As a consequence of an increasingly unstable international situation throughout the past decade, contemporary European foreign policy has begun to change. Since the end of the Second World War, and exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, European interests have largely been subject to American suzerainty.
However, in light of the diplomatic fallout of Donald Trump’s presidency, and the Russo-Ukrainian conflicts of 2014 and 2022, the European Union has suffered a rude awakening by the geopolitical destabilisation of the European continent currently underway.
Irish elites have maintained their Europhilic tendencies despite ample populist discontent against the symptoms of its poor governance, whether it be the housing crisis or the energy crisis. Yet those driven by such dissatisfaction with the Irish political establishment have neglected to acknowledge the causes of such problems at their source; the Irish government’s ludicrous policies of self-sabotage are in large part due to its refusal to assert its national interests.
Considering the political disarray throughout Europe at the current moment, we must ask ourselves where the Republic of Ireland stands in such a tumultuous period of international relations?
The severity of domestic economic issues in Ireland has been exaggerated by the lack of foresight amongst government ministers in foolishly following the international zeitgeist of economic sanctions against Russia. Such a political backdrop to current European foreign affairs paints the messy picture of a government so Europhilic that it has abandoned its own interests.
The most important political issue, throughout Europe and America – at the forefront of all government considerations – is determining the orientation of European foreign policy. Should Europe rely on its American partner across the Atlantic, or continue to pursue a form of common European defence policy under the auspices of its attempted strategic autonomy?
Particularly as Winter approaches, the energy crisis initiated by a sudden halt in Russian hydrocarbons throughout Europe may become a sorer and more contentious issue, that has been amalgamated into the question of Europe’s new role in the international system.
The hostility that Trump showed to the European Union, and Joe Biden’s consequent mismanagement of American decline has demonstrated the fragility of Atlanticism in the twenty-first century; it is a dying policy as American international influence is ruptured by the nation’s economic decline.
From this background, Irish-German relations are a particularly fascinating prism by which Ireland’s foreign policy may be examined, as the present relationship between our governments may be likened that between a dog and its master.
A recent event held at Unity College Dublin between the Irish Minister of State for European affairs, Thomas Byrne and the German Ambassador to Ireland, Cord Meier-Klodt, demonstrates the frequent dialogue between the European Union and the Irish state on the question of its foreign policy. Hosted by Virgin Media’s Gavin Reilly, the discussion was framed with particular reference to the positivity of German-Irish relations and how they have been affected by international political developments.
The Strength of Irish-German Relations
Their deliberation began with general discussion of the strength of Irish-German relations, both expressing their high regards for the diplomatic connections between each nation, inferring a kind of solidarity between EU member-states. Thomas Byrne began with a preamble on how the Irish and German governments are ‘so like-minded in so many ways’ in which he cited democratic values and cooperation within the European Union as primary successes of our states’ relationship.
The discussion between Byrne and Meier was a cordial one, with much discussion on the fruitful cooperation between the Irish and German administrations. Beginning with Brexit, both interviewees affirmed the European perception of Brexit and praised the bilateral strength between Germany and Ireland on maintaining their collective interests. The ambassador cited his preconceptions that Ireland was a ‘conservative country’ and praised Ireland’s internationally minded foreign policy, drawing a comparison as to its similarities with that of Germany.
When questioned as to what Brexit has done to affect this relationship, the German ambassador made specific reference to the North of Ireland Protocol, stating that Germany ‘has never wavered in its solidarity’ with the Irish state on the implementation of the protocol. The discussion at times appeared to be a semi-self-aware dialogue between Germany, the leading state of the European Union, and one of its favourite lackey-states and political pawns.
The ambassador emphasised the Free State’s ‘political clout’ and ongoing membership of the United Nations Security Council as essential to Irish international diplomacy and reputation in the world theatre. The weight held by Ireland reputationally, he argued, was of great importance to international arbitration and as such was a contributing factor to German desires to strengthen its relationship to a mismanaged Irish state.
