Wednesday 17 April 2013

Irish President Michael D Higgin's address to the European Parliament

Today President Higgins of Ireland addressed the European Parliament on the Union and citizenship. (The President of Ireland is a ceremonial head of state that is directly elected, and, sadly, it is difficult to imagine a head of government in Europe giving such a speech today).

I recommend the speech, but to quote a few extracts:

"[T]he inspiration and the achievements of the founders of the European Union we inherit as legacy cannot be taken for granted. Today, citizens in Europe are threatened with an unconscious drift to disharmony, a loss of social cohesion, a recurrence of racism and an increasing deficit of democratic accountability in some decision making of an economic and fiscal kind. These threatening clouds hang over a Europe that in more hopeful times, chose to base its anthem, rather than on anything contemporary, on Friedrich Schiller’s poem ‘Ode to Joy’ and its musical setting by Ludwig Van Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony.

Parliaments do matter and must continue to matter. Centuries of effort have been invested by European citizens in securing the vote. It is to parliament citizens look for accountability, for strategic alternatives. If national parliaments, if the European Parliament, were to lose the capacity to deliver accountability where else might it be found? Is there an alternative that can meet the requirements of a deliberative democracy? I believe not and parliaments must draw on the resources of experience, of inherited intellectual capacity, in all its diversity and above all, from the best of contemporary intellectual work in a pluralist way.


We cannot, however, ignore the fact that European citizens are suffering the consequences of actions and opinions of bodies such as rating agencies, which, unlike Parliaments, are unaccountable. Many of our citizens in Europe regard the response to the crisis in their lives as disparate, sometimes delayed, not equal to the urgency of the task and showing insufficient solidarity with them in their threatened or actual economic circumstances.

They feel that in general terms the economic narrative of recent years has been driven by dry technical concerns; for example, by calculations that are abstract and not drawn from real problems, geared primarily by a consideration of the impact of such measures on speculative markets, rather than driven by sufficient compassion and empathy with the predicament of European citizens who are members of a union, and for whom all of the resources of Europe’s capacity, political, social, economic and intellectual might have been drawn on, driven by the binding moral spirit of a union.


Instead of any discourse that might define the European Union as simply an economic space of contestation between the strong and the weak, our citizens yearn for the language of solidarity, the commitment to cohesion, for a generous inclusive rhetoric that is appropriate to an evolving political union that is anxious to reach a future of peace, prosperity, inclusion, and in a sustainable way.

This is a serious challenge, not least because if we were to fail we run the risk of an economic crisis leading to a crisis of legitimacy for the Union. A Union that in its founding treaties is fundamentally founded on values – respect for personal dignity; freedom; democracy; equality; the rule of law and respect for human rights."

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