Election results in Europe may boost Yes campaign


INSIDE POLITICS:THE OUTCOME of the elections in France and Greece last weekend was hailed by the forces campaigning against the fiscal treaty in Ireland as a boost to their cause. In fact those results could actually prove helpful to the Yes side in persuading the electorate that there is no viable alternative to the treaty.

It is already clear that the new French president-elect, François Hollande, far from trying to dismantle the budgetary disciplines contained in the fiscal treaty, is more than willing to accept them. He simply wants to tack a growth compact to the deal.

This is something the Irish Government, and many others in the European Union, have been advocating for some time, and it seems very likely that agreement on a package will be reached, probably next month.

A special EU summit to discuss the issue has been brought forward to May 23rd, and, while final agreement on the growth strategy is unlikely at that stage, the fact that European leaders are discussing growth should tie in well with the Yes campaign’s insistence that the treaty and growth are complementary and not contradictory, as the No campaign maintains.

So, far from undermining the Yes campaign, the arrival of Hollande on the scene with his emphasis on growth should actually be a help to it in the final stages of the referendum debate. The amicable chat he had with Enda Kenny during the week won’t do any harm either.

However, devising a growth agenda is easier said than done. Angela Merkel has made it clear that removing obstacles to growth rather than borrowing money is the solution, but getting agreement from vested interests on creating the conditions for growth is never easy. That is something Hollande is going to find out very quickly.

Nonetheless, the fact that the emphasis is moving towards the means of achieving growth rather than appearing to be solely on the need for continuing austerity should help the Irish electorate to focus on the positive reasons for voting Yes.

The post-election situation in Greece and the potential chaos there if it proves impossible to form a government is hardly a great boost for the No campaign either. Minister for Finance Michael Noonan drew the attention of Irish voters to the appalling conditions to which the people of Greece had now been reduced despite the huge write down of the country’s debt.

Ireland is in a different situation and facing a much rosier future because the country is steadily meeting the targets set out in the bailout terms. A rejection of the treaty would throw doubt on the country’s ability to borrow after 2013 and, wherever that would lead, it would certainly not be to a better place.

An Irish rejection would also be another damaging blow to the euro and would feed the agendas of those who, for political or financial reasons, want the currency to fail. An array of forces from elements of the British establishment and a range of extreme right- and left-wing forces across the continent want to see the currency collapse.

Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe raised an interesting point in the Dáil during the week when he argued that Europe was facing not only a battle to preserve its currency and the future of the union but a battle to preserve decent democratic standards.

“In many ways this is a battle for the future of centrist politics within Europe. I do not mean whether one sits on the centre-left or the centre-right. Regardless of one’s position in that spectrum, we have far more in common than divides us. I note the ability of parties and movements who sit outside that centre to gain momentum and more support within Europe. I am fearful that if this happens, the prospect for Europe and the European Union is very grim.”

The economic crisis has clearly imposed huge strains on all EU countries but with differing political results. Established parties of government have been routed in a number of countries, including Greece and Ireland, while extreme parties have gained ground in countries such as the Netherlands and France as well as in Greece.

Yet for all that the French presidential election was won by a serious mainstream left-wing politician like Hollande, just as in Ireland last year the main beneficiaries of the collapse of Fianna Fáil were long-established parties Fine Gael and Labour, who had the best election results in their histories in 2011.

After its catastrophic defeat Fianna Fáil had a choice to make about whether its future lay in rebuilding its reputation as a potential party of power or chasing down the populist road after Sinn Féin.

Micheál Martin has made the courageous decision to put his weight behind the Yes campaign for the treaty and resist the temptation to stand back and watch the Coalition parties deal with the huge political embarrassment that would result from a referendum defeat.

“If there is a No vote the Government will not fall, but it is the people of Ireland who will suffer from damaged international confidence and having to seek less secure and more costly funding for vital public services,” Martin wrote in this paper yesterday.

By arguing strongly in favour of a Yes to provide a safe and certain pathway out of the crisis Martin has also demonstrated that his party is still a relevant force with a serious role to play in the future. He has struck an important blow for rational politics.

Whether countries under pressure take the Greek road to extremism or the Irish road to stability is hard to predict, but a lot will hinge on the fate of the euro. A decision by the Irish people to back the treaty will be a small step in the right direction.

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