Wednesday 18 January 2012

Ireland's Euro-diplomacy (and Debate)

Last night's Tonight with Vincent Browne debated the Irish government's (and Taoiseach Enda Kenny's) ability to negotiate in the EU. Key to this was an exchange in the Dáil where Michael Martin (the Leader of the Opposition) questioned Kenny's approach at the December summit for not meeting with David Cameron. Kenny replied that he'd been at the EPP pre-summit meeting in Marseilles, and he'd spoken to him by phone.

It was a very strange point to make - that Kenny was incompetent at negotiations because he didn't meet with Cameron, when it's Cameron who's opted out of the EPP (which controls the Council, Commission and is the largest party in the European Parliament), and that Cameron's own skill in negotiations has been seriously questioned since the December veto. The implication seems to be that a clever Irish premier would have been able to steer the British PM right and keep him in negotiations (though if having the pro-EU Lib Dems and a Deputy with plenty of personal European connections couldn't keep Cameron in negotiations, it's hard to see how Kenny could have).

Much more serious is the sense that the Irish government has no European vision or policy because it's absorbed in questions over the EU/IMF/ECB deal. There has been some debate in the media over Ireland's European direction (including the suggestion that Ireland should consider focusing less on aligning itself with a Britain that's flaky on European issues), but politicians haven't been able (or willing) to take up the debate on what kind of Eurozone/EU they want. This really goes for the opposition as well as the government, because the opposition has been focusing on criticising the government for this lack, while not coming up with much itself.

It's a serious defect in our politics that we've not been willing to have a robust debate on the kind of EU and Euro that we want. Do we want Eurobonds and a transfer union? Would we be willing to be major contributors to other Member States under those same conditions in any future crisis 30 years down the road? If we argue for investment-tempered austerity, we should ask ourselves the question: would we be willing to loan billions to, say, Slovakia, in order to invest in its infrastructure to revive its economy and reduce its deficit? Under what conditions, and with what common political institutions?

Without politicians (and enough citizens) taking up this debate, we'll probably find ourselves voting in a referendum a few months from now on the new fiscal compact, rushing ourselves through a low-quality debate and being asked to decide on a fundamental question of Ireland's European direction...

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