’s energy connectivity. They include a Celtic Interconnector between France (La Martyre) and Ireland (Knockraha, Co Cork), a terminal and connecting gas pipeline in Shannon and a Hydroelectric Power Station at Silvermines.
- The European Commission has been instrumental in encouraging Ireland to take action to protect Irish peat bog habitats.
- A 7-year LIFE project called Peatlands and People aims to restore around 10,000 hectares of Irish peatlands that have high carbon storage potential – an area roughly the size of Dublin. It is one of several major projects supported by EU funds that restore, conserve and protect Irish bog habitat.
- Under the EU’s Bathing Water Directive Ireland has to monitor and assess Irish bathing waters to ensure they are safe for bathers.
- Between 1992 and 2020, a total of 67 LIFE projects have been co-financed in Ireland. These projects benefited from a total investment of €191 million, of which €90 million was contributed by the European Union.
- The Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 tackles the key drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable use of land, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive alien species.
- Irish citizens can travel to any EU Member State without the need for visas. They also have the right to live, work or study in any EU country.
- There’s no need to worry about exchange rates and changing money when visiting countries using the Euro.
- Travelling across the world has become much more affordable and safer thanks to deregulation of the airline industry across EU Member States and Single European Sky legislation that has curtailed uncompetitive practices and increased safety standards.
- EU regulations mean airline passengers can be compensated by up to €600 for delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights. If your luggage is lost or damaged, you have a right to reimbursement of up to €1,220.
- EU rules have also strengthened passenger rights for those travelling by train, ship or long-distance bus and coach.
- As an EU national, you can freely travel with your cat, dog or ferret if it has a European Pet Passport.
- Consumers have strong protection when purchasing package holidays, timeshares or holiday club schemes, even when buying online.
- The European Aviation Safety Agency has made flying safer, and greater co-operation between Member States on air traffic management means it’s more efficient too.
- Mobile phone roaming charges have been abolished across the EU and providers now must issue a ‘Roam Like at Home’ (RLAH) contract by default to customers.
- The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) provides basic healthcare access to all Irish citizens while travelling in the EU and to EEA countries or Switzerland.
- Being part of the European Union is making it safer for Irish consumers to buy goods and services throughout the EU.
- EU rules require the ‘CE’ conformity mark to be used on many categories of products. This is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product has been checked against essential safety criteria and that it satisfies all relevant requirements.
- Thanks to EU regulations, every consumer in the EU has the right to receive clear, correct and comprehensible key information from a trader about goods or services before making an online purchase.
- New rules that give citizens the right to details about the durability and reparability of products are on the way. They will also ensure almost all physical goods on the EU market are more environmentally friendly, recyclable and energy efficient throughout their lifecycle.
- Misleading advertising and unfair commercial practices such as aggressive sales techniques are banned in the EU. This means no hidden costs, no tricks, no false claims, no misleading information and no advertising targeted at children is allowed. So-called ‘greenwashing’ - where a company gives misleading information on how eco-friendly its products are – is also to be banned under new proposed rules.
- Irish consumers can easily determine where the food they purchase has come from and what it contains. EU rules mean that labels on all food products must include nutrition information on processed foods as well as the origin details of unprocessed meats. Labels also have to highlight allergens like peanuts or milk in the list of ingredients and be easy to read.
- Cosmetic products sold in the EU have to undergo expert scientific safety assessment before they are introduced to the market. EU legislation also bans animal testing for cosmetic purposes.
- The EU has helped with the liberalisation of the communications market, meaning that today we have a better choice of Internet and telecoms providers.
- The Consumer Protection Cooperation Network carries out systematic checks simultaneously in different Member States to investigate breaches of consumer protection law, particularly with online sellers.
- Food and animal feed sold in the EU are subject to stringent safety requirements. Swift action can be taken protect consumers from unsafe food products through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
- The EU-led Safety Gate, a rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products, allows dangerous goods to be quickly withdrawn from the market.
- The EU-wide Online Dispute Resolution platform provides Irish consumers with a one-stop-shop aimed at resolving disputes over online purchases.
