#TheFutureIsYours Strengthening European democracy
Conference on the Future of Europe in Ireland (Irish Abroad)
We are pleased to invite Irish people living across the EU to join us at a unique opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Europe, as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe process taking place across the EU. We want you to take part in a panel of Irish people living in one of the other 26 Member States, to explore your thoughts on what the EU does well, what it should do, and what it needs to do better, in order to increase its capacity to act and to make it more democratic. After a short introduction, we’ll discuss these issues in small, moderated groups, before we come back together to explore our ideas together and put forward a vision for the EU’s future. For us to identify with the EU, we need to see ourselves in Europe - in the people who make up the institutions, in the decisions taken and in the impacts on our daily lives. We want to speak to a diverse, representative cross section of Irish society and feed their ideas into the greater European discussion, so your participation is crucial. These events will take place over Zoom and will be recorded. We look forward to seeing you there, to take part in this important event.
Event reportIrish people who live across the other 26 EU Member States and work with the corporate sector, the legal sector, the media and academia among others, met online on Thursday, 2 September 2021 to discuss key issues for the future of Ireland and the EU such as the economy, cross-border health care, the environment and the EU’s communication with citizens. Economy: Many Irish people living across the EU Member States felt that there are many discrepancies with tax credits between Ireland and the EU and that these should be made clearer for people living abroad. Participants called for more harmonised rules across the EU that make it easier for an immigrant to establish a company in other Member States as currently the legislation is too complex. They suggested that the EU can play a role in ensuring governments are using funding to support SMEs and local businesses, instead of prioritising FDI. Tourism was highlighted as an issue of major economic importance to Member States and contributors felt that this industry needed to be prioritised along with environmental needs. While considering the importance of prioritising low CO2 travel forms, some participants suggested that now is not a good time to increase CO2 taxes on flights as we try to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Climate Change and the Environment: Irish people living in the EU agreed that there is a need to fundamentally change how business is conducted in order to tackle climate change. However, people felt that climate policies and projects need to be communicated at a national and local level so that industries and communities can see the economic and social benefits to shifting to a climate neutral society. Participants largely felt that the EU needs to focus on getting citizens on board with climate policies and behavioral changes and create a culture of cooperation and willingness to comply. Contributors noted how many EU countries’ waste management systems are more sophisticated than Ireland’s and suggested that the EU should exert its influence on national governments to manage waste more comprehensively and standardise best practices adopted from other EU Member States. The group noted that EU needs to re-evaluate and inform people as to what happens to waste once it is collected and try to improve in these areas. It was recommended that Member States collaborate further on food production and distribution. The EU could help countries produce certain food items more sustainably as different industries have different environmental impacts depending on where they are located. Some participants felt that CAP must be reformed and that consideration needs to be given to an individual country’s circumstance rather than a one size fits all approach. Digital Transformation: Participants felt that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about digital changes in society very rapidly and that education needs to accompany this transition to ensure citizens can access the services that have moved online. Contributors suggested that digital inequalities need to be addressed and that perhaps there is a role for the EU to make access to the internet a fundamental human right. As much of our lives have been forced to move online, participants highlighted that our privacy rights are being impacted and that the EU needs to monitor how companies are using EU citizens’ information - particularly children’s information. The EU has a role to make both GDPR legislation and the “Terms and Conditions” between a provider and the user much clearer. It was felt that the EU should be granted more powers to govern cybersecurity, as it is a cross-border concern. While broadband was accepted as a national issue that needs to be improved in many Member States, the idea was proposed that the EU could carry out an in-depth study on how countries assess their connectivity levels and set one standard base level metric for all EU countries. Health: Irish participants living in EU countries drew attention to the differences in the standard of public healthcare across the Union. There were suggestions made that the EU could help nations standardise both the public healthcare and the medical education and training provided across the EU. While there was praise for the European Health Insurance Card, contributors suggested that this card should also act as a digital source of citizens’ personal medical history. The EU could create and manage a system, in cooperation with Member States where medical information can be shared across borders and citizens would have access to their own medial history online. Contributors added that reassurance would be needed from the EU that all online health data is safe and secure. Participants recommended that the EU should cap the cost of Covid-19 tests to ensure fairness across the Union and prevent companies commercialising Covid-19 testing. Many citizens were satisfied with the new EU Covid Digital Certificate, while some suggested that as Covid-19 is a global issue, an adequate response would have instead been a global vaccine certificate that includes all vaccines you have received to date, that would be accepted world-wide. Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law: One issue that came to the fore during the discussion was the idea that EU citizens living in another Member State for a certain period of time should be allowed to vote in that country’s national elections. There were calls among the group for fairer standards across the EU in relation to pensions as concerns were raised that people living in border areas doing the same job receive different pensions depending on which side of the border they live. It was put forward that there should be better access to disability grants, services and facilities in line with the quality received in Ireland. While some members of the group felt that the EU must use financial sanctions against Member States that do not conform to the Rule of Law, others highlighted the negative effect this would have on the citizens of those countries and the possibility of countries wanting to leave the Union as a result. One opinion put forward was that a bottom-up approach that works to educate and listen to citizens could be more impactful long-term. EU in the World: Citizens discussed the need for the EU to have a military power, in part to mitigate the future impacts of the climate crisis. They felt that neutrality will no longer protect Ireland, pointing to the fact that Ireland is the centre of major ICT networks and that the Irish health system has already been attacked. When participants spoke about enlargement, members of the group felt that the EU should enlarge further but that now is not the correct time and that the EU should focus on resolving current internal issues first. Participants felt that in light of recent international events, there is an opportunity and a moral responsibility for the EU to step up as a global player. Contribution from Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne TD : Speaking about the meeting, and the Conference on the Future of Europe, Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne TD said, “Today’s seminar has a particular importance as the Irish diaspora play a huge role in Europe. While our country may be geographically small, our country’s footprint is to be seen in all parts of the union.” Conclusion: Irish people living in the EU strongly felt that the EU needs to use simple language to directly inform citizens of the impacts of EU policies as well as the economic benefits and overall advantages of EU membership. Just as this group represented people living in different EU countries coming together to share ideas and best practices, participants felt that Member States would benefit from replicating the process on a larger scale. By sharing success stories and lessons learned, the future of Europe can be a more innovative, sustainable and equitable place for all.
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