Fiscal rules to be 'part of political life'

Fri, May 11, 2012, 01:00

IRELAND WOULD be marginalised if it did not play a full part in the process of European fiscal union, the Oireachtas Committee on EU Affairs was told yesterday.

Chairman of the Institute of International and European Affairs Brendan Halligan was addressing the committee on “The EU in 20 Years’ Time”.

Predicting that the single currency would still exist two decades from now, he said all member states except Britain would have adopted it by then.

The rules set out in the current EU fiscal treaty would be an “accepted feature of political life” by then, the former Labour Party general secretary said.

“One thing we can say with reasonable certainty is that the process of geographic expansion will have been completed with the admission of the Balkan states into membership.

“In all likelihood Norway and Switzerland will still be outside the Union, and it will have become accepted that membership will not be open to the Ukraine, Turkey or other countries in the Caucasus.

“There will be no political imperative to expand the union.

“That will enable the union to focus more and more on its internal governance and, in all probability, the centrepiece for this will be the completion of the economic union and the building of a fiscal union.

“Twenty years from now it will be an accepted feature of political life that public finances will be run in accordance with the golden rule of balanced budgets, and that debt levels will be kept below 60 per cent of GDP.”

He added that all EU states would be members of the euro “with the exception of Britain”.

It was “more probable than not” that Scotland would have independent by then and would be a member of the euro zone.

“For Ireland, as for other small European countries, the choice is between full involvement in this complex process of sharing sovereignty or some degree of exclusion or marginalisation.”

Fine Gael TD Joe O’Reilly said he agreed with Mr Halligan’s contention that the process of EU integration would continue. “A Yes vote is critical for the future of this country on May 31st,” said the Cavan-Monaghan deputy.

“It would be bizarre for an island nation to cast ourselves adrift.”

Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said she was happy to hear Mr Halligan’s prediction that the euro would survive.

She said that people were concerned about “losing their identity” and about “having German masters”. She wondered if Germany could “become a more friendly place” so that it would not be “seen as the threat or the master”, perhaps by “spending more”.

Pointing to the contribution of Germany to the EU, Mr Halligan replied: “This business about German masters I find very hard to stomach.”

Deputy Bernard Durkan expressed concern about the rise of the “hard right” and the “hard left” in Europe at present.

He said this phenomenon had delivered “disastrous results” in the past.

He stressed the importance of having “level-headed people prepared to give leadership”.