Research and Innovation
- Being part of the EU has helped Ireland transform itself into one of Europe’s top innovation nations. This has helped attract billions of euro in foreign direct investment (FDI) from companies in hi-tech sectors like Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Pharmaceuticals, Digital Media and Social Media.
- Almost 2,700 projects involving Irish organisations received over €1.09 billion in funding from Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation framework programme 2014-2020. Just over a quarter (690) of these organisations were small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
- The latest research and innovation framework programme, Horizon Europe, has a budget of €95.5 billion.
- Ireland is part of the European Research Area (ERA), which means Irish researchers can contribute significantly to global research and development.
- The European Innovation Scoreboard, published annually by the European Commission, showed that in 2021 Ireland was ranked as a ‘Strong Innovator’ although performance relative to the to EU as a whole had decreased over the previous three years.
- Irish health researchers benefited from nearly €85 million from Horizon 2020, exceeding a target of €80 million set in 2014 and €8.2 million was secured during 2020 for 20 projects that involve Irish participants.
- The UK’s decision to leave the EU has consequences for Ireland but the EU is helping to mitigate the impact.
- The Withdrawal Agreement includes a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent a hard border on the island and protect the all-island economy. The EU made the protocol a major priority from the very start of Withdrawal Agreement negotiations.
- Ireland is the biggest beneficiary of the €5.37 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve which was created to support regions and sectors worst affected by the UK decision to leave the EU. In December 2021, the European Commission adopted a decision to allocate a total of €920.4 million from the Reserve to Ireland.
- In February 2020, the European Commission approved a €200 million investment scheme for processing and marketing of agricultural products in Ireland to help the sector adapt to the UK’s exit from the EU.
- The EU has always fully supported the Irish peace process. The PEACE funding programmes that support peace and reconciliation and promote economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the Border Regions of Ireland have continued after Brexit through the €1 billion PEACE PLUS programme.
- When Covid-19 arrived in Europe in 2020, the European Commission coordinated a rapid common European response that included measures to mitigate the economic damage it was causing in Ireland and all EU Member States.
- Ireland is benefiting from an EU recovery package of €1.8 trillion consisting of Europe's long-term Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) budget and the temporary recovery instrument, Next Generation EU.
- The EU Vaccines Strategy accelerated the development, manufacturing and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19 and Ireland has access to a number of vaccines at volumes sufficient to vaccinate the entire population.
- All vaccines used in Ireland are licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and are authorised for use only when they have been shown to be both safe and effective.
- Research is playing a vital role in tackling the spread of Covid and other Coronaviruses and Irish projects have been amongst hundreds across the EU that have received EU funding to help develop coronavirus tests, treatments and technologies.
- Over the years, the EU has helped fund many of Ireland’s major tourist amenities, including the interpretive centre at the Cliffs of Moher, the redevelopment of Lough Key Forest and Leisure Park and the establishment of a crystal manufacturing and visitor centre at Waterford Crystal following its closure.
- Major infrastructure projects have also benefited from EU funding such as major inter-urban roads, including the M1/M4 between Dublin and Galway and the M1/M9 between Kilkullen and Waterford as well as the Dublin Port Tunnel, the completion of the M50 and the DART.
- The development of the Luas Red Line in Dublin was facilitated by EU funding of €82.5 million under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
- Construction of the 5.6km extension to the Luas Green Line was supported by €150 million from the EIB, which has helped with investment in several major Irish infrastructure projects.
- The Port of Cork redevelopment is part-funded from EU funds as a Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) project, which supports the construction and upgrade of important transport infrastructure across the European Union.
- Town centres around Ireland including in Athlone and Mullingar have been improved with the help of €1.5 million each from the EU Urban Designated Fund.
- The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) means that Irish criminals can no longer escape justice by fleeing to another EU Member State.
- Being an EU Member State has helped protect and promote the Irish language. Irish has full working EU status, just like other official EU languages.
- By autumn 2024, USB Type-C will become the common charging port for all mobile phones, tablets and cameras in the EU, putting an end to needing to have multiple charging cables for separate devices.
EU stories - accounts of some of the many ways Ireland has benefited from EU membership