Meet the Erasmus Graduates whose business is bringing EU funding to Italy’s entrepreneurs: Life after European Studies Interview

 

Eoghan Mark Hughes

Euroregion Consulting was founded to act as a translator for businesses who are seeking European funds in Udine, Italy. A translator, as co-founder Mattia Anzit puts it, “for dummies”. The problem for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is that they are often engaged in such complex, technical work, that if they want to gain access to European regional funding, they are going to need a team capable of navigating a dense bureaucracy and translating high floating concepts into understandable plans. Mattia and his co-founder, Selina Rosset, are Udine’s solution to this problem.

The Italian founders of Euroregion Consulting, are an energetic team, bouncing back and forth off each other throughout the interview, finishing each other’s sentences and lending each other the odd English phrase or two. Having met during the Euroculture Master program, which they both studied in Udine and Strasbourg, Selina says that if it were not for the program, Euroregion Consulting would never have been founded. Despite the fact that the two of them have lived in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy all their lives, they had never met before. As Mattia explains, he is not from the capital, Udine, like Selina, but from a small town, which he insists that I have never heard of.  Vibrant and chatty, the team joked about Italian bureaucracy, confused entrepreneurs and the problems facing young people and students in today’s economic climate. My interview with these two former students of European studies through Euroculture touched on life after graduation, entrepreneurship and European business in a Eurosceptic age. Continue reading “Meet the Erasmus Graduates whose business is bringing EU funding to Italy’s entrepreneurs: Life after European Studies Interview”

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What does Trump mean for the European Union? Looking at the reality of a Trump Presidency from the perspective of the EU

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Photo by Marc Nozell

Eoghan Hughes

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre  

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  

Are full of passionate intensity.”  

The Second Coming

WB Yeats

Donald Trump is the next President of the United States of America. In the US this needs to be accepted as soon as possible so that those for him, and those against him, can start making the best of this divisive result. America will learn how to deal with Trump domestically- they are a robust democracy with rigid cheques and balances.

Within the EU we also have to come to terms with a result that many did not think would happen and did not want to happen. This was not a European decision though, but the choice of the US electorate, a choice that needs to be respected. The choice we are faced with now is how to react to Trump’s America in the international arena. This choice is especially important for the moderates of the EU. If they want to stave off the effects of Trump they will need to, to quote Anthony L. Gardner, current US Ambassador to the EU, “speak out with passionate intensity”.

To do this, we first need to answer the question on all of our minds- what does Trump mean for the EU? When you are dealing with a man who one day threatens to take the US out of NATO and the next promises fierce allegiance to allied states, it’s hard to pin down the policy from the rhetoric.

Below I will give The Euroculturer’s best guess at how Trump’s Presidency will affect the EU, by asking what policies we can actually expect from the eccentric millionaire. Once we have it on paper, I will make a few suggestions as to how the EU, and its Member States, might best respond to this new era in EU-US relations.

What will he do?

Although conventional wisdom says that we shouldn’t take a candidate on his pledges, this candidate said he would win, and he did, against all odds. So on this occasion, it might be best to look at what Trump has already said about his planned foreign policy:

Mike Pence

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Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Effect: Trump has claimed in the past that Mike Pence, his running mate and Vice President elect, would be left to take care of ‘domestic and foreign policy.’ Though perhaps even more conservative than Trump, particularly as regards reproductive rights, Pence is a more traditional Republican, and would be therefore easier to anticipate. Expect a dismantling of Obamacare domestically, but little overt change internationally- which would normally give the leaders of EU States some solace. However, it is hard to imagine that the natural showman that is Trump would be willing to completely eschew the opportunity of meeting world leaders and taking part in important international congresses. Fame is Trump’s bread and butter, he is an entertainer, and one thinks he would not miss the opportunity to, at the very least, be the face of America in those critical moments. Therefore, discounting policy for the moment, we think you can at least expect a visible Trump in Europe.

