The European Union has made life in Europe unquestionably better for decades. Following on from the Second World War and the devastation left in its wake, Europe was in a dire situation. With structural, economic and political upheaval a frightening reality in several countries, the future seemed bleak. The Marshal Plan and the European Union which eventually stemmed from it made massive inroads to solving some of these structural, economic and political problems though. Tying countries trade together to ensure that, at least in the short term, the kind of large scale warfare that WW2 brought couldn’t be repeated paved the way for a much larger organisation to form than even Marshal himself may have envisioned. While not quite a “United States of Europe” as Churchill spoke of, the EU has continued to develop over so many years and done such impressive work in building up its member states that when a large scale complaint is being levied at the EU, one that can’t simply be attributed to Euroscepticism, it may be a complaint worth discussing.
The largest such complaint that has come to light lately is that of the TTIP or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to the EU’s own website, Europe.eu, the TTIP is designed to: open up the US to EU firms, help cut red tape that firms face when exporting and set new rules to make it easier and fairer to export, import and invest overseas. On paper these are noble goals, after all just a moment ago I praised the basic premise of the EU for tying countries together economically. In reality though the TTIP poses a prospect for the future in certain countries with understandably frightening consequences.
A simple Google search brings up scores of articles being made about the TTIP, how the trade plan is being made in secret and behind closed doors, the massive privacy intrusions it may bring upon European citizens and (at least in my Google searches) an overwhelming fear of what the TTIP may do to the National Health Service. While the climate in English politics is already breeding fear for the future of the NHS, judging from the number of articles the topic is generating, the TTIP is creating even more fear. I can only imagine how long it takes for attention to be brought to this fear translating to Ireland and the HSE. This has long been a failing of the EU, creating a positive image of their work.
While farmers can look to the EU and praise the Common Agricultural Policy, while business people can look to the EU and praise the Euro for simplifying trade, many people who have not been so obviously affected by the EU may be hard pressed to think of a reason to have anything positive to say about the organisation. While certainly political malaise will have something to do with it, some damage has been done in Ireland in particular to the image of the EU after the disaster that was the Lisbon Treaty. In my opinion the Lisbon Treaty and the TTIP share the same singular problem: public perception.
Whether or not the TTIP is an ultimately positive policy for the EU to enact is not the topic of this piece, instead the continued failure of the EU to outreach to the person on the ground is. Much of the rhetoric around the Lisbon Treaty’s possible effects on Ireland where just that, rhetoric. Very little of what the No side in that referendum had to say held much water, yet they were constantly in control of the debate. The same seems to be happening with the TTIP for a simple reason, the EU has made no tangible effort to lead the debate. Finding a positive article about the TTIP is not an easy task, even looking at the EU’s website was a minefield to find the simple information about the TTIP I ultimately found. Instead of being front and centre in leading the debate on why the TTIP is a necessity, in their eyes at least, the EU has kept quiet and let the negativity around the project stagnate.
In an age of ever increasing Euroscepticism, particularly with rumblings of Brexit becoming a constant, the EU more than ever needs to manage its image in a positive manner. The good they’ve done for Europe is unquestionable, why shouldn’t more people know and rely on this fact?