This weekend, we put a spotlight on European Movement which is the largest pan-European network of pro-European organisations. With branches in 39 countries, European Movement also encompasses 36 International Associations, bringing together multiple sectors of  European industry, business and civil society. We also get a chance to chat to Noelle O’Connell who is Executive Director of European Movement Ireland.

Founded over 70 years ago, European Movement seeks to provide a platform for civil society, business, trade unions, NGOs, political parties, local authorities and academia to come together to help build a road map for the future of the European Union.

As of 2017, European Movement International is represented in 39 national European offices and regroups 36 international Associations. Established at the congress of The Committee for the Co-ordination of the European Movements in Paris on 17th July 1947, the first major achievement of the European Movement was the creation of the Council of Europe in May 1949. The European Movement was also responsible for the creation of the “Collège d’Europe” in Bruges and the European Centre of Culture in Geneva. Since then, the organisation has gone from strength to strength and ai major player in the movement for closer integration for Europe.

Citizens can become members of either their local state branch or the international office which is based in Brussels. You can locate your nearest branch here. European Movement has a number of policy areas including freedom of movement, monetary union and the consequences of Brexit on Europe. The full list of policies are found here.

We chatted with Noelle O’Connell was appointed Executive Director of European Movement Ireland in April 2011. We wanted to find out a little bit more about Noelle and also European Movement Ireland (EMI) who are based in Dublin. EMI  was founded in 1954 and is the oldest Irish organisation dealing with the EU, pre-dating Ireland’s membership of the Union in 1973 by almost twenty years. Originally known as the Irish Council of the European Movement in Dublin on 11 January 1954, the objective of the organisation was to advocate for Irish membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), as the EU was then known. This aim was achieved when Ireland formally joined the EEC in 1973.

Signing the Articles of Association that founded the Irish Council of the European Movement were seven pioneers of Ireland’s future in Europe: Denis Corboy, George J Colley, Declan Costello, Dr Garret Fitzgerald, Seán J Healy, Donal O’Sullivan, and Louis P F Smith.

Throughout the course of its history, this organisation has enjoyed the support and contributions of many of the country’s great political, legal and economic figures such as former Taoisigh Garret Fitzgerald and Jack Lynch, and former President Mary Robinson, amongst others.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Cork and I went to University College Cork (UCC) to study French and Spanish. I took my Erasmus in Lyon, France and after spending time traveling through France and Spain, I got my Masters Degree in international European politics in the University of Edinburgh. I took over as Executive Director of European Movement Ireland in April 2011.

What brought you to European Movement Ireland?

I actually studied the organisation as part of my European studies in UCC so I had known about the EMI and I was a big fan of their work. I really believe in the work that we do, the cause that we serve and the services that we provide. It just seemed like a really interesting and challenging role and five years later, I was right.

Could you sum up how EMI works in a tweet?

Good question. To promote and a fairer more transparent Europe that works in the interests of all?

What are its primary goals in Ireland?

To develop the connection between Ireland and Europe and make sure that Ireland’s voice is heard at the European table and also to make sure that Europe’s voice is heard at the Irish table. We also try to promote reasoned and fair debate and on facts.

Can you tell me about your Blue Star program and how do you think it’s going?

The Blue Star program is an education initiative for primary school students across Ireland. The idea of the program is simple: to foster better understanding and knowledge of the European Union and how it affects the lives of Irish citizens among Irish primary pupils through classroom projects and activities. Above all, the program is designed to be as curriculum-friendly as possible for teachers so it can fit in with lesson plans already in place. It’s grown from a pilot program of thirty schools to about two hundred schools today and it’s a really great program. Schools are now coming to us and the department of education is helping out in a big way. It’s a real mass collaboration effort from all parties involved.

What other programs do you have currently running in EMI?

We have a number of different programs currently running such as the accountability work which is a report card on how out elected officials are representing us at an EU level. We do recognise that through statistical indicators, it is only a snapshot of what they do but we still think it’s really important that this information is available. We verify what information we collect with the MEP’s to make sure that what we produce is correct. We also produce a green book which has all the practical information about Erasmus programs and studying in Europe. The Green Book is one of our most popular publications here at EM Ireland. It is also a hugely important part of our Grad Jobs in Europe campaign which aims to make Irish students, graduates and jobseekers more aware of the career opportunities available in the EU system, and provides encouragement, guidance and useful advice to help them find and get the position they want.

What is the future for EMI?

Right now, our focus is on policy themes and I think Brexit will be a big part of our work going forward.

Do you think that Ireland is a pro-EU member state?

Yes, and It’s something that we are surprised about too. I think it’s because we are a small island nation that is very outward looking and I think we have less historical colonial legacy and when we actually joined the EU, it gave us an equal voice and it legitimised our state because were now seens as no longer an appendage to Britain.

How do you think the Irish people would react to closer integration in Europe?

The polling has always shown that Ireland wants to remain a part of the European Union but personally, I think Ireland is in favour of better integration than more integration. I think it would be a really interesting thing to delve deeper into our neutrality for example and see what Irish people really think about it. As a nation, it is something that we should look at.

Where do you see Europe in 10 years’ time?

I personally would hope that Europe is more united, more cohesive and more together. And that Europe is in a better place and the level of sentiment, belief and all those important values will have a larger amount of people believing in it.

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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