New coalitions of the willing

Shane Fitzgerald
The former Taoiseach (Fine Gael party) and influential political and economic commentator, Garret FitzGerald, recently argued that the governance of the EU has evolved in a disturbing direction and that European Council meetings on the Greek crisis showed that the “big three” of France, Germany and the UK now dominate proceedings.[1] Meanwhile, speaking at a recent Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) seminar on the future of European foreign policy after Lisbon, Martti Ahtisaari and Mark Leonard made the point that many traditional EU responses to crises are now off the table.[2] Treaty change is not an option in the current political climate. Neither will high-minded rhetoric and solemn declarations suffice. Leonard described a world where more informal relations between powers are taking the place of much of the formal architecture of global governance in which the European powers, and the EU, have traditionally done so well. And he noted that this resurgence in realpolitik was much in evidence inside the EU’s borders as well as out. Just as the global economic crisis has proven that globalisation is an asymmetric process, so too is it demonstrating that European integration is not the same for everyone.
A key point of Leonard’s was that the difference between the surging powers of the developing world and the increasingly sclerotic ones of the West was not one of capacity but one of will. The EU’s tendency towards fragmentation of policy and power has been exacerbated by the crisis even as the BRIC countries are emerging leaner and meaner. His message to the EU chimes with that of the recent Reflection Group on the Future of the European Union: reform or decline.
Talk of a two-speed Europe is often met with alarm in Ireland, which has always subscribed to the idea of a strong, treaty-based Union and would not countenance the prospect of ending up in the slipstream of a Eurosceptic UK as a core Europe forges ahead with the European project. However, there is increasing recognition of the need for new “coalitions of the willing” in order for Europe to avoid stagnation and move forward on various issues in various ways. Ireland has been understandably preoccupied with domestic problems in recent months, but as people here begin to look forward to economic recovery and political renewal, they necessarily do so in an international, and especially a European, context. There is much talk of how to leverage Irish influence abroad in the service of Irish interests, and a strong and activist role in the EU is high up the list of priorities in any conversation. The European External Action Service is a tremendous opportunity to transform European, and Irish, external relations even as the internal EU response to the crisis is creating new tensions and new synergies between member states. This shifting polarity is dangerous for Ireland insofar as it creates large structural gulfs between the Eurozone and non-Euro states, but it too affords an opportunity, this time to forge new coalitions and power blocs to counteract the dominant influence of the Commission and the “big three”. Ireland’s newfound links through migration with Poland and other central and eastern European states are just one way in which it might try to rejuvenate its role in the European project.
A smart economy strategy

Because research and innovation are at the core of José Manuel Barroso’s EU 2020 Strategy, and Ireland’s own ambition is to create a “smart economy” based on strategic investments in specific areas of science such as biopharmaceuticals and green technologies, Maire Geoghegan Quinn’s recent appointment as the Commissioner for Research and Innovation was welcomed in Ireland. Although Commissioners are prohibited from favouring projects in or seeking political advantages for their home states, it is hoped that Geoghegan Quinn’s new profile and position within the international research and innovation community will encourage Irish enterprise, academia and policymaking in subtler ways, for example by participating fully in her project of creating an “innovation Union”. Martin Schuurmans, chairman of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), for example, says that the appointment represents a tremendous opportunity for Ireland to enhance its reputation in this area and should be viewed as a major coup for the State.[3] This view is generally shared in Ireland also.

[1] Irish Times: Governance of EU has evolved in a disturbing direction, 3 April 2010, available at: (last access: 18 May 2010).

[2] Video and audio podcasts of this event are available at: (last access: 18 May 2010).

[3] Irish Times: EU portfolio a ‘coup’ for Ireland, 12 February 2010, available at: (last access: 18 May 2010).