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Representation in Ireland
12 April 2024

Benefits of EU membership for Ireland

EU and Irish flags

Ireland became a member of the European Union on 1 January  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 has greatly facilitated its transformation from an antiquated, agriculturally dependent economy to one largely driven by hi-tech industry and global exports.
  • The services sector has experienced remarkable growth since 1973, rising from a 45% share of the workforce to 77% in 2022, highlighting the role of technology, finance and other service-orientated industries in Ireland’s modern labour market.
  • The EU’s Single Market environment, adoption of the euro currency and support from EU economic and fiscal policy coordination ensures Ireland’s economy remains stable and competitive.
  • GNP and GNI per capita in Ireland was almost €66,000 in 2022. This is almost four times the level of just over €17,000, in real terms, posted when Ireland first became a Member State in 1973.
  • The Trade in Goods balance (exports minus imports) changed from a deficit of €340 million in 1973 to a surplus of €67.6 billion in 2022.
  • Ireland is set to benefit from €1.4 billion in EU Cohesion funding between 2021 and 2027 through the latest Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF budget). Ireland also received an estimated €915 million in grants from the EU's Covid recovery fund until the end of 2022.
  • From 1973 up to 2018 Ireland was a net recipient of over €40 billion in EU funds. The country is now a net contributor to the EU budget but the benefits of being part of the single market is estimated to be worth in excess of €30 billion. In 2022, the value of Irish exports to the EU exceeded €80 billion.
  • 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 coordinates economic policies with other Member States to prevent anomalies that can lead to financial instability, such as property bubbles like the one that was a significant factor in Ireland’s financial crisis.
  • The euro, used by over 340 million EU citizens, has eliminated the risk of currency fluctuation and exchange costs.
  • 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 career 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 their 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.
  • Statistics from the European Commission’s 2024 Joint Employment Report show that the Irish employment rate reached a record high of 78.2% in 2022, while the unemployment rate was at an historically low level of 4.5%.

European Semester Ireland

Economic forecast for Ireland

Benefits of the euro

Education and Training

  • EU membership has been a significant factor in enhancing the quality, standards and international outlook of Irish education.
  • EU funding has created great opportunities for studying abroad through Erasmus+, the EU’s study and work abroad programme.
  • In 2022, a total of 41,726 participants (staff and students) travelled to Ireland to take part in Erasmus+ projects, while 9,544 participants travelled abroad from Ireland for overseas Erasmus+ projects.
  • During 2022, a total of 185 Irish Erasmus+ projects benefited from grants totalling around €26.7 million.
  • Erasmus+ 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 18 can apply for a free DiscoverEU travel pass that provides an opportunity to explore Europe.
  • The EU’s ESF+ financial instrument supports vocational training, apprenticeships, and adult learning programs in Ireland. Ireland’s ESF+ allocation For the 2021-2027 period 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 and staff coming to study or work in Ireland are responsible for encouraging more than 40,000 visitors annually to the country, who all contribute to the Irish economy.
  • Erasmus+ participants from Ireland who study at a higher education institution or undertake a traineeship at a host enterprise in Europe are exempt from paying tuition fees at the host institution and can also receive monthly financial support from the European Commission to help cover expenses.
  • The European Solidarity Corps funds and supports young people aged between 18 and 30 and living in Ireland to volunteer or self-organise projects that benefit communities either at home or abroad.


Erasmus+ in Ireland

European Social Fund Plus

European Qualifications Framework


  • Farming has always been very much a way of Irish life and being part of the EU helps ensure agriculture continues to be a vital source of exports, providing jobs in rural areas and contributing to food security.
  • Ireland was almost totally economically dependent on farming before joining the European Union, but the country now has a more diverse, open economy.
  • Agriculture accounted for 24% of the Irish workforce in 1973 when Ireland joined the EU, compared with just 4% in 2022.
  • The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provides direct financial support to Irish farmers as well as support for development of the country’s rural communities by investing in projects that improve the quality of life in the countryside and help rural businesses to become more competitive.
  • The CAP 2023-27 is designed to foster a sustainable future for farmers, provide more targeted support to smaller farms and ensure rural areas are protected and developed.
  • A significant portion of CAP funding is directed towards supporting climate change mitigation measures and encouraging practices that reduce agricultural emissions.
  • 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.
  • Access to the Single Market allows Irish farmers to sell produce more easily across Europe while EU trade agreements facilitate global exports.
  • In the period from 2023 up to 2027 the CAP will invest just under €10 billion in Ireland’s farming sector and rural areas, with additional co-financing from Irish authorities. About 60% is allocated to direct income support and 40% to rural development measures.
  • Rural development in Ireland is also financially supported by other EU financial instruments including European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF).
  • The EU CAP Network promotes knowledge sharing and collaboration between European farmers, leading to improved practices.
  • 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.
  • 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 fertilisers, increase land used for organic farming and lower antimicrobials used for farmed animals.

