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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
EU entrants eye up Irish model
By James Helm
BBC correspondent in Dublin

At the James Joyce Centre close to the heart of Dublin, a Slovenian band is giving its rendition of that old Irish favourite, Danny Boy.

St Patrick's Day marchers
Many want to copy Ireland's march to prosperity

The evening of cultural events, including poetry as well as music, is a chance for people here to learn more about Slovenia, a country preparing to join Ireland in the European Union.

For the Slovenians, it is a chance for them to learn too, about a nation that is widely admired for what it has gained from membership of the European club.

"I think Ireland is the country which has gained the most from the European Union," says Slovenian singer Zoran Predin as he finishes his performance.

"You have found the way to do it, you know."

Big benefit

In recent months Ireland has seen scores of delegations come from the EU's new members to have a look and to take some notes.

Ireland is often perceived abroad as having done well out of Brussels.

Since it joined the European community in 1973, its net receipts from Brussels come to around 35bn euros (about $42bn).

The smart new tram system for Dublin, due to open this summer, is a good example of the sort of big infrastructure project here which has benefited from significant EU funding.

Bust before boom

But Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen does not like the idea that Ireland has simply milked the Brussels cash cow.

It is not what you get, he believes, it is how you use it.

Irish pub
Irish culture - in the form of pubs and Guinness - is popular in Europe

If you put funds to productive purposes, such as education, he says, then you see the benefits of that investment.

And Pat Cox, the Irishman who is president of the European Parliament, told me: "If there was an Olympic Games in the EU for converting money on paper into deliverables that matter to people on the ground then Ireland would have won gold every time."

Ireland's economic boom, centred on Dublin, has happened in the last decade or so.

Within the next couple of years Ireland is expected to become a net contributor to the EU.

It will be a symbolic moment. Ireland has traditionally been an enthusiastic EU member, but things have not always gone so well in the three decades since it joined.

Before the success came long periods of high unemployment and emigration.

Dreaming of Ireland

Tom Garvin, professor of politics at University College Dublin, thinks EU membership has allowed Ireland to flourish by enabling it to step out from the shadow of its near neighbour, the United Kingdom, and by giving Irish companies direct access to a large single market.

Bertie Ahern
Irish leader Bertie Ahern has overseen its EU presidency

For the Baltic states, for example, part of the Soviet Union not so long ago, the idea of a small nation thriving on a big stage is especially appealing. Just as Ireland did in 1973, they will join the EU towards the bottom of its wealth league table.

I spoke to Kristiina Ojuland, the Foreign Minister of Estonia, when she visited Dublin this week.

She was full of praise for Ireland, and believes that if the Estonian people have a dream of where they would like to be in 10 years' time, in terms of wealth and peaceful surroundings, then they dream of following Ireland's example.

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