Ireland in Europe: Concepts and Contexts

The Year 1 module explores geographical, historical, cultural and economic understandings of Europe and reviews contemporary social contexts. It charts the nature and evolution of the European Union and its institutions and considers the implications for Ireland. It examines the contemporary business environment of Europe and considers reflections of Europe's cultural map in Ireland. The module will be delivered in six consecutive course units:

  1. Concepts of Europe
  2. Aspects of European Cultural Expression
  3. The Economic context for the World of Work
  4. Towards European Union
  5. Ireland and modern European culture
  6. Environment and Society

Unit 1: Concepts of Europe
(Dr Angela Vaupel)

How Europe is perceived is not always clear. What is clear is that it is not simply an economic unit. Rather, it is a dynamic concept and is a constantly changing reality. It has a variety of interrelated meanings, all of which contribute to its understanding. Doubts and questions about its identity and unity go hand in hand with a general recognition of its diversity. This unit addresses this dilemma.

Perhaps the easiest definition of Europe is the geographical one. Europe comprises a territorial whole with natural boundaries: it is not an artificial construction. However, the geographical limits are uncertain for it has expanded and contracted with the acquisition of new regions and the loss of others; and the boundaries of the countries that exist within it have also shifted with regularity. Grafted onto this geographical understanding is Europe's political history which has evolved over time. It has veered between relative unity and fragmentation as ideas, attitudes and balances of power have changed. If the geographical concept is superficial and empty the political concept, then, has been filled with antagonism and division.

Unit 2: Aspects of European Cultural Expression
(Dr Angela Vaupel)

Whilst culture is never at ease with borders, it is claimed that a coherent European cultural experience and heritage exists. For instance, the territory of the first great Christian art forms, Romanesque and Gothic styles, and of the great cultural movements such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Classicism and Romanticism, coincides with that of the Scientific Revolution. This intellectual and cultural landscape that is found in literature, art and music, is the same territory which nurtured capitalism, socialism, democracy, fascism and colonialism. In sum, twenty centuries of an extraordinary richness of literature, art, music and science was produced on this relatively small piece of the earth's territory, Europe. In this unit, the notions of European culture are explored in terms of music and art.

Unit 3: The Economic context for the World of Work
(Miss Joan Campbell)

This unit examines the evolving European business environment of which Ireland is now a part. After reviewing the steps taken towards the creation of a Single European Market, its features are examined. The impact of these developments for the Irish economy are then explored. Centrally planned transport, telecommunications and energy projects are improving infrastructure within and between member states. This is a particular concern for the geographical peripheries. Indeed, the improvement of telecommunications alone has ensured that Ireland is at the forefront of contemporary European and global business communications and the information economy. While Irish business is still dominated by small and medium enterprises, which are more likely to suffer from peripheriality, European integration has proved advantageous for them and they have benefited from infrastructural improvements and from loans, grants, business advice and assistance to adapt to structural change. Above all, Ireland has welcomed the regional funds designed to bolster rural areas and areas in industrial decline.

Unit 4: Towards European Union
(Dr Gerard McCann)

The emergence of the European Union has been one of the defining events of the twentieth century. In the process of enlarging from 6 to 27 members moving and towards an even closer union, it has changed the political, economic and social landscapes of Europe, changed the balance of power in the world and helped bring about the longest spell of peace in recent history.

The EU has its own institutions and body of laws. These intergovernmental and supranational institutions have steadily accumulated authority since the 1950s. The overall result is that national economies of Ireland and the United Kingdom are more closely integrated than ever before with their continental neighbours, and the lives of their citizens are inextricably bound up with the centralised decisions that are taken on their behalf. This unit charts the nature and evolution of the European Union towards the goal of a Europe without frontiers. It introduces its economic, political and financial institutions and describes how they work and how they relate to each other.

Unit 5: Ireland and Modern European Culture
(Dr Angela Vaupel)

At a time when Europe's regions are being recognised for their individuality, as well as their contribution to Europe as a whole, it is not surprising that cultural expressions of individuality have been given prominence. Nonetheless, tensions between centre and periphery, at both national and European levels, remain. Ireland's island location on the western periphery of Europe, apparently cut off by distance from the centre, might lead to the conclusion that it has been remote from the mainstream of cultural and political thinking. This is not so. Consequently, the central importance of the intellectual and cultural activity to revolution and ideological change will be explored in this unit. Examples will be drawn from the 1789 French Revolution, the 1848 expressions of nationalism, Ireland's early twentieth century literary revival, the later Field Day project, and recent change in Eastern Europe. In particular, the cultural map of Europe as inscribed in the work of some Irish artists will be considered.

Unit 6: Environment and Society
(Dr Angela Vaupel)

Europe's task in the new millennium is to show that it can face up to a number of challenges and opportunities, some of which Ireland has already been obliged to address. There is little disagreement on the issues: some are demographic, some are social and political, while others are economic or environmental in character.

Firstly, the impact of the movement of people, whether from within or from outside Europe, is a dominant theme and there is worrying evidence of increasing racism as a subtext. Secondly, Europe is also challenged by long-term joblessness and youth unemployment in a climate of deindustrialization and accelerating rural decline. Problems arising from demographic restructuring are also becoming apparent as the proportion of people of working age shrinks and the ageing population increases. Finally, Europe must also concern itself with building a sustainable society in cultural, social and ecological terms. Sustainable development must take account of the needs of future generations while ensuring that resources are distributed more evenly in Europe and further afield.