Common Agricultural Policy

Sustainable land use (greening)

Income support to farmers

Farm to Fork Strategy

Rural Development


  • Being a part of the European Union means Ireland can act in unison with other Member States to tackle climate change. The European Green Deal is the EU’s long-term strategy to preserve life and 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 local regions and 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.
  • Ireland’s Territorial Just Transition Plan is targeted at the economic transition of the Midlands region which has been impacted by the ending of peat extraction.
  • EU rules mean Ireland has 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.
  • EU projects of common interest (PCIs) help achieve Europe’s energy and climate objectives by delivering affordable, secure and sustainable energy. Irish PCIs 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 helping to protect Irish peat bog habitats by providing funding to support habitat restoration and taking legal action against Ireland for insufficient peat bog protection.
  • Under the EU’s Bathing Water Directive Ireland has to monitor and assess bathing waters to ensure they are safe for bathers.
  • The EU LIFE Programme provides funding for support of the environment, nature conservation and climate action projects. Between 1992 and 2023 the programme benefited 79 projects in Ireland which received €117 million in LIFE funds.
  • The EU 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.
  • Ireland's National Biodiversity Action Plan aligns with the EU Strategy to ensure Irish actions contribute to achieving broader EU goals for conservation.

European Green Deal

Irish Government Climate Action Plan

The LIFE Programme

The Just Transition Fund

Biodiversity Strategy


  • 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 more affordable and much 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.
  • EU rules provide for the mutual recognition of driving licences in the EU, so an Irish driving licence is valid in all Member States.
  • 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.

Travelling in the EU

European Health Insurance Card

Roam Like at Home

European Pet Passport


  • The Single Market removes trade barriers across the EU so Irish consumers have a wider selection of products and services at more competitive prices.
  • Goods are safer too as 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 and satisfies all relevant safety requirements.
  • 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.
  • EU rules ban unjustified geographically based restrictions (geo-blocking) that undermine online shopping and cross-border sales.
  • The Cyber Resilience Act requires all digital products, such as baby monitors, smartwatches and software, to have mandatory cybersecurity requirements throughout their whole lifecycle.
  • USB type-C will soon be the common charging standard for electronic devices sold in the EU, meaning consumers won’t need multiple charging cables.
  • New rules will ensure almost all physical goods on the EU market are more environmentally friendly, recyclable and energy efficient throughout their lifecycle.
  • EU consumers will soon have a ‘right to repair' that will make it easier and more cost-effective to repair products instead of simply replacing them with new ones.
  • 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 and no misleading information. There are also significant restrictions and safeguards when it comes to advertising targeted at children that protect them from manipulation.
  • 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.
  • EU data protection rules guarantee the protection of your personal data when you buy something online.
  • 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.

Consumer Protection Cooperation Network

Online Dispute Resolution platform

‘CE’ conformity mark

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 €1.2 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 for the period from 2021-2027.
  • By the beginning of 2024, Ireland’s drawdown from Horizon Europe stood at €628.6 million with 380 Irish organisations participating in 957 projects.
  • 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 2023 Ireland was ranked as a ‘Strong Innovator’ with performance at 115.8% of the EU average.
  • Irish participation in EU funded research attracts international research talent to Ireland.
  • Participation in EU research programmes also promotes and demonstrates Ireland’s research capabilities on the world stage.

Research and innovation

Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe in Ireland

European Research Area


  • The UK’s decision to leave the EU has had consequences for Ireland but the EU has helped 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 and Member States provided unwavering support for Ireland’s position throughout the talks process.
  • Ireland was the biggest beneficiary of the €5.37 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve which was created to support the 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.
  • The PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes that supported reconciliation and promoted economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the Border Regions of Ireland provided funding totalling almost €3.4 billion for over 23,000 projects that touched the lives of more than two million citizens.
  • Support for the Peace Process has continued after Brexit through the €1.1 billion PEACEPLUS programme.

Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

Brexit Adjustment Reserve

PEACEPLUS funding programmes


  • 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.
  • Ireland benefitted 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 was able to access 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 plays a vital role in tackling the spread of Coronaviruses like Covid and Irish projects are amongst hundreds across the EU that have received EU funding to help develop coronavirus tests, treatments and technologies.
  • The EU Digital COVID Certificate enabled safe free movement for Irish citizens who needed to travel abroad during the pandemic.


European Commission's response to COVID-19

EU Vaccination

Other benefits

  • Despite being a small nation, being part of the EU gives Ireland a powerful global voice. Irish views and interests influence the policies of the EU towards the rest of the world.
  • The EU provided essential support and a neutral forum for Irish and British politicians and civil servants that facilitated progress towards the Good Friday Agreement.
  • 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 also 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.
  • THRIVE – the Town Centre First Heritage Revival Scheme funded under European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Regional Programmes - is providing €120 million to support the transformation of Irish town centres.
  • The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) means Irish criminals can’t 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.

EU stories - accounts of some of the many ways Ireland has benefited from EU membership.