First-name terms and firm stance as Enda met Angela
The words were friendly, but the body language sent out a different message, writes DEREK SCALLY
IN A RAINY and windswept Berlin yesterday, as flocks of sensible birds flew away for the winter, Taoiseach Enda Kenny flew into the nest of Angela Merkel.
The Taoiseach was not expecting any enlightenment – nor did he get it – on what it means in Berlin to be a “special case”, as agreed in a bilateral statement two weeks ago. But, by now well versed in the cut and thrust of EU crisis politics, Mr Kenny gave as good as he got.
Turned out in a midnight blue blazer, a laid-back if laconic German leader tried to smooth over the bilateral creases left by her Brussels assertion that “no retroactive direct recapitalisation” would be possible for crisis countries.
But, as expected, she declined to go into any detail over ongoing differing expectations in Berlin and Dublin over what can be done with Ireland’s nationalised bank debt.
“There are difficult decisions to be made,” she said, “but, bilaterally, we have no problems. We have a good, close relationship and it should stay that way in the future.”
The Taoiseach gulped visibly.
The two leaders met for an hour and 15 minutes over a lunch of marinated tuna and salmon followed by guinea fowl and creamed pumpkin. On the side: Schupfnudeln, the noodle dish beloved of the thrifty Swabian housewives on whom Dr Merkel likes to draw for economic advice.
Lunch over, and with little new to say on Ireland’s debt issue, Dr Merkel instead drew attention to Mr Kenny’s recent “very justified” European of the Year award.
Mr Kenny returns to Berlin next Thursday for a evening date with his “Golden Victoria” prize, awarded by Germany’s Magazine Publishers’ Association.
Mr Kenny was cordial, though perhaps not quite as lavish, in his praise of his host. His thanks for German assistance in the crisis were, each time, linked tightly to the assertion – repeated at least six times – that Ireland still had unfinished business that Dr Merkel had agreed to help solve.
To avoid any more misunderstandings he reminded the German leader before the listening media that, even if it was too early for details of a deal, she had agreed to prioritise assistance for Ireland to help pave a smooth path back to financial markets.
“We agreed that this is given priority . . . as the successful implementation of an Irish programme is not only an issue of importance for Ireland but also an important message for the euro zone as a whole and I know the chancellor shares this view very strongly,” he said.
Mr Kenny moved on to other issues – Ireland’s presidency plans and the important issue of agreeing the EU’s next seven-year budget – when gales of laughter rang out from an unseen source in an overhead gallery.
Unruffled, Mr Kenny continued, saying Ireland would conduct its seventh EU presidency in “as effective and progressive a manner as we can”.
Wrapping up, Mr Kenny thanked “Angela” for “a very useful debate”. Interestingly, the official German translator picked up on this use of the chancellor’s first name as a show of familiarity by Mr Kenny. Even though their body language was not overly familiar, the leaders’ relationship was upgraded up from the more formal “sie” form of “you” to the “du” form, usually reserved for close friends.
Later, at the Irish embassy, Mr Kenny urged an audience of Berlin Irish and German tourism professionals to take a trip to Ireland during the 2013 “Gathering”. Germans were big fans of Ireland, Mr Kenny said, because they didn’t let the bad weather get them down.
“I remember picking up a German hitchhiker on the road one day years ago. It had been raining for three hours,” Mr Kenny told his delighted audience. “He said something interesting: that German visitors don’t mind the rain because what they want is the freedom to walk, cycle or travel through a landscape where they feel very welcome.”
He added: “When you come, you can ask for me and you’ll be well looked after.”
Mr Kenny’s polite but firm demeanour yesterday suggests he may prefer to hold off any further “du” shows of familiarity – or Gathering host duties – with Angela until the ink has dried on a debt deal and Ireland is once again paying its way in the world.’