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EU Matters.ie - Information about Ireland's membership of the EU

The Economy

Ireland is a small, open economy. Of the 27 EU member states we are 7th lowest in terms of population. That means that exports are vital to our economic survival and success. And that’s one of the main reasons European Union membership has been critical to Ireland’s development.

Since we joined in 1973, Ireland has received more than €60 billion from the EU. That's €60,000,000,000 or €12,000 for every person in the State! The biggest proportion of that - €44 billion - went to support farming and agriculture and has transformed the living standards in rural areas.

Since we joined we have received €17 billion of EU Structural and Cohesion Funds, including from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF).


We deliberately concentrated this funding on programmes to improve our competitiveness through programmes focused on infrastructure, research and development (R&D) and the promotion of social inclusion. All around the country the results of this funding can be seen; bridges, roads, rail-tracks, hospital programmes, university research, community facilities and small business funding. Further details are available here: www.ndp.ie.

As well as improving our infrastructure, Ireland has used valuable EU funding to train and educate Irish people and to help them get better jobs. The European Social Fund (ESF) is the EU’s financial instrument for improving people’s employment opportunities by up-skilling them for the jobs of the future. To date, over €6 billion in ESF monies have been spent in Ireland. It has been used to co-finance Government spending on training, education and equality programmes. Further details are available from the European Commission and the European Social Fund in Ireland.



Irish research has also benefited significantly from EU research funding over the last two decades. The EU’s €50 billion Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development 2007-13 is called FP7. It is the main instrument for funding research in Europe. Ireland is aiming at a target of €600 million in funding for Ireland over the lifetime of FP7.


Currently, Enterprise Ireland is winning contracts valued at more than €1m per week for Irish research activities under the FP7 Programme. In addition to the direct financial contribution, these programmes offer opportunities to Irish companies, research bodies and higher education institutes to participate in high-quality research in collaboration with their European counterparts. The FP7 programme and its forerunner, the FP6 Programme, have contributed to the creation of a well-qualified, technologically aware workforce, capable of attracting the best high-tech companies to Ireland.


Watch Catriona Ward, R&D Director, Enterprise Ireland, Brussels talk about the FP7 Programme benefits for Ireland here:


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Membership of the European Union has also meant that Irish workers can live and work in any member state. For some that means they’ve got work in other countries, or have been able to work in overseas divisions of their companies. For others it means they can work for companies in Ireland while they live in Spain, or Italy or the South of France (the weather is better there, apparently. EU membership has had no effect on Irish weather, unfortunately).


Watch Danuta Grey, CEO of 02 Ireland talk about this here:

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