The President’s vision


President Michael D Higgins has returned, once again robustly, to themes he took up in the European Parliament (EP) recently in an interview with the Financial Times. His critique of Europe’s “hegemonic”, one-size-fits-all austerity strategy and warning that it risks engendering social upheaval echo calls being made elsewhere in Europe. Not least by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso who has warned of the strategy “reaching its limits”. Italy’s new prime minister Enrico Letta is saying the same, while on Monday Slovakia’s Prime Minister Roberto Fico joined the fray arguing that it was “not possible ... to cut public finances and to expect that the government will have enough resources to support economic growth.”

Straws in the wind? Hopefully, real signs that a new approach is being contemplated and beginning to gather momentum.

Mr Higgins’ insistence that the issue is not merely about economic strategy but political, fundamentally about values and the legitimacy of the EU, is important and takes the argument to another level. In the EP he argued that “instead of a discourse that might define Europe as simply an economic space of contestation between the strong and the weak, our citizens yearn for the language of solidarity, of cohesion, for a generous inclusive rhetoric that is appropriate to an evolving political union.”

In articulating the case for a social Europe and a rejection of orthodox neo-liberalism, perhaps the President, in his inimitable way, is straying beyond the ideological horizon of the government. That such views, liberally interpreted, could be seen as implicit criticism of the Government’s domestic strategy – and hence straying into political territory supposedly beyond his remit – should not, however, have the Taoiseach reaching for his censor’s pencil.

Mr Higgins, in pushing boundaries and urging that we develop a new vision of the EU and our place in it, is playing an essential role in stimulating, without deciding, a debate that is necessary and overdue.