Citizen Engagement

The Irish experience of European integration also highlights the importance of citizen engagement with EU issues and providing sufficient information channels for the public to understand both how the EU works and why membership matters for Ireland.  In particular the Irish case demonstrates the need to educate the general public about the EU, its institutions and policy regimes. Selling the merits of Europe to an increasingly sceptical public is not without its challenges however: the effort to ‘communicate Europe’ within national boundaries is often a thankless task for public representatives, and civil society organisations often find themselves, by default, acting as the main ‘transmission belts’ for EU policy issues. The results of the European Parliament elections in May 2014 once again demonstrated the scale of the task facing the EU: the turnout level in some member states was below 20 per cent and it barely rose above 40 per cent across the Union as a whole. However, with the pervasive influence of the EU over a whole host of domestic policies, educating citizens about the dynamics of the Union is not just wise but imperative. Knowledge and information deficits have been persistently evident in Ireland for many years (the failure of the Nice and Lisbon referendums demonstrates this point amply well). They encourage misinformation and misconceptions about the EU, and fail to produce a citizenry which is empowered to make informed decisions and judgements about the EU’s impact. The challenge here is substantial and warrants a multipronged approach that involves government and Oireachtas, in addition to the education sector, NGOs and the media. Ultimately, the long-term health of Ireland’s EU relationship is dependent on legitimacy enhancing measures which capture public interest, inform public opinion and help legitimate the wider decision-making processes.


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