June 18, 2008

Look what we have done for ordinary Europeans

Posted in International Economy · 76 comments ·

What makes a good European country? According to many of our European neighbours — specifically the French and Germans — Ireland post-Lisbon, can’t be regarded as a good member of the EU club because we are ungrateful and unpredictable.

More egregiously, the spin is that the Irish people are in someway intent on blocking enlargement. The storyline continues that, given how much we gained from the EU, how could such a nation of malcontent ingrates deprive our eastern neighbours of their opportunity?

Do you go along with that view? Certainly some of the crestfallen ‘Yes’ campaigners are using similar arguments, toeing the French line that “eaten bread is soon forgotten”. How could we possibly trouser the cash and then give them the two fingers?

It is easy to see the world this way, particularly if you regard politics as one giant inter-country game of treaties and committees. In this world view — one usually formulated by over-educated, risk-averse courtesans — people do not matter. The only thing that counts for the Eurocratic worldview is summits, leaders and the elite.

But Europe is about more than countries; it is about people. It is about 400 million individual people whose ambitions, aspirations and lives can be improved by the opportunities that economic integration affords.

If you take this people- centred view of things, it is interesting to contrast Doubting Ireland and Enthusiastic France. French politicians have conveniently forgotten that while they might hob-nob with their Polish counterparts, France does not allow Polish immigrants to work freely in France. So France talks the language of solidarity but freezes out the people that this very solidarity is supposed to help. What breathless hypocrisy!

While France threw up barriers, Ireland on the other hand opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of ordinary Poles, Lithuanians and Latvians whose lives have been greatly enhanced by the opportunities we have given them.

Ireland is a proper European partner to the Joe Soaps from Warsaw, Riga and Vilnius, while the French and Germans have closed their doors to them.

This distinction between a Europe of the peoples — the Irish view — and a Europe of the elites — the old Europe view — goes to the heart of our differing approaches.

So, for example, the French foreign minister claimed indignantly that over the 35 years of EU membership the Irish people have received €33bn in aid from the EU. This is true.

But because Ireland, unlike Germany or France, allowed the people from the accession states to come and live and work freely here, we have given back to the East in wages and opportunities.

Let’s do a little calculation. We have close to 300,000 immigrants working from the new accession states here. Let’s say they are on a wage between the minimum wage of €17,000 and the average wage of close to €35,000 a year. So let’s say €25,000. That’s a total wage bill of €7.5bn per year.

As we are now going into our fifth year of open borders, it is likely that Ireland has put back more cash in the pockets of poor European immigrants in five years that the EU has given us in 35 years.

We have also provided an open platform for people to come and go without recourse to registering with the local authorities or without the need to be monitored by identity cards. Furthermore, the Irish Ryanair, not the EU Commission, has been the single greatest force behind actual integration, flying the poor people of the East cheaply all around the Union. We’ve yet to see a low-fares French carrier demean itself to carry ordinary citizens to work.

So, not only have we given hundreds of thousands of eastern Europeans a chance to fulfil the promise of the EU and have their children educated here, but given that the propensity to save is higher among immigrants than the rest of us, billions of euros earned in Ireland are likely to have been sent home to Eastern Europe to build opportunity there.

Only Ireland, Britain and Sweden — the three countries most regarded as sceptical on Europe — have shown real, material solidarity with the poor of Eastern Europe.

While the French, Germans and Italians might lecture others on being good Europeans, they don’t stick to the spirit of the treaties they sign.

The question then arises again: which is the better European country; the one that blocks the freedom of mobility but accords to the fine rhetoric of the ‘grand projet’, or the one that allows free movement of people but might be more quizzical about the rhetoric?

Go down to your local Spar or Centra and ask the Polish or Lithuanian working there (who would not be freely allowed to work in France or Germany) who has done more for them — France or Ireland?

Also ask them, who made xenophobia part of the last referendum? It was in France not Ireland that the anti-EU vote made a big deal of the threat of the ‘Polish Plumber’. The ever-so-European French played the race card last time they voted with the ‘Yes’ side, ensuring the ‘No’ side that a ‘Yes’ vote would keep the Poles off French building sites.

The problem for the elite is that Ireland has given back money to the EU, but just not to them. We have given the poor an opportunity to work which is precisely what an economic union is all about.

Tomorrow morning, when Brian Cowen is facing the music and feels he is dealing with a meagre hand, he should remind his tormentors, such as former communist Mr Kouchner, that Ireland has given back to European workers in wages far more than we have taken in direct subsidies. Ireland is accepting in eight times more EU immigrants per head than France.

There are many ways of looking at Europe. Some of our neighbours are ‘top down’ Europeans, pushing through treaties in parliament, not consulting their electorates. This makes them look powerful at summits.

There are others who are happy to enhance ordinary peoples’ lives but have to face the electoral music at every turn.

We are the ‘bottom-up’ Europeans — the more honest and less hypocritical EU members.

