EU commissioner to come to Dublin early next month


OPPOSITION BRIEFINGS:THE EUROPEAN commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn will come to Dublin early next month to meet the Government and Opposition, Fine Gael spokesman on finance Michael Noonan said yesterday.

Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin had further briefings from Department of Finance officials on the state of the country’s finances yesterday, while Mr Noonan and Labour’s finance spokeswoman Joan Burton held separate meetings with Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan.

“What he told us was that Olli Rehn was coming to Dublin on November 7th and that he would be available for briefing of the Opposition as well as the Government,” Mr Noonan said.

“Obviously he’s coming to see the Government, and discuss things with the Government, but he’s also available to the Opposition,” he added.

The Government’s four-year budgetary plan is expected to be submitted to Brussels by the end of the second week of November. Mr Noonan said it was “significant” that Mr Lenihan would announce the overall four-year adjustment figure after his trip to Brussels and consultation with Mr Rehn.

“We have a Government that was elected. They have to carry the responsibility. Europe is a mirror which reflects the reality of the outside world and what the people who lend us money are expecting,” he said.

Mr Noonan said there “wasn’t a huge element of surprise” when Mr Lenihan told him the overall figure yesterday afternoon, which was later announced as €15 billion, as it was not out of line with forecasts that had been made previously. Mr Noonan said the meeting with Mr Lenihan was “very amicable”. He had been invited to the meeting last Thursday, he said.

He said Mr Lenihan had “deferred conversation” about the extent of the first-year correction. Mr Noonan said there had been no discussion on his comments last week about a €7 billion adjustment in the first year, which was definitively ruled out by Government.

“That was one of the figures given by the Department of Finance to us in terms of alternative scenarios,” he explained.

Ms Burton said Mr Lenihan had invited her to a meeting on Friday. She said Mr Rehn’s visit was part of a new policy by the European Commission.

“Obviously as we’re now only about six weeks out to budget day, Commissioner Rehn has decided to visit Dublin. It’s obviously part of the policy of the commission to now take a closer interest in how member states prepare their budgetary plans.

“And that’s what the commissioner, as I understand it, is proposing to do,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Opposition finance spokespeople also received their third briefing from departmental officials. Ms Burton said “a number of additional scenarios” in relation to taxation and expenditure costs in public services were presented. Ms Burton said she wanted the Government to provide a “template” or a framework for the four-year budgetary plan, outlining what the coalition intended to present to the European Commission.

Asked about Labour’s proposals, she said: “I’m not making any declaration about figures until we have more information from the Government.”

She added: “We’re not going to make off-the-cuff remarks about figures we’re not certain of.”

Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Arthur Morgan said his party had decided to bring forward the publication of its pre-budget submission to next week.

Departmental officials had provided a number of options available to Government in relation to the upcoming budget, “and I must say it was a two-way street because we shared with them quite strongly what the Sinn Féin options are, which avoid a deflationary economic consequence,” Mr Morgan said.