Already his presence has been felt, with right wing parties falling over themselves to congratulate him and to declare his victory as a feather in their caps. An official from France’s Front National has stated, in the aftermath, that Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built’. Nigel Farage, the man who brought about Brexit with his UKIP party, has gleefully claimed to be the catalyst for Trump’s victory, and believes Trump’s victory heralds further political upheavals in Europe.  (Side note: Farage, in this same interview, made a joke about Trump assaulting Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, which perhaps shows the affect Trump is already having on the language of politics in European countries.)

So, for those who think Trump may just be a figure head, it is worth remembering the moral power a figure head has. Trump could embolden alt right movements in Europe, and with elections in The Netherlands, Germany and France coming sooner rather than later, Geert Wilders, AFD and Front National could be looking to shock the world with their surprise, poll defying victories. Nobody in the EU should take this possibility lightly.

Response: If Trump’s victory can embolden the alt right, it should also serve as a rallying call to the moderate and left movements in Europe (and the US). The fact that Trump won with the backing of traditional Democrats shows (as Brexit was passed with the backing of Labour voters) that the base of the left has been overtaken by the new rhetoric of the alt right, slamming global financial institutions and immigration. In many ways this is to be expected. Most countries in the EU have lived under austerity measures for nearly a decade, since the 2008 financial crash. While financial institutions have been bailed out, businesses have closed and rural areas have been decimated by a drain of the youth to cities and other countries. According to city dwellers and the middle class, the recession is over and austerity worked. For rural people and those living in relative poverty though, the recession never ended, and austerity is still keeping stride with their day to day lives. This is fertile ground for populists. Not because people are stupid, that’s the lazy answer, but because they are angry. Brexit was a sledgehammer to the system they felt encouraged their marginalisation, Trump was another.

Similarly, immigration has fuelled the alt right in the US and the EU. Here, fear of Muslim immigrants is felt in most EU states by a large section of society. This fear is not backed by fact; it’s not based on numbers and it is certainly not easy to address. However, this is no excuse not to address it. When liberal left society calls you a fool or a racist for a genuine fear, resentment brews. We saw this in the US where I personally believe that Clinton lost a lot of voters with her ‘deplorables’ comment. To this section of society the only place to turn is the right, where they may not be offered a perfect solution, maybe not even a message that they really believe, but they are paid attention to. The left and the moderates need to do more than dismiss the fears of this section of the population. We talk often about training immigrants to fit into society; we talk too little about how to prepare the current population. The left does not need to abandon immigration as a platform, it certainly cannot abandon asylum seekers, but they must innovate how this is communicated to the public. Research shows that interaction is the best cure for xenophobia, which explains why, consistently, city populations vote for more liberal immigration policies. Social democratic parties must lean harder on their ‘social’ aspect in Europe, get people to meet. Not just those who already support immigration, it’s not those we need to convince. Instead we need to find ways to reach out to those sections of society already facing hardship economically and are more likely to be segregated from international communities. Go where the people are- trade civic events that attract leftists for pubs, football clubs and all the rest. There also must be more that can be good to reach people in Europe’s small towns, Europe’s isolated farms. Regardless of how they do it, the left and the moderates, if they want to diminish the power of the fear of immigration, they need to realise that immigration should not be pushed, but introduced. Claims that the left has been betrayed by their base belie the fact that the voter base feels betrayed by their parties.

Pro-EU citizens and parties need to realise that only by tackling these aspects of globalisation, and by communicating with the people most affected, can the momentum of the alt right be slowed.  Otherwise the mere spectacle of a Trump Presidency might threaten the EU’s political establishments.

NATO

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US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw.

“US leadership is as important as ever. Our Alliance has brought together America’s closest friends in times of peace and of conflict for almost 70 years.

A strong NATO is good for the United States, and good for Europe.”

