Party Politics

Giving the prevailing attachment of Irish politicians to all things local, the Europeanisation phenomenon is much less apparent in Irish party politics. Indeed despite forty years of membership of the EU, the Irish political landscape remains resolutely focused on local and national issues. Direct elections to the European Parliament (EP) have made little difference to this pattern of apathy and indifference, despite the fact that the EP has accrued more and more formal powers through recent Treaty changes. EU issues, to the extent that they feature at all in European election campaigns, tend to be of a secondary nature. Campaign literature and rhetoric pay little attention to European issues, and where Europe does feature in campaigns, it tends to revolve around the candidate promising to ‘deliver for the constituency’ by bringing back ‘the bacon’ from Brussels. There is little evidence of Irish political parties demonstrating a ‘European sensibility’ or having being socialised into more ‘European’ modes of thinking and behaviour. This is despite the fact that all the main political parties have belonged to specific ‘euro-groups’ within the EP from the earliest days of membership.

EU membership has also introduced important and innovative public policy practices in Ireland. Partnership has become a prominent EU policy instrument, and operates on the principle that decisions are made on the basis of partnerships between the EU, its member states and civil society actors across multiple levels of governance. Generally regarded as a technical device for improving decision-making and policy effectiveness, the partnership principle has had significant political side effects. This is especially evident in the regional/cohesion policy arena, but partnership has also been the catalyst for the development of social policy in Ireland. Multi-annual planning emanating from different kinds of EU rules has become the norm in public administration in Ireland. Moreover, processes of consultation and evaluation have become institutionalised while European benchmarking and target-setting have formed the context within which some specific policies are developed. The state’s public administration, deeply influenced by Brussels, has operationalised a range of innovative instruments, principles and practices. These have sought to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the policy process and have co-opted new participants into the policy process at the planning, implementation and evaluation stages. The character of Irish governance has thus altered significantly over the years in a context where both the quantity and quality of Ireland–EU policy interactions has increased exponentially.


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