World View: Debate on future of Europe is only beginning

Ogni blocco di pietra ha una statua dentro di sé ed è compito dello scultore scoprirla.” (Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.)

President Michael D Higgins quoted this marvellous remark by Michelangelo Buonarroti in Florence this week at a conference on solidarity in Europe. “We are in a sense the sculptors of this European generation, still working on a block of valuable marble which has been passed down to us from the founding fathers of the European Union,” he said in his well-received speech at the European University Institute’s annual State of the Union gathering of academics, policy-makers and media. “If solidarity remains our guiding principle, I have no doubt that our European future, the outlines of which we can see but much of which remains to be discovered by our own chisels, will be a source of pride for ourselves and an object of admiration for others.”

Higgins noted that “we have entered a period when, for the first time in many years, the future shape of the European Union has become a matter of contestation and debate. In the shadow of Brexit and of social forces which have given rise to so much doubt across Europe, we Europeans are invited to define, through deliberation, the outlines of the European Union that we seek.”

‘Constitutional moment’

If deliberation is discussion aimed at producing reasonable and well-informed opinion, Ireland too is going through an intense period of reflection, contestation and debate. How prepared are Irish voters? Brexit raises future relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic and between Ireland and Britain in dramatic fashion. Ireland’s role in Europe is part and parcel of that debate. We are in what the UCD political scientist Jennifer Todd refers to as a “constitutional moment” in which major decisions about our future will be taken.

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