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO

Effect: Trump, throughout his campaign, has threatened to reduce the US commitment to NATO, threatened to leave partners that fail to raise their contributions to the alliance to fend for themselves, and has even threatened to pull out of the organisation all together.  This, surprisingly, is not too far away from the policy of previous Democratic and Republican leaders. The US elite have for a long time said that NATO lacks support from its partners, particularly European nations who fail to meet the budgetary requirements of the organisation. The difference here is the tempo of Trump’s statement- threats to abandon the alliance already causes hairs to stand on end, particularly in Eastern Europe, where states such as Poland count on NATO for defence in the event of a conflict with Russia. NATO as a deterrent itself is weakened by this threat and the EU states that rely on it for the stable state of the continent face an uncertain future.

Response: In the aftermath of Brexit, Italy, France and Germany discussed increasing military cooperation, now that the tricky UK was no longer part of the picture. The UK, the Netherlands and Poland have opposed an increase in EU common defence as it is feared that this could undermine NATO. With the UK out of the picture, the new big three still failed to get the Netherlands, Finland or Poland on side.

With Trump this might change. Even the distant chance that NATO could be weakened can cause chaos. In response to this the EU should push harder for closer common defence in the EU. The Netherlands and Poland, traditional atlanticists, may be won over to this as an alternative to NATO, a stabilizing force in the region and a clear deterrent for any hostile states. Ideas such as a common defence research fund, a centralised military operation HQ and even an EU army, which have been so recently been rubbished may be revived. They at the very least should be talked about, to lay the groundwork in the case that NATO becomes an uncreditable source for European security. It centralises European control of their defence, alleviating fear by becoming self-sufficient in terms of protection. Honestly, looking at the trend with NATO, centralising European defence may just be inevitable, but by seizing the opportunity, the EU gets the chance to show unity and forward thinking.

There are of course many, many difficulties to such a course of action, political and moral. Politically, getting neutral Ireland on board will be difficult and not necessarily tractable. Morally, there are arguments to be made about warmongering and feeding the military industrial complex. These are no small matters and should give pause to any thought of increased military cooperation or spending. However the moral debate, essential to this policy, is beyond the scope of this article- which is merely arguing that increasing EU common defence is an appropriate response to a weakening of NATO in order to ensure security and stability, particular in Europe’s border regions.

 Russia

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Photo by Администрация президента РФ

Effect: More concerning for security is Trump’s stated desire to cool tensions with Russia, potentially ending the EU-US joint sanctions regime and recognizing the annexation of the Crimea. These are points which the EU and some of its major Member States are unlikely to support.

Trump’s promise to end the deadlock and work with Assad to defeat ISIS also fits with his desire to improve relations with the Kremlin. However working with Assad, who is widely disliked in EU circles, risks alienating prominent Member States and encouraging Russia to take a more active role in international affairs, a situation that would make the EU’s eastern flank nervous. This could help destabilise states in Eastern Europe, with Russia interfering with more gusto in the aftermath of a warming of relations with the US.

Response: Despite recent problems amongst Member States in the EU’s eastern flank, the EU should take this opportunity to reaffirm the place of Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia at the heart of the European project. Support should be offered if tensions with Russia do rise, and a strong voice on their behalf should be coming out of Brussels in any talks with Russia. Likewise, if these states want a better relationship with Russia, they should be allowed to pursue it within certain limitations. They share a history which might be advantageous to exploit in building upon the EU’s autonomous relationship with Russia, something that will be needed if the US pursues a specific policy as regards Russia. Europe has different red lines with Russia than the US. For central Europe the Ukraine situation and the annexation of the Crimea is not an area where many concessions can be made to Russia.

