'Disturbing direction' of EU governance
Madam, – It is interesting to see Dr Garret FitzGerald (Opinion, April 3rd) stating that since the European Council of EU prime ministers and presidents was established in 1974 the governance of the EU has evolved in what he calls “a disturbing direction”.
This is because, he says, “meetings of the European Council tend to be dominated by the Big Three” – Germany, France and the UK. He points out it is difficult to mobilise up to 27 states in defence of their common interests in relation to these, in contrast to the period when there were only nine EU member states and “five or six of them could easily combine to oppose undesirable developments.” I must have debated the pros and cons of European integration dozens of times with Dr FitzGerald in the lead-up to Ireland’s referendum on accession to the EEC in 1972. Twenty years later I discussed them with him again when he advocated the abolition of the Irish pound in favour of our adopting the euro, the currency of an area with which Ireland did only one-third of its trade.
It has always struck me that the basic flaw in Dr FitzGerald’s thinking on EU integration was his assumption that the big powers of Europe, in particular Germany, France and Britain, were going to subordinate their longterm national state interests to some common pan-EU interest to the benefit of Ireland and other smaller EU members.
Irish people are finding out the hard way these days that we cannot restore our lost economic competitiveness by devaluing our national currency, as we have no currency to devalue, so we can only restore it by cutting pay, profits and pensions instead, for possibly years on end. This experience will surely lead future historians of our times to conclude that abolishing the Irish pound was the worst decision ever taken by an Irish government.
The unwillingness of a surplus country like Germany to increase its home demand to counter deflation in the deficit-running “Club Med” countries and Ireland, shows the limits of solidarity in the euro zone at present. Some fear, others hope, the resulting tensions will blow the euro currency apart.
Dr FitzGerald’s article omits to mention that the Lisbon Treaty gives this conclave of national prime ministers and presidents a much more central role in the EU’s institutional structure than hitherto. The treaty turns this body into an official EU institution for the first time. It charges it with giving the constitutionally new EU which Lisbon establishes “the necessary impetus for its development” and with defining the EU’s “general political directions and priorities”.
This Lisbon-based change is bound to give Germany, France and Britain greater scope to determine basic EU policy. Combine that with the other Lisbon Treaty change, that from 2014 onward EU law-making will take place primarily on the basis of population size, with 15 states being able to outvote 12 as long as they have 65 per cent of the total EU population between them. This will double Germany’s voting weight in making EU laws from its present 8 per cent of the total EU Council votes to 16 per cent. It will increase France’s and Britain’s from 8 per cent to 12 pre cent each, while halving Ireland’s from 2 per cent to 0.9 per cent.
These changes are bound to make ever clearer the drawbacks of giving such power to Dr FitzGerald’s “Big Three” and will surely lead to appropriate political reactions by the other EU members in due course. – Yours, etc,