The Stubborn Stagnation of Irish Foreign Policy
The stagnating status quo of Ireland’s europhilic foreign policy was on clear display throughout the minister’s discussion with Meier-Klodt. When asked as to what disagreements there were between Germany and Ireland, the ambassador mentioned Ireland’s low corporate tax rate and the German government’s happiness with the state’s recent commitment to a global minimum corporate tax rate.
The discussion of international relations briefly touched upon the Ukraine Crisis and Ireland’s neutrality, with Gavin Reilly contextualising his question with Ireland’s safe geopolitical location surrounded by NATO member-states.
When asked if European states feel Ireland is free-loading or taking advantage of its position, the ambassador used skilful diplomatic linguistic manoeuvring to vaguely answer in the affirmative. Ireland’s international policies and geopolitical concerns are, from a neo-liberal perspective, incredibly appealing; Ireland is a state surrounded by reliable economic partners, who are simultaneously part of an ostensibly defensive military alliance in which Ireland receives a tacit guarantee of political sovereignty.
Tangentially referenced in relation to the energy crisis was the subtle re-affirmation of the green agenda, the ambassador spoke of Ireland’s potential for green energy and windfarms. Such sentiments were mirrored by Byrne who was quick to note that he and his colleagues are in regular contact with the German Green party, meeting and flying over for diplomatic social events, dinners and political networking.
The naivety of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ was mentioned by Gavin Reilly in relation to the war in Ukraine, to which the German ambassador alluded that Fukuyama’s concept has contributed to the current ‘crisis mentality’ that has gripped Western elites.
The most note-worthy occasion of the event was Gavin Reilly’s question to Thomas Byrne as to the orientation of Ireland’s foreign policy. Reilly was interrupted mid-question by the minister after he asked about Ireland’s economic interests.
To which Byrne stated, ‘it’s not about economic interests, it’s about democracy and human rights.’ Byrne argued that economics were secondary to a society and that such policies were to be built on the foundations of a democratic society.
The issue with Byrne’s assertion is that, as the Irish state is facing an economic, housing and energy crisis – the Irish government is keener to morally grandstand over its commitments to ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ than to address issues pertinent to the people they supposedly represent.
Minister Byrne anecdotally referenced a conversation he had with the Taoiseach that morning on resource allocation in relation to the demands of the political opposition. Byrne made the argument that oftentimes political policies are far more complex and require far more consideration than the quick answers desired by the opposition. In reference to his earlier conversation, Byrne cited the complexity of resource management and the problems raised by economic sanctions against Russia – that the state must decide which resources it can forgo and for how long.
With reference to the close economic cooperation between European states, the topic of the recent Italian elections and Giorgia Meloni’s electoral victory, minister Byrne was quick to dismiss the legitimacy of opposition governments, saying that ‘the opposition can look very attractive’ in times of discontent and uncertainty.
Byrne reiterated such sentiments that ‘elections don’t last too long in Italy’ and that ‘the Italians are a very democratic people’ so as to discredit the victory of right-wing populism in Italy.
However, the most pertinent question about the Minister of State for European Affairs is: are such disparaging comments against the new Italian government beneficial to Irish diplomacy and Irish-Italian relations?
The lack of understanding by Irish elites that in the arena of international relations, small nations like Ireland are by their very nature disadvantaged – smaller population, reputation and economic development or wealth put a nation at a second-rate position in respects to its larger counterparts. Yet Ireland’s involvement in international institutions has been championed once more as the Irish ‘punching above our weight’ by a stubborn political class unwilling to question its own policies.
Given the economic interconnectedness of Europe, and the political unification desired by many European globalist elites, the Irish state has demonstrated itself a willing partner.
The ongoing discussion of Irish neutrality and military defence, regardless of the abysmal state of our ‘military’, is one that will be shaped profoundly in the coming years by a government that appears to be reconsidering its commitment to Irish defence policy in light of the Ukraine conflict. The Irish government has a track record of continually passing its administrative duties up the ladder of international institutions in a bid to participate in a sycophantic idealisation of global dialogue; one should not be surprised by what is to come.
Pictures From Twitter Used for Reporting Purposes