European elections to be ‘uncomfortable’ for mainstream parties
EC secretary general says bailout exit a ‘badge of honour’ for Ireland
Catherine Day, secretary general of the European Commission, at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin today. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.
The expected rise in support for eurosceptics and parties from the extreme left and right will make May’s European elections uncomfortable for mainstream parties, European Commission secretary general Catherine Day has said.
In an address to the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin today, Ms Day said centre mainstream parties would probably have to work more closely in the next incarnation of the European Parliament and form a sort of grand coalition when it came to big ticket European issues.
“I think, if you look at opinion polls, it is likely that the results will be uncomfortable for the mainstream European thinking and political parties,” she said. “We already see in some parts of the union that the debate is taking on a very nasty, populist and even xenophobic flavour.”
Ms Day added: “The outcome of the elections is likely to make the parliament a bit more unpredictable and difficult to work with but I think that could lead to more of a coalition approach on the main issues...We will have to wait for the votes to be counted before we can draw conclusions.”
On the economy, Ms Day said that financial stability, investment and deepening economic and monetary union were likely to be the primary issues facing the new European Commission and parliament when they are appointed and elected respectively later this year.
She said the “single most important thing” that needed to be done before the European Parliament entered election mode was reaching an agreement with the European Council on the single resolution mechanism, under which funds built up from a future levy on all banks would be used to settle future banking crises.
Ms Day also said banking union needed to be advanced so as to improve the credibility of the euro and say to the public that “the taxpayer will not be asked again to bailout the banks if and when there are problems in the sector in future.”
Ms Day said the creation of independent budgetary authorities in member states and implementing legally binding debt levels would be important ways “of trying to safeguard against a return to the bad old days.”
On Ireland, Ms Day said 2013 had been a “good EU year” for the State and that exiting the EU-IMF bailout programme was a “badge of honour”.
“It is something we are very proud of as well, as we recognise how tough it was, how difficult it was and what people have gone through,” she said.
“It was also a very important exercise in European solidarity to come to the help of a member state in difficulty. Sometimes it is tough love when you have to recommend policies that are difficult to implement but I think it was a success of working together.”
Ms Day also said the Irish EU presidency in the first half of last year was seen as a success at European level.
“It was really well organised and very streamlined presidency and I know everybody in it felt they were doing their best for putting a different image of Ireland back on the European agenda and they really succeeded.”
She said 2014 would be a year of “back to normal” for Ireland at EU level as the nation would no longer be seen as a “special member state” because of its bailout regime.
Ms Day said she hoped Ireland could “play a roll beyond its size” in shaping post economic crisis policy given what the State and its people had come through.