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Saturday morning - Europe's role in Reducing Inequality - Tom Johnson Summer School 2014

Posted on June 21, 2014 at 04:25 PM

In this post Angelina Cox posts about the session Saturday panel at the Tom Johnson Summer School entitled 'Europe's Role in Reducing Inequality'.

This panel brought together Irish policy makers and researchers working in an EU setting with young activists at an EU level to discuss the role of the European project in tackling the growing social ill of inequality. The panel was ably chaired by Labour Youth's Jeni Gartland.

Noelle O'Connell, executive director of the European Movement Ireland took to the floor first. She discussed the background to her organisation, informing the audience of it's inception in 1954 as a platform for promoting accountability and transparency in the EU and engaging Irish citizens with the European project. In addition, Noelle spoke about the recent european elections: the rise of the far right across Europe, the existence of slightly better voter turnout and the key issues for Europe looking to the future. Noelle quoted Irish woman Katherine Day and the current top civil servant at the Commission in enumerating the Brexit, unemployment and migration as three headline issues for EU policy makers and citizens into the future.

Noelle noted that freedom of movement, a central tenet of the European project, has both positive and negative aspects. She highlighted the troubling fact that Ireland is now a destination for human trafficking but also pointed out the positive sides to EU integration; for instance, structural funds for the improvement of gender equality and childcare.

To conclude, Noelle remarked that the work of her organisation remains undone as the concept of the EU remains for some distant, confusing and irrelevant.

Brian Synnott from PES spoke next. As communications coordinater for PES he was able to provide the audience with an insight into the Martin Schulz common candidate's campaign, for which he acted as press officer. Brian treated the audience to a virtual journey along the main campaign stops of Schulz's campaign, showing us photos and materials from Schulz's time in Ireland, Bulgaria, Spain and Malta, providing at the same time facts and stats concerning social media content and reach.

Daniel Cornalba from the MJS France and also VP of the Young European Socialists spoke passionately about the role of Europe in a globalised economy. Daniel spoke with conviction about the need to reform taxation policies, both at an EU and global level, as well as the role the EU has and continues to play in promoting social equality. He presented an alternative view on abortion, noting it is considered a human right for women in France, while countries such as Ireland and Spain take a more restrictive approach. In addition, Daniel raised the issue of free trade and cautioned against allowing EU work standards to be diluted by trade deals, in particular voicing opposition to the Transatlantic trade deal currently being negotiated with the US.

In concluding, Daniel noted the negative consequences for the environment posed by the myth of constant and permanent growth and called on the social democratic movement to articulate a strong alternative to neo liberal hegemony.

Minister for education and skills Ruairi Quinn spoke next and delivered a lecture on the historical development of the EU project, reminding the audience of the starting point for Europe, emerging from three major wars: the Franco-Russian war of 1870, WW1 and WW2. The Minister noted that EU citizens are in the habit of taking such modern concepts as equality of nations, equality of citizens etc for granted but cautioned against this as far right nationalist sentiment is still present in the political dialogue of many EU countries.

Finally, Dr. Mary Murphy from NUIM presented the audience with her civil society perspective on equality in the EU. Dr. Murphy noted the positive impact of joining the EU on Irish equality legislation, particularly in relation to gender equality. However, often times Ireland has lagged in the implementation of such legislation. Dr. Murphy also spoke about the so called post crisis infrastructure of the EU and the importance of equality proofing further EU policies.

The panel closed with questions from the floor regarding the S&D failure to win the lost EPP vote and the potential impact of brexit for Ireland. The panel provided a mixture of youth and experience in a combined pro EU voice. It is clear that Ireland is broadly pro-European but the conclusion from the panel is not to take the advancement of the European project for granted but continously fight for the social and economic progress the EU affords us.

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