Ever since the United Kingdom first announced its proposed Brexit from EU membership last June, other Western European countries have been flirting with the idea of abandoning the exclusive 28-nation club.
And we have been seeing this trend in election campaigns and ultra-right nationalist movements all across the continent.
There was the near-win of the Netherland’s populist wunderkind Geert Wilders last month, the growing popularity of France’s come-from-behind anti-European Union presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, whose fate will be determined on April 23, and mounting murmurs of dissent from Italy and Greece.
But Ireland — the Celtic Tiger that dramatically transformed itself from economic failure to dynamic powerhouse in the course of just two decades through strict fiscal restraint and the unabashed courtship of financial service, ICT and pharmaceutical transnational investors (enticed by an incredibly low corporate tax rate of just 12.5 percent) — is not about to follow in Britain’s footsteps.
“I want to state clearly and definitely that, despite the challenges we are facing and that the European Union will be facing, Ireland is and will remain an open country, firmly committed to our EU membership,” Irish Ambassador to Mexico Sonja Hyland told her guests during her national day reception last month.
“We are convinced and committed members of Europe, a gateway into the European market of more than 500 million consumers.”
Hyland went on to reiterate her statement by adding that not only does Ireland share common economic and political interests with the European Union, but also many fundamental values.
“I keep getting asked by my friends and associates here in Mexico if Ireland will leave the EU,” she said.
“The answer is, and will always be, no.”
But keeping its vows of EU fidelity will not be easy for Dublin.
The chronically divided European trade bloc is facing difficult times.
Many of its members are resentful of what they perceive as imposed regional integration and Brussels-centric policies.
The Brexit vote opened the door for member states and their electorates to opt out as nationalist and xenophobic tensions grow over a flood of Central Asian and African immigrants and increasing security concerns.
A turbulent geopolitical surrounding landscape and economic stagnation have also fueled Europhobia.
In the eyes of many members, the EU, which started out as a single market economy, has simply overstepped its bounds and infringed on national sovereignty and identity by focusing on its role as a political entity rather than a trade bloc.
Moreover, the cumbersome nature of the European Union makes the negotiations of free-trade accords with other countries or blocs complicated if not, at times, downright impossible. (This was one of the main reasons that the Brexit vote passed.)
For Ireland, Brexit could have serious financial repercussions, since United Kingdom is the Emerald Isle’s closest neighbor and one of its largest economic partners.
And because Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the island will now be more divided on trade and investment policies, creating a potential hard border in terms of commercial and economic cooperation.
But EU membership is of overwhelming importance for Ireland.
Since joining in 1973, Ireland has used its membership in the European Union as a springboard and foundation for its dramatic economic and social development.
EU Membership has allowed it to attract inward investment while increasing export sales and markets.
Also, the European Union offers Ireland the opportunity to have a more significant voice in global political affairs as part of EU foreign policy decision-making.
Finally, while there are certainly naysayers and critics of the European Union inside the Land of Saints and Scholars, more than 80 percent of Irish voters have said that they support EU membership regardless of Brexit.
So while the British may be turning away from the European Union, Ireland is revving up for an even more active role as a member state.
The next couple years won’t be easy for Dublin as London transitions out of the EU, but then again, the Irish have always been known for their resilience and adaptability.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]