If you want to see what European integration is for ordinary people, don’t watch the pomp and ceremony of the leaders’ summit tomorrow, go to the arrivals hall at Dublin airport.

There, amid the stonewashed denims, shaved heads and East European biker jackets, you will see the true hope that Europe brings. It is a chance of a better life for the immigrants and their children. It is the chance to bring money home, to plan and to invest in the future. This is what Europe is all about.

  1. Brendan


    I think your simple calculation of how much we have “given” the Eastern Europeans back in wages is very simplistic – and you seem to have based much of your arguement on it (that we in fact “owe” Europe nothing). Much of their income is returned into the irish economy & not taken home by them. I also doubt if wages in this country would be as high if we had shut the doors to immigration … so they could be said to have “given” alot back to us. Basically the calculation of the benefits of immigration is not simple … surely an economist like you should know this !

  2. VincentH

    When people are in a job for a while they tend to take a world view from that position. Here in Ireland from the earliest years, the civil service, the doctors, the lawyers and the unions, together with the farmers, banks and the Churches. All were not really living in this economy. All were looking up and feeling very hard done, but they were looking up at the UK and the US. When the Netherlands and Denmark were developing agriculture at the lower levels, where the economic unit was below twenty acres, the economic unit here was seen as above 300.
    This utter bloody insanity was transferred into the CAP, where the farm with 3000 milk producing units received, per unit, exactly the same as the farm with 10. The policy of keeping people in the countryside was after a while seen as pure bullshit. While the same people were whinging and whining about farm incomes they were and are sitting on huge assets. And very little clue of how to use them.
    But at least the CAP, however fucked up, was understandable.
    Now there is no goal, and the various civil service and those they feed have no idea why everyone is not clapping at their facility with their seven plus years of work, little realising they may as well have been carding wool over the time.

  3. Very good points David, it is also fair to say that the “EU” monies we’ve received throughout the years have come from the people of Europe not the bureaucrats. The people of Europe have a right to a voice in their future and should be allowed to be heard through their own referendums.

  4. Ed

    David, I agree, we are pragmatic about the purpose of the Union and our no vote was founded on real fears about the future direction of the enterprise. The French go on about the 35 billion we received from Europe – it’s childish rhetoric when you consider that the roads it built actually served to accommodate more European made cars and trucks. A quick glance at passing traffic and you’ll see that almost half the vehicles are made in Germany – that’s not a bad deal when you add up the profit margin on these vehicles and other European products over the last 35 years, not to mention what it’ll be into the future. It wasn’t aid, it was a shrewd investment – if only the foreign aid that we give to other countries had the same return, we’d be delighted – The French are particularly peeved over Michael buying Boeing and not Airbus – so they’re looking for any opportunity to do us down.

  5. Good point about Ryanair being the single greatest force behind actual (European|) integration. It’s ironic, as it was probably that last thing on the minds on the French and Germans when the signed the Treaty of Rome and they’d be horrified to see such an outcome.

    It’s only slightly more ironic than the fact that the EEC (as it then was) was setup largely to promote French Interests (no harm in that) but has in fact promoted the use of English (as it’s the only language that all member-states can reasonably claim to communicate it!).


  6. Johnny Waldron

    Great piece.
    I have lived in France and always felt that the Grand École hierarchy always took an exclusively macroeconomic perspective. The conveyor belt from France’s top schools leads directly to the civil service and the giant semi-state companies. The unspoken belief is that “If we implement the right policies then France will prosper” and therefore we need our best and brightest in the public rather than the private sector. After prolonged economic underperformance this belief has transformed to “If we can curb the adverse policies of others then France will prosper”. The unspoken French objective is to curb the adverse policies of countries like Ireland within the EU through the very mechanism of the EU. The hope is that when the EU has been transformed from a trading network of independent states with dispirate economic policies into a coherent economic entity then Europe will have the power to negotiate a better deal for France (and Europe in aggregate). This philosophy although misguided is not new and has infected French thought since the First World war. If we can eliminate conflict or competition then we will prosper: “We can retreat to victory!”
    This defensive economic mindset sees people as passive victims who must be protected rather than as active agents who must be rewarded. The consequence of this thinking has resulted in wages, benefits and job security beyond the means of the country for those employed by the state and massive unemployment for those under thirty. But in France this thinking is not yet universally discredited and the establishment perseveres in a quixotic attempt to negotiate prosperity. Many who accept that this approach is bankrupt, continue to support it out of cynical self interest.
    In France entrepenurism is typically the last resort of those who can not find security in the bosom of the state. The state employment legislation makes it very difficult for entrepreneurs to start businesses and now many French are voting with their feet. The best and the brightest are now heading for London.
    Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon traty is vitally important for the future of Europe and has offered an overdue opportunity for an open debate on the future of the EU.

  7. sinead kelly

    Irish people have little in common with French, Belgians’ or Germans’.Those nations have a different system of law and a different perspective on the role of the state, civil liberties etc.Euro integration has gone as far as it can involving Ireland and Britain and it remains to be seen if Eastern europe will take the Alabama or Brussels path.I reckon they will take the latter.

  8. The above is actually a very pertinent point. I hope Cowen takes the same line and if he doesn’t we can always install the floppy haired one in his place.

  9. Jim Hardy

    Not a convincing article, Indeed it somewhat contradicts the previous “Rethinking-(return to patriotism)” post.
    In a commercial “Globalised” world, people are treated merely as fodder to be dealt with arbitrarily as an economy demands.
    To suggest that The Irish have awarded opportunities to Eastern Europeans out of their sense of Euro-community, and warmth of spirit is facile.

    Immigrants have been lured to Ireland merely to fill an economic gap- when it existed. The interest in their well being extended only as far as they were useful to that purpose. The economy no longer requires them, and the welcome they received, if any, shall now be fast withdrawn.
    We will see now over the coming months how relations with the” New Irish” shall continue as the Native Irish suddenly and rapidly become dispossessed.
    Alas, I cannot help feeling it may all turn very ugly indeed…

  10. John Q. Public

    I think David makes fair enough points about a mobile workforce and how they have benefitted from our open doors, not to mention all the illegals we took off the hands of the Germans, Italians and French that we feed, clothe and shelter. How much money the poles send home or keep is anybody’s guess so Brendan has a point too. There has been an out of control spiral of wages and inflation here for too long, partly the fault of too much immigration.
    If these immigrants ever leave, half the apartment blocks in town will be empty. This will surely devalue properties won’t it? If they stay when things get bad, they will take more money off us through the dole. Anybody see the logic in this or am I a racist?

  11. GOM

    I voted Yes. I voted yes based on my read of the Treaty and on balance, my interpretation of what it meant in the context of the allowances being made to be more effective with an enlarged Union. The Nice treaty, once we got what we wanted based on the Seville declaration, has been measured to give 25% more efficiency in decision making.

    I respect the NO vote – I respect it because I can relate to people’s fears that we are perhaps moving too fast and there are times when we have to slow down and consider what next? I don’t respect the way in which misleading information was put forward by elements of the NO campaign but I accept it, in much the same way as I accept we have an FF led Govt. that I did not vote for.

    “More egregiously, the spin is that the Irish people are in someway intent on blocking enlargement.” Our rejection of the Lisbon treaty, as first order analysis by someone viewing our decision, does declare this intent. However, the rationale for the rejection, I believe, is not to be found in such a superficial analysis. It is more complex.

    “While France threw up barriers, Ireland on the other hand opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of ordinary Poles, Lithuanians and Latvians whose lives have been greatly enhanced by the opportunities we have given them.” France has opened its doors in the past, and it has had bad experiences (Paris fires, etc. demonstrate this). During the time Ireland was booming and needed fodder to fill positions, France had high unemployment. I respect that one country in the EU can have a different policy than another based on its national conditions. THIS is what the EU represents, being able to self determine the tactics that your national strategy requires whilst still being a member of the EU.

    “Go down to your local Spar or Centra and ask the Polish or Lithuanian working there (who would not be freely allowed to work in France or Germany) who has done more for them – France or Ireland?” How very “Daily Star”-tabloid-pollster of you. Of course asking someone this question will elicit the answer you want – it is not very dispassionate or balanced.

    “There are many ways of looking at Europe. Some of our neighbours are ‘top down’ Europeans, pushing through treaties in parliament, not consulting their electorates. This makes them look powerful at summits……We are the ‘bottom-up’ Europeans – the more honest and less hypocritical EU members.” Top down and bottom up analyses will make for a stronger result in the end and I predict that the “EU ideal” will distil and output a solution to where these two meet. I smiled at your reference to the Irish being “more honest” – this is probably a sign that we are waking up to the s**t state of affairs we are in economically and are experiencing the hangover of the party you referred to in your books. It is easier to be honest in these circumstances.

    We are respected in Europe for being more entrepreneurial (although we constantly kick ourselves about not being so enough!). I have attended the European Business summit and seen this in presentation after presentation from academics and business people from the union voicing their findings that Ireland and Britain’s entrepreneurialism should be the mark for other countries to converge on. This is what the EU is about – convergence. Convergence firstly on the economic reforms required then to put us in a position to fill the gap infrastructurally, socially and perhaps even legally. Ryanair, despite what the press will use to sell papers, is highly respected around Europe – other airlines will use what they will to reduce Ryanair’s strength – that is competition, may not be fair in some cases but Mr. O’Leary seems to be happy that he can cope.

    A lot of your article projects our own internal interpretation and opinion of what others in the EU are commenting on – the opposit could also be true for most of your observations – but that does not sell copy now does it.

