Achieving Membership

The ambition to create a European Union after World War Two was truly pioneering. The EU was - and remains - at one and the same time, both a unique form of political community and a historically significant experiment in international governance. A Community born out of the catastrophy of 1945 has endured through an unprecedented structure of shared sovereignty, mutual reciprocity and seemingly ever-deepening interdependence. Despite almost permanent tensions between the national level and the supranational institutions set up to manage this collective interdependence, and despite the extraordinary challenges posed most recently by the ‘great recession’ after 2008, the EU endures as the great laboratory for re-engineering contemporary international relations.

For small states like Ireland, relatively new to the international scene, the emerging activity in and policy outputs from the new dispensation in Brussels could not be ignored. The sense of drift in the 1950s was of such staggering proportions that by 1959 the influential Foreign Affairs magazine in the United States was asking whether the Irish nation would survive at all. The immesiration of Ireland stood in increasingly uncomfortable contrast to the rapid prosperity being engineered through economic recovery across much of the continent, and especially in the Six states that came together to found the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. Irish elites – along with their counterparts in the United Kingdom - initially appeared indifferent to the dramatic developments ‘on the continent’ but the emerging gaps in levels of development and wealth left this position increasingly exposed. It was only with the dramatic change in direction set in train by Seán Lemass and T.K. Whittaker in 1959 that a European future for Ireland became possible.


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