Other speakers at the event included former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, the former President of Ecuador Rafael Correa and economist Jeffery Sachs. The event was organised to coincide with the annual “State of the Union” address delivered by European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and was organised by DiEM25 - Democracy in Europe Movement.
Senator Higgins outlined three important and urgent conversations that we need to have as European, particularly in the context of Brexit. Firstly she discussed the distinction between securitisation and peace-building. Crucially, the European Union needs to return to the core mandate of peace-building both within and beyond its borders which was central to its origins. She expressed concern that the role of peace-building has been neglected while there has been an increasing focus on “securitisation” of borders and defence and that human rights standards have been willingly compromised in exchange for dubious and dangerous immigration control agreements with countries such as Turkey and Libya.
She highlighted the leading role which Ireland as a neutral country can play, and historically has played, in peace-building internationally.
Secondly, she called for a new and better trade model in Europe. The public must now seek to influence the trade mandate that the European Council will issue to the European Commission to negotiate with the United Kingdom for trade after Brexit. This alternative trade mandate must break away from the model of “new generation” trade deals such as TTIP and CETA. The public must demand that issues such as the protection of equality, environment, and employment standards are placed at the centre of the negotiations.
As her third and final point, she warned that Europe has gone from a democratic deficit to a democratic disconnect and that it is now vital that we restore faith and connection between the public and politics. Being in Europe should not feel like a narrowing of opportunities to influence democracy and debate. Being in Europe should feel like a widening and a deepening of the decision-making debate and should provide more opportunities to participate and shape the future.
Watch Senator Higgins full speech below: