Gilmore makes direct appeal to workers over treaty

Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 01:00

THE TÁNAISTE AND leader of the Labour Party has appealed over the heads of trade union leaders for workers to back Europe’s stability treaty in the referendum next month.

Eamon Gilmore said ratification of the treaty would be crucial for Ireland’s plan to exit the EU-International Monetary Fund bailout programme. Ireland was far more likely to go on needing additional external financial aid if the treaty were to be rejected in the referendum.

Mr Gilmore was speaking in Luxembourg after the country’s largest craft union, the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU), became the third trade union to call for the treaty to be voted down. Unite and Mandate already urged a No vote.

His comments came as turmoil returned to the euro zone. Markets took fright over the collapse of the Dutch government and demands from the Socialist front-runner in the French presidential election, François Hollande, for a renegotiation of Europe’s stability treaty.

The executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the umbrella body for trade unions, meets tomorrow to try to agree a common position on the treaty.

In a paper prepared for the meeting, congress general secretary David Begg said there was “a gun pointed at our heads” because of the threat of losing funding from the European Stability Mechanism. He said congress was stuck between a rock and a hard place and that the decision on the treaty was finely balanced.

It is not normal practice for the congress executive to decide its position on issues such as the treaty by vote. The preference is for a consensus position to emerge. However, yesterday the TEEU said it mandated its delegates to oppose recommending the treaty.

Unite said it would press congress to recommend a No vote.

Mr Gilmore yesterday said the advice the unions were giving to their members “in my opinion is not in the best interest of their members”.

“The people who are casting their vote on the 31st of May will be individual workers, not trade union executives. Members of trade union executives will have the same vote as the trade union member on the shop floor,” he said.

“It’s important that there is stability in the euro, first of all, because it’s in euros that workers’ wages are paid in, and who in their right mind would want to have the value of wages reduced?”

Mr Gilmore said those arguing against the treaty “have not been able to tell us yet where the State is going to get the money to pay wages and pay for public and social services . . . The onus is on those who are arguing for a No vote to tell us where the money is going to come from.”

Asked why that was an important question, he said it was because access to the European Stability Mechanism permanent rescue fund “if we were ever to need it” was dependent on ratifying the treaty. Asked how likely it was that Ireland would need access to this fund, he said: “A lot more likely if we defeat the treaty.”

Mr Gilmore made light of claims by Mr Hollande that he would renegotiate the treaty if successful in the second round of voting on Sunday week. “We have to make our own decision, and this is not like other European treaties where the ratification of all 27 member states was required for the treaty to come into effect,” he said.

European stock markets tumbled to their lowest level for three months and Dutch borrowing costs spiked after the failure of budget talks in The Hague led Liberal prime minister Mark Rutte to tender his resignation to Queen Beatrix.

Thecatalyst for the breakdown was the withdrawal of his coalition ally, anti-EU far-right leader Geert Wilders, from negotiations over austerity measures for the 2013 budget.

The situation is sensitive given threats to The Netherlands’ triple-A and the obligation on the country to submit a new deficit-cutting plan to the European Commission on Monday. Following the loss of the top ratings on French and Austrian debt, any loss of the triple-A grade on the Netherlands could impede the power of the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund to provide preferential rate loans to bailout recipients such as Ireland.