  12. David,
    Interesting points. Simplistic, yes as this type of dialogue has to be. But still interesting and needs further analysis. However big picture stuff is also relevant to and affects ordinary people. People who are social model orientated (meaning wanting the basic services for people to be of a good enough standard for all and accessible to all) also view big pictures. No man is an island type thing and Ireland does not nor cannot function in isolation to rest of the world. The Europe Elite versus ordinary Joe or Mary bloggs is a vast simplification also. Educated people come from all strata of society and education is a good thing. We need more of it. Look at the position which education has created for you and many others. No one should apologise for being educated nor indeed highly educated and it should be available to all. It is the use that people put that education to that counts. I wonder just how many people don’t have access to this type of debate because they can’t read or write or are not computer literate or cannot afford to be. And hey franco bashing…bit OTT. The French and Italian still get off their backsides to voice their discontent. Good to have an economist actually posing these sorts of things even if I don’t always agree with everything. In the world of verbal or written bites its difficult to really untangle the arguments.

  13. Daniel

    I’m not often dissappointed by David’s pieces but I am with this.

    The whole article is constructed around the opening statement that ‘the spin is that the Irish people are in someway intent on blocking enlargement.’

    That is not the spin. It’s a spin you’ve exaggerated to suit your article.

    It is abundantly clear that the issues quickly became abortion, neutrality and tax with an element of tory-esque ‘sovereignty’ thrown in for good measure. Immigration and enlargement were hardly on the radar at all.

    The treaty, despite its complexity, was about reforming how the EU works because it can’t continue to use the rules that applied to nine or 12 in a new EU of 27, 28, 29. The Yes campaign’s great failure was not explaining the new arrangements to the people, not explaining what it meant to Ireland and not explaining why it was good for the EU as a whole and not just our parochial interests.

  14. Dermot

    I’m still glad I voted No to Lisbon, if only for the view of Brian Cowen squirming. Poor guy was absolutely convinced we’d all vote Yes. Will it make the government better listen to the people in future? I doubt it.

  15. B

    Forgive me for being stupid but we didn’t get EU enlargement to get workers into our Spar and Centra shops.

    We did allow foreign workers in but put many barriers in to artifically limit their progress. I personally know a Romanian former MiG pilot working in security. From an EU country. Almost impossible to get a visa too.

    We have not addressed the skills gap between the natives and the immigrants. Nearly half of them have third level while only a third of us do. We are too busy in school learning Irish and Religion instead of things we can use. I am not denegrating the national language but look at it, nobody speaks it and most are afraid to be laughed at when using it.

    I am pro Europe, pro demcoracy and pro immigration but I am wary of the mandarins in Brussels dumping their frustrations on Ireland when they don’t get the Fascist Super-State they want.

    If they ignore Ireland they are no better than Rangoon or Beijing as regards democracy and cannot ever lecture Mugabe or any future dictators on Democracy when they clearly don’t want democracy in Europe.

    I voted no. If there was a NO WAY and HELL NO box I would have ticked that.

    If Europe is going to be undemocratic then what difference will it to be to the Third Reich or what Napoleon was after? I have many French friends and most of our business is with Holland. I still voted no.

    I still canot believe that the Government sent their most dangerously stupid minister (with competition from a guy called Cullen) to Europe to smooth things over. As director of elections he was responsible for the haimes that Fianna Fail made of the campaign.

    It is a challenge for Europe to listen to Democracy but for Gods sake did France and Germany (and the rest of Europe) not learn from 1914-1918 or more importantly from 1939-1945?

  16. [...] David McWilliams on Europe. Interesting. [...]

  17. Piotr

    I agree with Jim that the many immigrants were asked to come and work simply because there were not enough Irish workers to fill the existing positions. In fairness, I doubt that their well-being and prosperity was on the agenda, although the welcome has been so far mostly very warm and encouraging.
    The argument that only UK, IE and Sweden opened their labour markets (if my reading of it is right) is not any more correct. As far as I’m aware, only Germany and Austria still have not opened their job markets in any form. Finland, Greece, Holand, Portugal and Italy have removed restrictions, while Belgium, Denmark, France, Holand and Luxemburg have only limited restrictions still in place. So may I humbly recommend more research into the matter.
    Still, I do agree that EU is all about mobility and opportunities, and not burocracy. Could be argued though, that without all the treaties in place so far, there would be little mobility now.

  18. Philip

    I thought it was an effect of public expenditure that for every euro spent, it got it several times back due to the multiplier effect ( 1 euro spent 20 times over) times the vat rate…around 3-5 Euro return.

    We got 30 bn to get things rolling in this place. That 30bn would have yielded a 90 to 150bn return for the local public service in vat and taxes and that is the real index we should be looking at. That money got trapped in a class of asset whose multiplier effect gets sucked out by zillionaires who made a killing during our “boom”. And unfortunately, it could be argued that employing cheap labour to maximise margin for the few actually exaserbated the problem. The rich are dampening the multiplier as they act as primary absorbers and can move large funds out of the economy and lock it into trophy assets.

    I’d be careful about depicting Ryanair as the untimate unifier for the EU. It was business working as business should. But that too has its limits and will vanish as fast as its dwindling margins. It does seem a pity that the only way you can innovate today is by cutting cost which means reducing labour content or cost or outsourcing etc. which dampens the multiplier further.

