Irish-led coalition of the unwilling wins the day

Cantillon: Joaquín Almunia, the European competition commissioner, had wanted to stop all state-backed job and capital grants for large companies

Joaquin Almunia, European  Competitions Commissioner

Joaquin Almunia, European Competitions Commissioner


Irish lobbying campaigns in Brussels have had decidedly mixed results in recent years, but the recent Irish-led rebellion against attempts by the European Commission to ban job grants for big employers is one of this country’s most notable, and under-the-radar, successes of recent years.

Joaquín Almunia, the competition commissioner, announced just over a year ago he wanted to snuff out all state-backed job and capital grants for large companies, the biggest weapon in the IDA’s armoury when it comes to attracting foreign investment into the regions.

Job and capital grants were already banned in Cork and Dublin, but if Almunia had gotten his way, the disadvantaged border regions, the west, and the midlands – all starved of big employers – would have been hit.

After the Irish put together a “coalition of the unwilling” to fight the plan, Almunia’s proposals floundered and this week, the government announced it had received approval for its latest “regional aid map”, showing the parts of the country where it can still give job and capital grants for the next five years.

With the exception of Dublin and Cork, every county is still covered to some degree, with grant-backed investment in some of the counties within the Pale somewhat restricted. In Wicklow, for example, grants can only be given in Arklow.

Dublin is where most multinationals want to be located, and it would have been unaffected by any changes to the grants regime. But retaining the grants for the regions allows the IDA fight the good fight for counties that have been starved of investment.

The sensitivity of the issue can be seen from the criticism heaped upon the IDA last week, when it was revealed 12 counties did not have any agency-backed visits by prospective investors in the first three months of the year.

If only Ireland’s European lobbying campaign in the sphere of legacy bank debts could be as successful.

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