Tuesday 29 May 2012

A very reluctant Yes on the Fiscal Stability Referendum

This is the fourth time I've written out this post. Over the last 2 months I've painfully shifted from a pretty definite No to a reluctant Yes on the Irish Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum.

I really don't like this treaty. It's clear that it will neither have prevented the crisis (if preventing excessive borrowing was the problem, the pre-crisis surpluses in Ireland and Spain would have meant those countries wouldn't be in the mess they're in), nor will it do anything to solve it. As I've pointed out before, the Treaty is 90% existing EU law, since the European Parliament has passed the "six-pack" of legislation last year. It's already mostly in force - it has caused political complaints in Belgium, and was part of the reason for the collapse of the Dutch government this year.
For these reasons I originally wanted a No vote as a political message against austerity and to promote a more balanced approach at the European level. I don't oppose some level of collective budget discipline nationally if it leads to a positive reform of the Eurozone: Eurobonds, the ECB becoming the lender of last resort, a banking union so that banking problems will not be localised and made the problem of one or two Member States, etc. But it should come as part of a grand bargain where it's not simply about the core and the periphery, but about building a working Euro-system. Suggestions that ratifying the FST would give Germany enough confidence in the Eurozone to sign up to Eurobonds "sometime in the future" did not comfort me.

So why have I moved towards a Yes? Two main reasons: the European Stability Mechanism (Treaty here: PDF) and the direction of Hollande.

Only Member States who have ratified the FST will have access to the ESM for future bail-outs. Given the extent to which the IMF has lent to Ireland more than it would have already if we hadn't have been part of a European bail-out programme, I have not been convinced by the No side's arguments that we will find another bail-out somewhere. It's argued that we'll get something from the IMF (which I doubt since we've already been lent 15 times our normal share), or that we will still be given access to the ESM despite being excluded from it since Eurozone politicians will not want to risk the stability of the Euro. I'm not convinced by these arguments: they require a political leap of faith, and for such a leap to be worthwhile, there needs to be the plan and the tactics behind it, not to mention the opportunity for it to work.

Hollande's election earlier this month may have raised the prospect that such a strategy might pay off, but it's clear from the news and the outcome of the summit on the 23rd May, that any progress on the Eurozone will be in addition to the FST, rather than going back to the drawing board - and an Irish rejection won't change that. The best we can hope for by rejecting the FST is to be faced with the FST plus some sort of growth treaty (or plus a growth protocol to the original treaty). There's little payoff for risking the uncertainty over Ireland's access to the ESM in my opinion, and I do not want to take the risk of greater austerity by Ireland being unable to access any fund. And on the "No to Austerity" platform of the No side, it doesn't really fit in with the state of existing law and Eurozone rules. The Treaty itself won't add any more to austerity in law, but it will impact on the confidence needed for any further steps in economic union.

I also can't see any Eurozone vision or strategy on the No side that could form the basis of working toward an alternative. It's very much of the "reject, and then let the rest of the Eurozone come up with a better deal to sell us" variety, and it smacks too much of populism for my political taste. So despite the almost equal bankruptcy of political vision on the Yes side, I have to reluctantly support a Yes vote.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article.

    "The Treaty itself won't add any more to austerity in law, but it will impact on the confidence needed for any further steps in economic union."

    This is the primary reason as to why I'm voting yes. I believe that if the EU is to further become a political and economic union then rules must be in place to govern it. However, as you said, there are also places where the treaty fails and as you pointed it out it neither would have prevented the crisis, but with the election of Hollande it seems like the debate is now being pushed in the correct direction.

    I don't think we should risk Ireland's position because of that.