    There’s a “NO” hanging in the air. We need to be very careful about slagging off the French, Germans etc. over the coming weeks. Over-reaction in public is the last thing we want. Right now, Cowen need to realise that for every Euro they are forced to start cutting, 5 euro or so will be pulled from the local economy. And Ryan Air and similar will not be around to help.

  19. Mary Kate

    Why in the name of God is anybody surprised by the No result?

    If the referendum was held in any other country the result would be the same.

    The reasons why we voted No don’t matter. The No result represents the will of all European people.

  20. Daniel

    Really Mary Kate? Did you ask them all? Or are you just listening to the loudest voices?

    It’s worth remembering that the French, in particular, rejected the constitution in protest at the prospects of Turkey being allowed into the EU

  21. Mary Kate

    Well, we’ll never know will we?

    In fact Nicolas Sarkozy said it would be “dangerous” to hold referendums.
    He went on to say,
    “France was just ahead of all the other countries in voting no. It would happen in all member states if they have a referendum. There is a cleavage between people and governments,”
    “A referendum now would bring Europe into danger. There will be no Treaty if we had a referendum in France, which would again be followed by a referendum in the UK.”

  22. GOM

    Not surprised but to vote out of ignorance “The reasons why we voted No don’t matter.” is not good enough. The YES campaign should take responsibility for that ignorance but the reasons we voted no very seriously matter.

  23. Fergus

    A very opportunistic right wing view of how things went David. You sound more and more like the FF cute hoors who run this country if you’re gonna give us stuff about bottom up Irish versus top down dirigiste French.

    Contrary to what Daniel says in his otherwise excellent post, immigration played a big part in the No vote, particularly in blue collar areas. Did anyone hear about the electoral box opened in Knocknaheeny on Cork’s northside that contained 600 ballot papers, 13 of them marked Yes? I expect right wingers such as Noel O Flynn to reap the dividend of this in a few years’ time, but of course we don’t let immigrants in because of any left wing touchy feely concern for their hopes and dreams, we do so because our captains of industry want it. French policy makers (the dreaded elite) probably felt that such a policy would lead to social unrest and tried to control it, not stop it altogether. We did so belatedly and unfairly when Romania and Bulgaria acceded in 2007. The French elite also prohibited the sale of 35 and 40 year mortgages by banks, correctly recognising that this does not create wealth, but simply transfers it. You have been banging on about this for a while, david, but it seems our “bottom-up” people’s government didn’t look out for the interest of ordinary people. Quelle surprise!

    For all its flaws, the lisbon treaty and the constitution that preceded it represented little more than an architecture of governance for Europe, trying to take into account all the concerns of the different peoples and interest groups in the EU. I would rather we were inside the tent than out, but it seems that is not possible now. For all its flaws, the EU to me seems far more transparent than our political system, what with the emasculation of the Dail, the Seanad and our council and regional systems by the elected government of the day. Still though, it just seems so much more fun to mock the preening French and Germans doesn’t it?

    I respect the decision of the Irish people, but that still doesn’t mean the whole thing isn’t a disaster. It is.

  24. Trex

    well the argument that we opened our doors to the poor eastern europeans and we are better europeans than others unfortunately is not a very well thought one. The only reason ireland kept that door because they needed cheap labout to fuel the housing scam and also use these people as tenants in those apartments they are building themselves. Most of the money they earned was spent here anyways , mostly non union workers was brought here to compete with locals. This was not done for being a good sport , it was for the elite that runs this country wanted to get rich quicker. most of the citizens were happy too , using these immigrants as nannies , cleaners and construction workers , ofcourse as tenants in their investment apartment or apartments. So please do not give me this stupid argument , really insults our intelligence. France and Germany could not do that as there was no housing scam there , Banks were not allowed to be part of the housing mafia. Ireland should have voted yes , only reason is the incompetency of its politicians . irony is that we have seen their performance in the yes campaign which was scandalous. so we can not trust these guys to run this country , it was best to hand it over to brussels. We should have voted yes , no vote confirms that unfortunately.

  25. Mike K

    I like where you are going with the premise of your argument but it comes over as a little half baked in the circumstances as a result of over-simplification. I think we can take it as read that Europe “invested” in Ireland’s future to open the market rather than embarking on a 35Bn philanthropic give-away. At this stage it would also be safe to assume that we have returned the favour. Fergus makes a great point above. Ireland like most counries has a real issue when it comes to immigration. It’s nigh on impossible to have an open discussion without people collapsing in self conscious embarassment. Outside of the Business class, I think you would be very hard pushed to find ordinary Irish people take a positive view on what immigration has added to their communities. Far from being a cultural melting pot, most communities play out like an awkward out-take of Mind your language or Alf Garnett. A simmering unspoken resentment. Surely not in the country of a hundred thousand welcomes? Well take a look at the distribribution of NO votes last week. All high impact immigration zones. In these areas the real immigration fiasco is being fought. Cramped schools with no translators, ghetto landlords etcetc. Again the Irish have been too busy to notice of late, but the impending economic meltdown has sharpened minds a little. Far from chastising the French for their controlled imigration policy, perhaps we can learn. The French did not act out of any wanton racism. France is an old and powerful economy. Historical mistakes regarding immigration created Parisian ghettos in the 70s. We need to be careful about believing our own hype with regard to our uber-European credentials. Of course we were keen, we were broke and surrounded by water. I suggest that our immigration policy will come back to haunt us over the next 18 months. My God David, I even seen to remember you inviting half of Venezuala to come and live in Coolock last year. well with 300K empty house on the market ..there’s no shortage of space …

