When Ireland joined the EEC (as it was in 1973), we were an agricultural economy, and the vast bulk of our exports went to the UK. We had little or no access to other European markets. Since we joined the EU that has changed radically; our main market has grown from 56million people in one country to 500 million people in twenty-seven Member States.
Irish farming and agriculture is mainly influenced by the EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). It isn’t the jazziest of titles, but it’s an important policy and it’s one of the foundations of the EU. It’s aimed at making sure that there’s a successful farming sector throughout Europe. It also sets out to preserve the countryside in every member state, to protect the environment, to protect our animals and to make sure there’s a strong supply of food for every citizen in every member state.
It’s not a dead policy. Over the years it has been reformed and tweaked. These reforms have encouraged competition and allowed farmers to respond to new markets. The reforms also ensure no member state produces more food than we can eat and the reforms are driving higher and higher food quality and animal welfare standards.
Since we joined the Union, the CAP has had a huge influence on Irish farming and agriculture, and through those industries it’s had a massive influence on the Irish economy. One of the biggest advantages it that thanks to the CAP, our farmers have open access to one of the biggest markets in the world. That access has brought a lot of profit to this country. In the years up to December 2007 Ireland sold €17 billion more agricultural products to other EU members than we bought from them.
As well as opening up a huge and profitable market for our goods, membership of the Union has brought huge amounts of funding, which members have provided to help improve our agricultural sector. Between 1973 and 2007 we have been given €43 billion. That’s the equivalent of €10,000 for every man, woman and child in Ireland.
From 2007 to 2013, we’ll receive another €12 billion.
Pat Higgins of the Queally Group speaks about the the advantages of EU membership for agriculture.