Time to end the grovelling to EU and be assertive


MAYBE BERTIE Ahern wasn’t that bad after all. Yes, he was the promoter of the property bubble, the bystander at the banking crisis, the architect of the fiscal crisis, but there are still reasons to think he wasn’t that bad, writes VINCENT BROWNE

And, yes, the embarrassments over the piles of cash that were brought in and out of St Luke’s, the money won on the gee-gees, the loan to Celia, the dig-outs and the rest. But still . . . Bertie was a player in Europe. When he was around, he was a wheeler and dealer on the European Council. He didn’t just scurry around trying to get the attention of important people in front of the cameras. It was he who orchestrated agreement at the council on a new EU constitution (remember that?).

There was talk about Bertie becoming president of the council or president of the European Commission and he claimed in his memoirs he had the latter job for the asking and maybe he had.

This sad longing for Bertie is prompted by an ever sadder reality that Ireland is a bystander now to what is happening to the union of which we are a member. We are offering no solutions, other than the obvious banalities. There is no sense that Ireland is a player, that Ireland is offering innovative responses to the enfolding crisis, that Ireland is even asserting its own just entitlements. Instead we seem to be the grovelling recipient of charity, keeping our mouth shut lest our benefactors be annoyed.

Bertie would have done better than that. So too would Garret: he could not have remained quiet in the face of procrastination and fuddle and I think Charlie Haughey would have been assertive too.

Certainly there is evidence Charlie was not at all grovelling to his personal benefactors, believing it was sufficient for him to have deigned to accept their cash.

In the last few years did any of our representatives at EU forums make the obvious point that while we accept responsibility for the debts incurred by our fiscal fiasco, we did not accept responsibility for protecting, from insolvency, the German, French, Dutch, Belgian and other banks, who, recklessly, had lent money to Irish financial institutions?

Now we have the spectacle of our Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, telling us we had better approve an, as yet unseen, international agreement, otherwise we would incur even more disastrous consequences.

The only recourse we, the people of Ireland, have now is to refuse our endorsement of the proposed international agreement on a reinforced economic union, if only as a protest at the monstrous injustice inflicted upon us in the compromising of the welfare of future generations through the bank bailout. Noonan has claimed a rejection of this agreement would mean we would be leaving the euro zone. It is a device to induce, among the Irish electorate, the same subservience to the demands of Europe that he and his Government colleagues have humiliatingly displayed.

The reality is we cannot be excluded from the euro without our agreement and we cannot be expelled from the EU without our agreement.

They could change the treaties of the EU to provide for expulsion from the euro zone and/or from the EU itself, but this could be done only with the concurrence of the Irish people, a concurrence expressed in a referendum.

So unless we agree to leave the euro zone or leave the EU we will remain there, irrespective of how we vote on this or any future referendum.

A further argument is likely: that the other EU states could devise another international agreement, excluding us from effective participation in the EU. This, again, is not possible, as evidenced by the terms of the proposed international agreement, which explicitly acknowledges (in article 2.2) that it shall apply only in so far as it is compatible with the existing EU treaties and that the EU treaties would take precedence over anything in the agreement.

There are justifiable reasons for changes in how the euro zone operates, for a monetary union cannot survive if member states run up huge sovereign debts and ongoing large budget deficits. It is fair that there is supervision of fiscal strategies but that is as far as the supervision should go.

The suggestion that, in addition, economic policy, including taxation and public expenditure, should also be supervised and made to conform to a prevailing ethos in the major EU countries is pernicious and, in itself, would be good reason to reject any such proposal.

Some features of this proposed agreement seem illegal – how can it purport, for instance, to give additional competences to the EU Court of Justice, thereby changing the remit of that court as provided for in the EU treaties? And further features seem unclear, especially the provision that the agreement shall have effect if only nine countries ratify it – why should any state ratify a penal arrangement that would not apply to states that do not ratify it?

Voting “No” to this international agreement may be the only moment of assertiveness and joy we will have as a state in 2012.

Let’s not mess up this one.