  26. David Mc Williams

    Thank you all very much for the comments;positive of negative, we need to have this debate about the country, where we lie in Europe and what it means for all of us. Just a note to the critics: opening your doors is what one of the four fundamental freedoms of the EU – the freedom of mobility- is all about. Ireland, for whatever reasons, did it and many other countries did not. If you ask the average immigrant in Ireland today (no more than if you asked the average Irishman in the US in the 1980s or the UK in the 1950s or 1980s) I believe they would applaud our decision to give people access. We could have followed the French example and banned people, we did not and I am proud we didn’t.

    Anyway, let’s keep discussing the country and throwing out differening views. best David

  27. Philip

    We are a country without any sense of social morality. We seem to have a mindset whose duality and is unique – a kind of pathological hypocrisy. We are Christian Mass goers and yet have no problem reconciling this with maintaining social injustice. The reason we opened the doors was to get in cheap labour. The benefit which may have accrued to the immigrants was utterly accidental. FULL STOP

    And by the way, these immigrants we “welcomed” in were not allowed to participate at the highest level of their education where real value could be added to the country. So much for the “Freedom” nonsense. And we have had no problem screwing our own citizens in the process We are a disgrace! At least the French are consistant and seem to show some concern for their own people.

    A Yes would have meant I would be sooner part of a society that really puts people first. I have had 1st hand experience working for French and German managers and my personal and professional development propered tremendously. Not so with Irish managers and I know many who can report the same. Even you David left this country knowing full well you’d never develop here – and it was not just about getting new experience – you got a better class of training and development. Few Immigrants that came here can report the same. This is a very telling and I believe a very repeatable finding.

    The baloney mouthed off by the No lobby – privatisation of education/ health, being disenfranchised in so many different ways etc is laughable.The only place where this sort of rubbish is going on is in Ireland itself- and if we had said yes, this Governent (the most unrepresentative and centralised and now we know most disconnected in Europe) would have to reverse these plans.

  28. B

    Hear hear Phillip. A voice of reason in an ocean of bullshit.

  29. Jim Hardy

    Most posts have followed the line I mentioned yesterday….and are mostly (and rarely) against your theory in this article…We haven’t done a hoot for ordinary Europeans and never intended or intend to-
    Immigrants were never in Ireland to be offered a better chance in Life but were here merely to be exploited by the economy for cheap labour. The end.

    Now that the economy has effectively crashed (The word media word “Downturn” has already been replaced by “Crash”) The only issue on anybodys mind is how to get rid of this now useless and unwelcome foreign population fast!!
    - and this issue should be the subject- head on- of your next post!?

  30. Piotr

    Harsh words Jim. “Useless and unwelcome”. This is quite the opposite to what I come across every day, but I do appreciate the frankness. Anyway, my “insider’s” view is that many are indeed leaving (e.g Norway seems to be at the top of the list now) but in fairness many will hang on. How to get rid of them AND stay in the EU at the same time? Not easy I guess.

  31. Ed

    “I have had 1st hand experience working for French and German managers and my personal and professional development prospered tremendously. Not so with Irish managers and I know many who can report the same.” Philip, it’s the small size of our organisations and home market that causes Irish managers to be continuously in a state of panic – management by crisis. It can be good experience provided you’ve already had exposure to the objective type abroad.

  32. B


    What are you blathering about. It has nothing to do with the small size of the market. It has everything to do with having an unwillingness to learn.

    Part of what I do is help sort out companies that hit the skids. 9/10 times we find that management arrogance and not market conditions led to the company being on the ropes. Managers may be great internal politicians but this playing up to the boss and lack of humility usually takes their companies out of business. I have seen it over and over and over again.

    And lashing out at immigrants is not going to help anyone. We need their skills. We have an immigrant working for us whom we took from a menial job. She is the best worker and we have trained her. All she needed was a start. Maybe she is an exception but from experience I think not.

    I know that if we had got an Irish person the first thing we would have fallen out over would have been money and the second thing would be that we didn’t have a red carpet and 43 days holidays. I don’t think an Irish person would have looked at the long game to be honest and would have passed on it. Life is what you make it and sometimes what is unattractive is what you need to succeed. Things like hard work and thinking weed out the lazy. Not lazy as in no putting in the hours but lazy as in intellectually lazy.

  33. [...] was never used, is a pretty good retort to Brussels accusations of Irish ingratitude? Combined with David McWilliams’ claim that accession state immigrants wages amounted to a €7.5bn “subsidy” to the enlarged [...]