Trade

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An anti-TTIP poster. Graphic by Mehr Demokratie

Effect: Under Trump and a House and Senate controlled by the Republican Party the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement is very likely dead. This would have seen tariffs between the EU and US cease to exist in most areas, a harmonisation of standards and the setting up of an arbitration system by which organisations can bring cases against states that introduce practices which disadvantage them commercially. While there are many who would like applaud this development, and perhaps rightly, there nevertheless stands the risk that this weakens EU and US trade, which would in turn weaken both our influences worldwide. Similarly, while not perfect, and not yet fully negotiated, TTIP offered the chance for two regions, which share many of the same values with regard to human rights, to work together and set the international agenda as regards workers’ rights. There are many legitimate criticisms of the TTIP concept of course, and even without Trump it may not have gotten off the ground politically in Europe or the US.  However, the jobs TTIP would have created could maybe have eased domestic tensions in the EU and the US, and therefore its loss cannot be counted an uncomplicated victory for anyone, as youth unemployment ravages the young voting population. Trump’s pledge to reduce the US corporate tax regime is also troublesome, as it will harm industry in the EU, particularly Ireland where many ostensibly US companies have their bases due to Ireland’s tax regime.

Response: The CETA deal with Canada is an example of how the EU should respond to TTIP. Although not free of problems associated with TTIP, such as the controversial investor court, CETA is an example of how the EU can expand its trade with smaller, likeminded regions as a way of offsetting the damaged trade relations. Seeking trade relationships similar to this with smaller states, such as Australia and New Zealand, will help bring investment into the EU and hopefully bring jobs to lift the many jobless of Europe into employment. It could also help the rural regions by boosting agricultural exports, and in this way respond to chronic problems in the EU’s rural areas. However, to avoid public opposition, these new deals should not seek to establish investor courts- even if these means the deals need to be more limited.

Conclusion

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Photo by Michael Vadon.

Trump means that the EU will be faced with new challenges, many of which are not anticipated in these responses, and many of which cannot be anticipated. However with this article I hoped to suggest that even if Trump were to be as extreme as his campaign suggested, there are moves to be made. The EU is not powerless to respond to a changing world, and for the sake of its citizens, it certainly should not stand idly if these changes will have a negative impact on their livelihoods. Trump’s Presidency does not necessarily represent anything revolutionary- he is not the first business man to be elected President, he is not the first man to be elected President, and he is certainly not the first Republican. His campaign was vicious and his comments on women and minorities have caused shock, but only time will tell if he really is anything other than another Republican President. However, if this does mark a new era in international politics, the EU is morally obliged to take its place in the world.

Click here for more by Eoghan Hughes.

Click here for more on the US Elections.

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Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution

 

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A mural in Dublin calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, which bans abortion.

Eoghan Hughes

With a significant pro-choice victory in Poland as the country’s conservative PiS government performs a U-turn on restricting access to abortion in the case of incest, rape, fatal foetal abnormality and risk to the mother’s life, it is easy to forget that the EU still has one State in which very few of the above constitute a legitimate cause for abortion.

Last year the Republic of Ireland became the first country to legalise same sex marriage through a popular referendum with an overwhelming victory, which seemed to signal a new liberal turn in a country many people across Europe and the world associate with conservative Catholicism. Yet Ireland, despite calls from the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN, has retained one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, where fatal foetal abnormalities and rape are not considered legal grounds for the termination of a foetus and where, even in the cases where woman’s life would be endangered by seeing a foetus to term, a woman might be denied the necessary treatment. Enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) the Eighth Amendment prevents a woman having an abortion because the foetus is considered to have an equal right to life:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Continue reading “Why does Ireland have the EU’s strictest abortion regime? Applying and Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution”

Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?

 

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Johnson and May, although on opposite sides pf the referendum campaign, have both promised to reduce immigration post-Brexit

Eoghan Hughes

Months after it helped convince citizens to vote to leave the European Union (EU), migration remains at the heart of post-referendum politics in the UK. One promise of the Brexiteers was that a points system would be brought in to gauge the usefulness of various applicants for immigration. Another promise was that the freedom of movement of EU citizens into the UK would stop. However the newly minted but not so shiny Prime Minister Theresa May’s has made the decision to rule out introducing a points-based immigration system to the UK following the referendum result which has stirred media attention in Britain as the debate about the UK’s future immigration policy rages on.

