Elettra Bargellini (DCU Ph.D. student, School of Law & Government) and Ian Cooper (DCU Brexit Institute)
On Thursday, September 14, 2023, the first event of the academic year took place, addressing the theme “What has the EU ever done for us?”. This event was jointly organized by the DCU Brexit Institute and Friends of Europe, as part of the European Young Leaders (EYL40) program.
The primary mission of the European Young Leaders is to assess the commitment of European leadership in addressing contemporary challenges, which include the state of the continent’s democratic system, youth engagement, and the revitalization of the social contract. This evaluation is aimed at upholding accountability among decision-makers in the midst of a turbulent political landscape, particularly with the European Parliament elections just around the corner.
The event began with an opening address from Professor John Doyle, Vice-President for Research at Dublin City University (DCU). He highlighted the synergy between EU values and those of DCU, emphasizing the university’s support for initiatives like student mobility programs such as Erasmus, EU-funded projects, and collaborative research networks. Professor Doyle also expressed his gratitude to the Brexit Institute, specifically acknowledging Christy Ann Petit and Federico Fabbrini for their crucial contributions to organizing the event.
Following that, the event featured opening remarks from notable individuals, including Professor Federico Fabbrini, Full Professor at DCU, Founding Director of the Brexit Institute, and a member of the Young European Leaders Class of 2022. In his address, Professor Fabbrini emphasized three key points. First, he highlighted the EU’s enduring success as one of the most remarkable political endeavors in history. Originating with six member countries, it has since expanded to 27, with the potential for further growth to 35 before the end of the decade. Second, he underscored the EU’s profound significance as a symbol of freedom and democracy. He emphasized that recent attempts to exit the EU, exemplified by Brexit, have proven to be unsuccessful and self-detrimental. Furthermore, while recognizing the EU’s resilience in the face of various crises, Professor Fabbrini stressed the imperative of EU reform. He argued that this reform should prioritize adapting decision-making processes to better meet the demands of EU citizens for increased representation and participation in Union affairs.
Subsequently, Shona Murray, European Affairs Correspondent at Euronews and Independent.ie, took the floor to address the question “What has the EU ever done for us?”. Drawing from an Irish perspective, she emphasized the significant contributions the EU has made to women’s rights and gender equality in Ireland. Murray pointed to historical examples, which were enacted after Ireland’s accession to the EU in 1973, including the removal of the marriage bar, legislation promoting women’s employment, and the introduction of maternity leave provisions. These measures played a pivotal role in safeguarding the rights of female citizens in Ireland. Murray also emphasized the profound impact of EU membership on Ireland’s independence and its relationship with the UK. She noted that the Good Friday Agreement relied on the existence of the EU’s single market. Furthermore, Murray underscored the EU’s unwavering support for the Good Friday Agreement during the Brexit negotiations, highlighting its crucial role in preventing harm to the Agreement. In conclusion, she expressed the impossibility of imagining Ireland’s trajectory without the EU, underscoring the transformative and indispensable role the EU has played in the nation’s history.
The third speaker to address the audience was Kensika Monshengwo, Intercultural Training Coordinator at the Immigrant Council of Ireland. He stressed that when discussing immigration, we are inherently discussing diversity, particularly in the context of the multicultural society present within the EU. Monshengwo emphasized that one of the EU’s significant contributions has been its provision of a framework for effectively managing diversity. This framework involves recognizing diversity and engaging in constructive negotiations to find viable solutions. To illustrate the concept of diversity, Monshengwo posed questions about the advantages and disadvantages associated with being white within the EU, underscoring the importance of self-awareness and acknowledging privilege. Ultimately, Monshengwo emphasized that the essential factor is not just tolerance but genuine acceptance of diversity within the EU.
The final speaker to take the floor was Oleksandra Matviichuk, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Head of the Centre for Civil Liberties. She structured her speech around the premise that Putin’s central fear was not of NATO but of the fundamental concept of freedom itself. Matviichuk clarified that the ongoing conflict goes beyond a state-level war; it represents a clash between two fundamentally divergent systems. According to Matviichuk, Putin’s ultimate objective revolves around the dismantling of EU values and systems, including core principles such as freedom and human solidarity. His aim is to show that democracy is inherently flawed, asserting that it cannot provide protection during times of conflict. Matviichuk emphasized that the responsibility to counter Putin’s assertions lies not only with Ukraine but also with the entire EU.
Throughout the event, attendees had the unique privilege of actively engaging in discussions, sharing their perspectives on the topics addressed by the speakers, and reflecting on the broader significance of the EU in their lives.
At that point the public portion of the programme concluded, and was followed by two further in camera sessions where the European Young Leaders deliberated on pressing current issues. First there was a Solutions Salon, five parallel roundtables chaired by expert facilitators, that discussed solutions to seemingly impossible tasks: “Advancing policy through deliberative democracy: a focus on biodiversity and the environment” (Diarmuid Torney, Dublin City University); “Banking on the future to support the digital and green transition: how to equip banks, financial institutions, and non-traditional actors” (Christy Petit, Dublin City University); “Visions of technological sovereignty: navigating AI ethics” (Jaromil Roio, Dyne.org Foundation); “Solutions for supporting creativity and the arts with financial stability” (Angela Dorgan, First Music Contact); and “Disinformation and manipulation in digital media: bad actors, platforms, audiences, and countermeasures” (Eileen Culloty, Dublin City University).
The concluding in camera session of the day was a plenary discussion, “Beyond conflict: lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process” which commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the conclusion of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement peace accord that had ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland, known as “the Troubles”. Building on lessons learned from the Good Friday Agreement, including the key role played by women’s groups in the peace process, this session reflected on best practices for conflict resolution and peacebuilding in 2023. The discussion featured the speakers Colum Eastwood (MP and Leader of the SDLP), Kate Fearon (Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition) Oleksandra Matviichuk (Head of the Centre for Civil Liberties, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate), and Leona O’Neill (Ulster University), and was moderated by Mary Fitzgerald (Middle East Institute).
Image Credits: Ivan Sardi – Friends of Europe
The views expressed in this blog reflect the position of the author and not necessarily that of the Brexit Institute Blog.