  34. Ed

    B, that’s a generalisation about the Irish being lazy – I agree that immigrants are appreciative of a leg up and will make every effort to succeed – I did it myself when I was one. There are, however, lots of good hardworking Irish people out there, the problem in most small organisations is the lack of resources to develop their full potential. I’ve got one that is a natural, but we have to work within our constraints.

  35. B

    In general there is a lack of will. There are only three of us in the company. We were in a client site (more like the Somme) from 7pm Sunday to 4am Monday while the managers who bullshitted us about controls and targets were tucked up in their beds. Learned more about the business then than a month of meetings. We were being managed by Powerpoint so we went in to see what was really going on.

    To contrast most Japanese companies are small, Toyota, Honda et al are the exception to the rule. Just becasue you are small doesn’t mean you have less opportunity. You have flexibility that the big guys don’t have.

    I don’t see it as a lack of resources but a lack of will and an attitude issue. We don’t have a head office, we have a tiny office but we run four businesses out of it. The key barriers we come up against on a daily basis is ignorance and arrogance. It comes all the way down from government and is seen as a social norm. We are a rich country but our tolerence for bullshit, laziness and pig headed arrogance holds us back.

  36. MK

    Hi David,

    We hear your point (made here and on Sat on TV) that the French didnt allow in the eastern europeans when we did, etc, that they arent on this score as European as us – however, its not a major point to make due to the following:

    We all (EU-15) voted on this mechanism with Nice, that countries could allow or not allow people to move in and work. (This created a two-tier EU from that point onwards and was one of the reasons that many voted No to Nice-I and Nice-II.). Thus it was in France’s remit, as well as other countries, and countries could choose to allow the movements in or not based on their own self-interest. It is clear that Ireland did so out of its own interests and not the interests of Poland or Lithuania and other countries. We were not acting like a charity, far from it.

    Secondly, its just a matter of time before the Poles, Latvians, and peoples from other accession states can move into and work in France, as it will be for all ‘desintation’ old europe countries, Germany, etc. This is an opt-out that we have agreed to but it is a time limited one if I remember correctly.

    It is correct to say, and this is what our government should be doing, that if Lisbon, which is effectively the EU Constitution rehashed, was voted on in France and other countries, that it would be rejected by the French people if put to a plebiscite referendum.

    What is frightening about this latest EU treaty is that Ireland was the only country that had a referendum, not by choice, but because it was required by our laws. Other countries that could have used a referendum refused to do so. What is additionally galling is that the treaty is supposed to enhance citizens participation in the EU where 1m citizens can have a voice. Well, there are 860 thousand that have expressed that voice and I’m sure we could muster up 140 thousand more from the other 26 countries. Will the Lisbon Treaty rejection be allowed on that basis alone? Another aspect is that these treaties highlight and clarify veto’s. Well, Ireland HAS a veto on the Lisbon Treaty and has just expressed it. Are the other 26 countries now going to override that veto, to ignore it, and if they do, what value and what power is there in the other veto’s laid down? In Tax? In Military? Is this the proof of the pudding?

    Is it any wonder that people are sceptical of the EU when as soon as we as a sovereign nation exercise a veto that the rest carry on as if nothing happened! I think that should make many Yes voters wake up to what the EU in this instance would seem to be saying.

    The EU reaction to Ireland’s Lisbon Treaty rejection will be an interesting test of the EU and its processes, and also of the resolve of the Irish people. Lets see who has backbone and who hasnt.

    Now I’m off to a Centra !


  37. Philip

    Disney is a great place apart from all the kids
    College is a great place apart from all the Professors and the Students
    Ireland is a great place apart from all the paddies. Ditto for all the other countries and their constituencies.
    Business is great apart from all those effen employees and effen customers
    Medicine is a great profession apart from all those sick patients.
    Democracy is the worst form of government apart from all the others – Was that Churchhill? I forget.

    Time to grow up. It’s a NO – suck in and get used to it. EU or anything with people in it are liable to do anything. Taxes, Neutrality etc are all in the air. Always were if we were to be honest. We just have to keep adapting. We just need to be prepared. Prep for Business here should be in best in class approach – stop thinking short-term. Prep for government is similar in public admin – we need to clean up. Social prep should be around leveraging skills and keeping them here (Paddies, Immigrants, Martians etc.). This is the only way out – and honestly folks, I cannot see it happening. We need a visionary to get this going. Maybe there’s a few young up and comers in the Government that’ll force the issue. Positive, Straight Talking answers are needed now.

  38. seamus

    I believe the no vote was simply that people really didn’t understand what it was about! The no camp had clear fear driven “sales tags”. The yes camp didn’t. Irish people are not stupid and placing an unreadable document in front of them stating “trust us” was never going to be ratified. End of Discussion!!!

