Once more into the breach
This is the 16th summit since the existential crisis affecting the eurozone first erupted.
It’s not the first summit for which apocalyptic language has been used. But there is a sense that the billing of this summit as the “make or break” one for the euro is for real this time – that leaders cannot emerge with a waterry compromise or a fudge or some diluted half measure.
About half an hour ago, Enda Kenny arrived from Marseilles for the dinner of the 27 leaders.
He was the last to arrive because on the Government’s continued need to impress us with the optics of spartan spirit, he flew by budget airline from the French port city.
As he entered the Justius Lipsus building he made brief – and very general – comments to the effect that a decisive decison was critical to ensure the stability of the euro.
As I’m writing he is addressing fellow European leaders setting out Ireland’s position on the need foir the EFSF to have a big firewall (no surprise there) and, according to sources, “starting a conversation” about making Ireland’s debt more sustainable.
That’s not actually reducing it but.looking at new mechanisms that weren’t available in the run-up to, and during, the bailout last year. It appears they don’t have to do with reducing interest rates or lowering the size of the debt; rather it is extending the time that Ireland is given to pay back the debts. It sounds very similar to the gambit being pursued on the puntiive rates being charged on the promissory note for some €30bn of Anglo Irish Bank debts. Some passages of the Taoiseach’s letter to Herman Von Rompuy this week in advance of the Summit apparently focused on this issue.
Government sources have insisted that this is not being advanced as a quid pro quo for Ireland accepting treaty change, or as a sweetener in exchange for some of the less palatable options that the Government may have to face late tomorrow or on Saturday.
The Government hasn’t exactly spelled out why any of our EU neighbours would go for it. The carrot the Government seems to over is if there is some relaxing and sustainability, it could more or less allow Ireland lead by example, become the best pupil in class, and be the first to exit a programme. That would see the State being a standard bearer for renewal of confidence.
Looked at from this vantage point, it hardly loks as being overwhelmingly persuasive or a clincher for other EU states. To me, there is very little prospect that anything can be secured for Ireland without a price being extracted. In fairness, the Government is not looking for an outcome over the next two days, just to kick start the process.
But I just don’t sense that the experience of the next two days is going to be a pain-free one for Ireland.
Nor for Britain. David Cameron is in a very difficult space, having to deal with extremes of eurosceptics (Northern secretary Owen Patterson prominent amongst them) and Europhiles (Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems). Patterson has called for a referendum if there is treaty change, which in effect would be Britain voting to stay in or out of Europe. Britain is also trying to make the City of London into a little protectorate, save from the reach of Brussels and of a Tobin tax.
Into the fray has stopped Boris Johnson, more ambitious and focus than his shambolic and bustling image suggests (he’s eying the leadership of the Tory Party should Cameron slip… no less!).
Boris is so talented with words. He delivered the quote of the day earlier, saying that the EU’s move to protect the euro might “save the cancer rather than the patient”.