Mr Kenny goes to Berlin


TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny’s visit to Germany today comes as policy makers in Berlin and Frankfurt have begun to celebrate Ireland as the very model of a successful euro zone bailout. The contrast between prudent, dutiful Ireland and unruly Greece is not only flattering to Dublin but helps to reassure a sceptical German public that bailout loans are not just a direct subsidy for the profligate. Mr Kenny will be greeted with full military honours when he arrives for lunch in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel and will have a private meeting with finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble before addressing a Christian Democratic think tank on “Ireland’s Road to Recovery: Reform, Growth, Jobs.”

The Taoiseach’s visit is an opportunity to highlight the good news about the Irish economy, which will grow by 1 per cent this year despite the austerity measures that are the price of assistance from the EU and the IMF. Mr Kenny will reassure Dr Merkel and Dr Schäuble that he shares their conviction that the key to Ireland recovering its financial sovereignty lies in improving competitiveness but will seek to persuade them that the Government’s adherence to the EU-IMF programme should be rewarded by more favourable terms. German officials have until now taken the view that Ireland’s successful implementation of the plan demonstrates that it is not too onerous.

If today’s visit represents an opportunity for Mr Kenny, it also serves a useful purpose for Dr Merkel, who faces criticism across Europe for her perceived role, with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, in toppling the leaders of Greece and Italy and replacing them with unelected technocrats. In Mr Kenny, she welcomes the elected leader of a country that appears to offer evidence that her “tough love” approach to indebted euro zone states is working. A notoriously cautious political operator, the chancellor this week secured the backing of her party for changes to the EU’s treaties that would allow more effective (and intrusive) co-ordination of budgetary policy across the euro zone. Such enhanced oversight is seen in Germany as a prerequisite for any move on the part of stronger euro zone states to share the risk of the sovereign debt of their weaker partners.

Within the EU, Berlin has traditionally been a champion of the rights of smaller member-states such as Ireland, favouring the “community method” of working through institutions like the European Commission over the inter-governmental approach long promoted by Paris and London. Dr Merkel has appeared to abandon this tradition during the current crisis, bypassing the European institutions as she and Mr Sarkozy seek to determine the course of the euro zone between them.

Many within her own party, however, are uncomfortable with the shift in policy and the two most popular opposition parties are committed to a more inclusive vision for Europe. Mr Kenny should use today’s visit to make clear to the chancellor that, despite the debt crisis, the bailout and the loss of financial sovereignty, Ireland remains an active participant in the debate about Europe’s future and a valuable partner for Germany.