  39. VincentH

    We sit in a republic, and for some this means that all choice is made by a spartan elite, where the opinion of the herlot is unimportant. Sometimes we get our act together and cop on to ourselves, but history, instinct and the need for survival tend to colour all on which we think.
    When DeGaulle set up the French presidental election, he made sure that there was two elections, a week apart, on the principal that the French voter, will, vote in the first with his heart in the second with his head.
    And so it is now, few like SF, they are just unrealistic. While Ganley went off to London as soon as he could in order to display his little prize. And then his audience went all green, the Patrician Green. A Colour handed by a Pope, a war Colour, that they for some reason they believe is now theirs. It is not.
    Regardles of my distaste of the of what was handed to us, I voted Yes.

    Do you need, to get by your moderator, to use the first language ?. An Cou sa mean oiche.

  40. “Herlot” eh?
    If you’re going to come over all academic, at least try to spell “helot” correctly please.

  41. B

    And tuck your question marks up behind the words please. Putting your comma, question mark or exclamation point out here . is just wrong.

    And using an unnecessicary fullstop after a question mark is in the words of Chris Rock ig’nant.

    VincentH your pompous comment was overshadowed by crappy punctuation. Maybe instead of trying to show of your middlebrow intellect you should get the basics right. Starting with punctuation.

    Over and out.

  42. Daniel

    I must have deleted the email but did all the other governments in Europe come to power by winning raffles or having their names pulled from hats or something? If ratifying Lisbon really bothers our European brethren so much then surely they’ll punish the guilty parties at the ballot box?

    We keep clapping ourselves on the back for holding a referendum. Yet the majority of eligible voters didn’t bother voting and the many voters claimed not to understand what they were voting on. Some exercise in democracy that is!

    At the risk of breaking Godwin’s Law I might point out that bypassing parliamentary democracy in favour of plebiscite was a favoured tactic of the fascists and nazis in the 30′s.

  43. GOM

    Part, and let me add, just part of the problem with the fact that we voted NO is that of the negative it associates with us globally. I don’t agree with much of the analysis of this article, but I ACCEPT that a marketing message that illustrates us as greedy to many superficial readers (and there will be many) of articles such as this…. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/19/opinion/19cohen.html?_r=1&oref=slogin will be bad for business, in this case our economy, just at a time when we needed to stay in the game.

    This is not a reason for saying YES, but I thought we were past the “should’ve been a YES/should’ve been a NO” petty part of the argument and on to dealing with some of the consequences of the decision we have all made (and even though I voted YES, I respect the NO and am now thinking of what I need to do in my business to deal with the potential consequences). Some of the posts above would suggest we are not passed the petty stage. For those interested in getting an education or contributing, there are many threads I have been observing on politics.ie, some good, most emotive clap-trap and plain evidence of two things, that there is a low understanding of the EU and that there is significant distrust of our elected officials.

  44. B

    Forgive me for asking but what was the Second World War for if sixty years later we reinstall Fascism?

  45. Ire-in-exile

    All headscratching and “what happened, and why not and why against”
    The fact is Nobody on the ground knows anything about Europe and anything to do with it is treated with well advised suspicion- the Swedes were offered the vote on whether to accept the Euro (In my view the only positive thing about the EU!!)
    Their Govt. was for Yes, and the people decided therefore that it must be something dodgy offered by the ruling elite, and that national power and Swedish interests would be transferred to Brussels.
    So they voted against the adoption of the euro- while the latter happens anyway, they were not offered a vote on that.
    So now the Swedes wander around with their ridiculous 100krona notes, (11euros) which they need to change anytime they wish to leave the country…and now it has sunk in that they perhaps made a incredible error. While the Irish can fly from Italy to Germany and back without seeking out a moneychanger.

    Will this sort of public error be the same for the Irish? Well in this case I think not- the No vote was good in at least it came as a shock protest that demands that Politicians and bureaucrats have a responsibility to explain to their public in much more certain terms what it is exactly they are signing away….and Why.

  46. Blow in

    Philip spot on i second you

  47. Blow in

    Jim Hardy you are starting to sound like Robert Mugabe

  48. Saying the Irish are ungrateful is completely irrelevant; it seems that the electorate in most countries would have also voted No if given the chance. The treaty itself may not be so bad, the vote is against the politicians and bureaucrats who are out of touch with the real people. And the EU grants, or whatever they are called, did NOT come from the EU or EC or beaurocrats themselves, but from other EUropeans, so those bureaucrats have no justification in moaning.

  49. B

    Look what happened was that we just ripped down the metaphorical jocks of the EU and exposed that they want to be a World Power and regard democracy as an inconvenience.

    The EU can no longer call China or Burma on democracy becasue it is not interested in the will of the people. I heard today on another blog that many people allegedly voted yes because they are sick of the shower of lowlifes we have at the moment. I would have to agree with that but do you think that Brussels is going to be any better?

    On the other hand our 1937 constituton was written by Dev and edited and “corrected” by the Vatican via the Papal Nuncio so this caper of being ruled by laws from Europe is in no way new. Dev was a great fan of the right wingers and Fascism in particular.

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