May’s immigration blunder

May made the initial comments before her journey to Beijing to attend the 6 September G20 summit earlier this month, largely an exercise in trying to keep the UK relevant on the international stage and assure international partners that Britain would not become a disconnected island. The points-system referred to is modelled after the Australian immigration system which sees immigrants being given points for their various skills, qualifications and backgrounds, as well as behaviour, as the basis for their potential residency in the state.  May’s statement that there was not yet any proof such a system worked, emphasized that there was no “silver bullet” solution to reducing immigration to the UK. Upon her return, the British cabinet confirmed that the points system would not be part of their immigration policy. May promised, however, “some control” over immigration.

This seems a softer message following May’s 31 August pledge to her cabinet, that restricting immigration will be at the heart of any Brexit negotiations. So far there are less bullets, silver or otherwise, coming out of Westminster, and more vague promises. Continue reading “Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?”

An Apple A Day: The fallout of the Ireland-Apple Tax Ruling

 

leinster-house

Leinster House, seat of the Irish Parliament, the Dail

 Eoghan Hughes

Amongst all the sound and fury in the aftermath of the European Commission’s decision that Ireland must collect a minimum of 13bn in tax from tech giant Apple, a fury that has included accusations of tax evasion, a tense moment between coalition partners and endless debates over the benefits of the Irish “Sweetheart System”, most observers seem to have overlooked a key piece of dialogue from this drama. The lines were delivered by none other than Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, and they were part of his response to questions regarding the Irish executive’s decision to appeal the Commission’s ruling. Kenny said:

“…I make no apology about our decision to appeal this because it’s about Ireland. It’s about our people, it’s about us as a sovereign nation actually setting out what are appropriate policies to devise job opportunities and employment careers for our people.”

This statement marks something of a sea change in Irish politics. Far from breaking down under international pressure, Kenny seemed unrepentant before a hostile media response. It is a rare stance to take for a state that rarely raises its voice in class. Long accused by some states, including a SYRIZA led Greece, of failing to fight the imposition of austerity as a condition for an EU bailout during the height of the financial crisis, the Republic of Ireland has cultivated an image of Europe’s “good performer”, as Christine Lagarde of the IMF has put it. This has been bolstered by a stupendous economic recovery, unmatched by any in the Eurozone, and by consistent growth. When Yanis Varoufakis, in his brief stint as Greek Finance Minister, went to war with the EU establishment over austerity, the Irish government kept mum. Where Portugal and Spain failed to find a political consensus in the post-austerity fragmented political landscape, Ireland’s largest party, Fine Gael, managed to cobble together an uneasy alliance to allow their continued governance.

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Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny

The decision of the competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager to pursue the tax ruling, however, has sparked something that has been quite alien to Ireland in the past; it has brought out the Eurosceptic. If you are not convinced, read another choice quote by Kenny:

“This is about the right to small nations. I’m not sure whether the European Commission want to ingratiate themselves with countries more powerful than ours. But this is a small country, and the first meeting I attended after being elected in 2011 was [about increasing] our tax rate.”

To hear an Irish leader speak of the “right to small nations” is, to an Irish citizen, to be transported to another age altogether, when the island of Ireland as a whole was a member of the British Commonwealth. Now, not yet a hundred years since the dissolution of the union of Great Britain and Ireland, the same rhetoric has for the first time been used by a person of power in Ireland against Ireland’s greatest benefactor: the European Union.

Understanding the significance of this will take a little background. For those of you who have not been keeping abreast of the Irish Apple drama, it can be summarized easily enough. Apple has used the Irish county Cork as the base of its European operations for nearly four decades, taken advantage of a lucrative Irish corporation tax of 12.5 percent. The Commission has found that, rather than paying this rather paltry sum, Apple has been afforded a special arrangement involving some complex constructions which allowed the company to pay next to nothing in taxes- which has been referred to as a “sweetheart” deal – by successive Irish governments. Although this deal is set to expire in 2021 in order for Ireland to be compliant with EU competition law, the Commission has decided that the Republic of Ireland was breaching EU law in its refusal to collect the full scale of Apple’s taxes on all of its European operations, and has demanded that the Irish government collect between 13bn and 19bn in back taxes from the American company.

