This month marks 40 years since the EU welcomed Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom as members in its first ever enlargement. At the time the economy was not growing as fast as before and adding fresh blood was seen as the perfect way to revitalise the organisation. It also meant EP got to welcome an additional 58 members - an increase of nearly 40%. We spoke to some of the longest-serving MEPs to ask them how their country evolved because of EU membership and how they see the future.
Anne Jensen from Denmark, Jim Higgins from Ireland and David Martin from the UK all praised the impact membership has had on their country. It helped to boost the economy but also to become closer to its European neighbours, although they agreed the challenge now is how to build on those accomplishments.
Ms Jensen said entering the EU 40 years ago had been in Denmark's national interest, not least because of its extensive agricultural export to Great Britain. The Liberal Democrat MEP added: "Since then the Danish economy has profited from the EU Single Market and evolved into a modern open economy relying on industrial export to the other member states. The future challenge is to dispose of the four Danish opt-outs to become fully integrated in the EU."
Mr Higgins also stressed how Ireland had significantly benefitted from EU membership. The Christian Democrat MEP said: "The single market has allowed our small nation to become part of the world's largest trading bloc. A strong increase in exports has been a clear result of entry to the EU. " In addition Irish consumers have benefitted from better quality services and goods, while EU funding has boosted Irish infrastructure and regional development.
Developing trade agreements will be key to the EU's future, Mr Higgins said. "Research and innovation will be encouraged to ensure that EU companies are able to compete on the world stage. Development of the banking union will ensure a strengthening of the euro and create a more stable environment for investment, and thus job creation."
Mr Martin pointed out how membership had helped to transform the UK. "The UK has moved from being a country with an island mentality and imperial past, to one playing an active part in one of the most exciting political projects in human history – a project to make war between its member states impossible."
The Social Democrat MEP said the EU had always evolved in great leaps such as the single currency and the unification of East and West Europe. "We have come a long way. There is some way still to go, in terms of development and social equality, but I also believe that there will be many more unions in the world that will come together on the model of the EU."