Keeping the ball rolling


European Council meetings are often remembered more for the noises off that accompany any gathering of international political heavyweights, than the substance of leaders’ discussions. And the last two days of meetings in Brussels will be no different. That’s perhaps not a bad thing, however, a sign that we are not, for once, in crisis mode. On the other hand, the absence of time pressure, and of a coalition deal in Berlin, meant Taosieach Enda Kenny was always going to be disappointed if he hoped to see progress on bank capitalisation, a comfort blanket loan facility for Ireland, or a banking “single resolution mechanism”.

The summit “conclusions” record no landmark decisions, a lot of promises that decisions will be taken in December, and a lot of process talk about ongoing projects like economic governance, reminding member-states of their commitments to keep the ball rolling along. Oh, and expressions of “deep sadness” over the Lampedusa drowning tragedies with any suggestions about action passed to a task force which will report ... in December.

This time the summit was overshadowed by the brouhaha surrounding the US bugging of Chancellor Merkel’s phone. The conclusions reflect in the anodyne language of such documents that they discussed “recent developments concerning possible intelligence issues and the deep concerns that these events have raised among European citizens”. Blink, and you might miss the reference and its significance.

In the corridors and press conferences Dr Merkel and President Hollande were considerably less oblique, and it will be in their discussions directly with the Americans, which others were told they were welcome to join, where any agreements on a spying code of conduct between friends will be reached. “We need trust among allies and partners,” Dr Merkel told reporters. “Such trust now has to be built anew. ... We are allies. But such an alliance can only be built on trust. That’s why I repeat again: spying among friends, that cannot be.”

The European Parliament is also dispatching its own delegation to Washington for talks and making noises about toughening data privacy agreements, and more improbably, scuttling trade talks.

As for Ireland’s possible precautionary loan programme, Mr Kenny could do no more than test the water with fellow leaders, some positive, some negative, some curious. There are two Ecofin meetings between now and the bail-out exit during which the position will be clarified, although it now appears clear that the troika will set tough conditionality on any facility, whether or not the Government draws it down. That will be a blow to Mr Kenny’s hope of presenting December as a bright new dawn, a return to economic self-governance, if such a thing ever existed.

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