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Tim Cook, Apple CEO, at Trinity College Dublin

The Irish government has responded negatively and vowed to appeal this decision, citing the potential loss of 5,000 Irish jobs and the possible knock-on effect the decision might have on Ireland’s financial recovery. Apple has stated that it has not broken any laws, a sentiment broadly backed by the Irish government. However, other commenters, such as economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz have dismiss this argument as “balderdash”. At the same time, a few Irish politicians say they would welcome the cash influx to invest in Irish society. Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan, however, claims that the sudden windfall of 13bn to the Irish budget would have to be used in full to pay back Irish debt, an argument that is being vehemently denied by Commission spokespersons.

All these dissenting voices lead to a complicated international incident, rife with tension and accusations. The only consensus to be found, it seems, is among the Irish population; the decision by the government to appeal this decision is one of the least divisive issues in Irish politics today, as in a recent survey, 62 percent of Irish people have said they support the government’s decision. This perhaps appears to be less than shocking in the current European climate which has seen the beginning of a Brexit, and the rise of Eurosceptic parties across Europe. However, when you put it in the context of another recent poll, in which respondents were asked whether Ireland, given a Brexit like vote, should remain in the EU, things seem somewhat different. The poll by Ignite Research found that 76 percent of Irish adults would vote to remain in the EU. This poll was not conducted in the distant past during the first flush of Euro money into the Republic, but in June of this year, after nearly a decade of austerity.

In this context, the government’s talk of “sovereignty” for small nations seems premature and out of tune with Ireland’s relatively positive relationship with the EU. Indeed, the Irish have many reasons to view the EU positively, as access to the single market and stability funds has allowed the young Republic to make investments, build roads and establish an international reputation in business. It could seem like the comments by the government and the recent poll are a fluke: an issue-based response to a current crisis. This is only the comforting reading of events, however, which conveniently forgets the fledging movement that was UKIP in the UK, and forgets that a snow ball rolling down a hill gains mass.

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EU Commission HQ in Brussels

Irish Euroscepticism is not unique, but it is new, and may even be nipped in the bud. The Brexit referendum has shown that public opinion in European nations is volatile, and the EU does not need a big toothache from little Ireland. The fear of a knock-on effect from the Brexit and a disintegration of the EU is by no means an inevitability. Ireland, along with many other countries, do indeed gain from their membership of what will remain – even when the Brexit negotiations have concluded – the world’s largest trading bloc, and this in itself can be enough to keep the project moving forward. However, it might take the Commission developing a different political sensibility.

This is not to say that Apple should not pay its taxes. By all rights it should. What it means is that a stronger Europe might be better achieved quietly. Loud pronunciations and condemnations from on high can spark a fire in a population. The Apple ruling, no matter if it was legally correct or not, came at a time when the rhetoric of sovereignty is echoing across Europe, where smaller nations are clinging to their rights under subsidiarity. The decision here, to rule against a law already destined for the rubbish bin strikes many as high-handed and has definitely been taken as politically motivated. At a time when the Commission has failed to deal with, for instance, the flagrant disregard for environmental law shown by the German car manufacturer Volkswagen, Kenny’s reference to larger countries highlights a keen suspicion that the Commission serves the interests of the EU’s larger, more populous states.

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Irish and EU flags hanging in Dublin

 

To fight off such accusations the Commission is forced to either launch an assault on the various corruptions afflicting every EU state, or to take a more practical approach, finding compromises rather than delivering rulings. Issues such as the Apple “sweetheart” deal and the Volkswagen emission scandal must be dealt with for the sake of all European citizens, but perhaps, in a time when Europe hangs in the balance, a quietly achieved consensus is better than a trumpeted success.

Click here for more by Eoghan Hughes.

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