The Europeanization of Party Politics in Ireland - North and South by Katy Hayward and Mary C. Murphy
London: Routledge 2010, pp. 218, £80.00 hb. ISBN 978 0 415 57891 2.
Reviewer: Gay Mitchell MEP*
- Leader of Fine Gael delegation in the European Parliament
It came as a great surprise to this reviewer to read that some academics believe that the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland is "generally viewed as the most pro-European party in Ireland" (p.187). Having been Minister for European Affairs in the administration of Taoiseach John Bruton from 1994 to 1997 and director of elections in five referenda on European Treaties, I was pretty sure that this title belonged to the Fine Gael party. The analyses in The Europeanization of Party Politics in Ireland - North and South fail to recognise the strong association developed by Fine Gael with the European People's Party (Christian Democrats), an association based on the recognition and application of four interdependent principles – enterprise, social justice, rights and responsibilities. The Fianna Fáil party describe themselves as Republican, the Greens are described as Environmentalists etc. Fine Gael has increasingly become identified with the Christian Democrat tradition. Fine Gael's policy document 'Beyond Neutrality', which argues for joining an EU Common Defence, written by the reviewer, is indicative of this.
By contrast the Labour Party in the Republic of Ireland was involved with the Socialist International from 1967, a factor which may have contributed to its opposition to joining the European Economic Community in 1972. It could also be argued that the Labour Party has been more Europeanized than the SDLP, given the gradual growth of its support for some EC / EU referenda, sometimes with qualification and resistance from minorities within the Party. Only 13% of Labour supporters said that they would vote ‘Yes’ to the referendum on the Single European Act in 1987. For the Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1998) and Nice I (2001) referenda, the stated intentions of Labour supporters were in line with or ahead of the national average. This may not be surprising given the amount of equality legislation emanating from Europe over the years since accession. However, voting intentions of Labour supporters dropped from 50% ‘Yes’ to 38% ‘Yes’ between Nice I and Nice II (2002), perhaps indicating a soft support rather than strong conviction within the Labour leadership.
Fianna Fáil seems to be one of the least Europeanized of political parties in Ireland, though ahead of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). For example, their lack of identification with a major grouping in the European Parliament means that Fianna Fáil have had little choice until recently but to associate with the EU-sceptic small group, Union of Europe of the Nations (UEN). This gave them very little opportunity to import Europeanization as the Group itself was only mildly European. Their performance in assuming the mantle of "chief architect and defender of neutrality" (never defined) speaks for itself. They promised to hold a referendum on membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) while in Opposition only to take us into PfP in 1999 (p. 4).
This book is a timely reminder that in 2001 the then Minister for Finance was admonished by the European Commission for introducing an excessively inflationary budget. He was publicly supported by then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who said that the Commission's warnings "did not make a whole lot of sense" (p.11).
The book points out that there is no clear agreement on the precise meaning of Europeanization but subscribes to the views of Ladrech (1994), Olsen (2002) and Radaelli (2000) that this concept refers to "a process of national adaptation to the demands of EU membership". One contributor concludes that "Party leaders in Ireland, North and South, have failed to enthuse voters about the importance and relevance of the EU" (p.8). A prominent broadcaster once told your reviewer that the newsroom in Radio Telefís Éireann would close up if any news report on Northern Ireland or Europe landed on its desk (other than the tragic or sensational). At that time, and even in the present time, such topics are of great public importance but it is very difficult to obtain coverage for serious comment on either.
During the referendum campaign on the first Lisbon Treaty (2008), I said that the EU was not perfect and was a maturing embryo but that its institutions of Parliament, Council and Commission replaced battleships, bunkers and concentration camps. This was met with some derision in the "serious" media. Until we realise that the EU is primarily about peace and stability on the continent of Europe and about Europe playing a role in global stability we will fail to be Europeanized. The EU is not a cow to be milked for our benefit. It is, and has been, an unparalleled opportunity to contribute to the shaping of the continent of Europe and its role in the world. Until we grasp this as a nation and require our political leaders to take their role seriously, ‘priming the parish pump’ will remain the focus of too many politicians in Ireland.
The Europeanization of Party Politics in Ireland - North and South is a scholarly and timely contribution to current political debate in Ireland, enabling people to reflect more on what politics is about and what Ireland’s participation in Europe has meant both to Europe and to Ireland itself.