Ireland and the 1973 Enlargement

Ideas on Europe |

Evolving-Europe-timeline-graphic-webAs part of the Evolving Europe project, UACES asked participants at the 40 Years since the First Enlargement conference to respond to the question ‘What have been the most significant changes in the 1973 accession states as a result of EU membership?’

Following on from Thorsten Borring Olesen’s response in relation to Denmark,  Elaine Fahey (University of Amsterdam) and Kathryn Simpson (University of Kent) share their views on how EU membership has affected Ireland…



“The increase in the number of legal sources, legal instruments and institutions is one of the greatest changes in any Member State legal order on account of membership of the EU. Social policy is the most high-profile example. Irish equality law was dramatically affected by EU membership and was subject to a decade long legal battle for full implementation of EU rights and remedies into Irish law. Similarly, Irish abortion law ignited a prolonged set of proceedings at EU and ECHR level, an early case of multi-level litigation. But remarkably, for all of the controversy of these issues of social policy, their Protocols and litigation and also for all of the policy preferences in accordance with the trickier customers of the EU acceding also in 1973, and despite several negative referenda on EU affairs, Irish membership of the EU is continuously regarded as a solidly pro-communautaire affair. Thus actual legal changes and conversely, their perception across disciplines, remains a curious juxtaposition.”

Elaine Fahey, University of Amsterdam



“The focus here is on Irish accession to the EU in 1973. Primarily, it is in the Irish economic sphere that we can discern the salient changes, which Irish membership of the EU has generated. The Irish economy has experienced many highs and lows since accession to the EU: significant periods of growth (1970’s, 1990-2007), as well as periods of stagnation and significant expenditure reduction (1980’s, 2008 to the present). However, the Irish economic sphere, or perhaps specifically the Celtic Tiger period (1995-2008), has evoked considerable, extensive and rapid changes, in both Irish society and Irish politics.

Societally, the recognition of begrudgery as a central element in Irish people’s sense of the social world resonated in early decades of EU membership when Ireland had a somewhat closed economy and a culturally uniform society. However, the burgeoning economic opportunity of the 1990’s altered this context significantly. Despite, the economic success of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland is perhaps far from a role model of successful development pioneered by European integration, but more a warning of the social costs of economic development with augmenting income inequality.

Politically, debates on both the Nice Treaty referendums (2001 and 2002) and Lisbon Treaty referendums (2008 and 2009) produced evidence of new economic dividing lines in Ireland’s relationship with the EU with heavy criticism in Ireland of the EU’s neo-liberal ideology. Therefore, contradicting the longstanding and widespread view of Irish people being ‘good Europeans’ with a pro-integrationist attitude.

Since accession to the EU in 1973, Ireland has evolved from being a poor peripheral state, to a booming, economic powerhouse, to a bailed out and bust economy. The question now remains what impact will EU membership have on Ireland’s economic future?”

Kathryn Simpson, University of Kent



This blog has been published as part of the Evolving Europe project which is funded with support from the European Commission. The views expressed are those of the author, and the Commission and UACES cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.