Inside Davos: Ireland signals positive links with fiscally responsible Northern Europeans
Enda Kenny’s efforts to use Davos to send a message to voters back home do not seem to have worked out so well
‘The overt message was equally simple. Growth is up, unemployment is down and we did it by engaging in a constructive northern European manner with the troika.’ Above, Enda Kenny (right) with Alexander Stubb Prime Minister of Finland, during a panel session of the 45th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. Photograph: EPA/Laurent Gillieron
As the Taoiseach and his entourage departed Davos yesterday there would have been plenty of black lines through the items on their to do list. Ireland had continued to reposition itself among the fiscally responsible northern European nations, a couple of dozen existing and prospective IDA clients companies had been wined and dined and to cap it all, they had managed quick meeting with New Zealand prime minister John Kay to get advice on how to bid for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
This is how Davos is supposed to work and apparently still does some 45 years on, given the hoards that descended on the small Swiss ski resort last week paying between $40,000 and $200,000 for the privilege.
The confluence of so many influential individuals – 2,500 according to the organisers – makes it an unparalleled platform from which to disseminate messages, both public and private.
The public message being sent by Ireland was clear from the membership of the panel which Kenny took part in on Tuesday. He was sitting between Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb and Latvian prime minister Liamdota Straujuma. Also on the panel was the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and the German economic minister Sigmar Gabriel.
The subliminal messaging was simple: these countries are our peers. Not the Spanish, the Portuguese or the Greeks. We have retaken our rightful place among the northern core of fiscally responsible EU states. The problems we face are the problems that countries that have got their financial act together face.
The overt message was equally simple. Growth is up, unemployment is down and we did it by engaging in a constructive northern European manner with the troika.
“Instead of choosing a path of confrontation we chose constructive engagement.” There was really no need to mention the Greeks. Everybody got the point.
It was a moment for Enda Kenny to show some statesmanlike credentials. He referenced a “chasm of disconnection” between EU states and the institutions of the commission before engaging in some chin-stroking with his peers over the merits of a trade agreement with the US and the rise of populists parties on the right and left.
He may not have won the argument, but that was not the point. The fact that he was on the main stage in Davos talking about something other than bailouts was victory enough. In an environment where you could not throw a snowball without hitting an investment banker, it was national marketing gold.
The private message being put out by the Irish deputation also easy enough to discern, if not to witness. Over the course of the 36 odd hours that the Kenny was in Davos he met senior executives from 16 companies that were either clients or potential clients of the IDA. Roughly half of them have not yet invested here. Who they are is not the sort of thing the IDA lets slip but plenty of attention was being paid to the fact that Jack Ma, the man behind Chinese internet giant Alibaba was in Davos.
He is high on the IDA wish list and was courted by President Michael D Higgins when he was in China. High representatives from Google, Facebook and other flagship IDA clients were in town and no doubt got some love, centred on a drinks reception and dinner at the Hotel Grischa on the Thursday night.
It went well, Kenny reported back at an impromptu press conference as he was leaving. The meetings were not dominated by the abolition of the double Irish and its replacement, the Knowledge Development Box. The decision to phase out the double Irish over six years appears to have put out the fire.
Will any jobs come from the alpine endeavours of the Taoiseach and the IDA chief executive? We will never know, however few would argue that it was not worth the trip.
Voters back home
This was aimed squarely at the vipers in his own nest; Sinn Féin and the like; Vote for them in the coming election and you are voting to undo the hard work of the last few years.
“It’s very easy, actually, to lose all that hard won gain and recovery by drifting towards a sense of populism without clarity about what that might deliver,” he offered to anyone watching events in Greece with a view to importing revolution.
Maybe it was the timing. Maybe it was the wrong background. Maybe it was the simultaneous announcement of quantitative easing in Frankfurt. Either way, from over here, that particular bird did not seem to fly. And if getting that point into the heads of the Irish electorate was part of his reason for trekking to the Swiss Alps this week, the Taoiseach may have left a little disappointed. John McManus is Business Editor