Sunday 24 September 2017

Clumsy negotiating tactics have backfired on us

George Garvey

IF someone were compiling a how-not-to book for aspiring young diplomats, Ireland's amateurish efforts to renegotiate the terms of the November 2010 bailout would surely merit an entire chapter.

Ever since Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's vainglorious boast during last year's general election, that it would be "Labour's way or Frankfurt's way", this government has got its tactics completely wrong.

The sort of public grandstanding which seems to be the favoured diplomatic "technique" of both Mr Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, far from advancing Ireland's cause has, by needlessly antagonising the European institutions and other European government, actually hurt our cause.

By proclaiming loudly what it wants before the negotiations are complete, the Irish Government has made striking a satisfactory deal not just difficult,but often impossible.

One would have thought that, after its reverses on the issue of bank debt and its botched attempt to refinance the Anglo promissory notes, which only resulted in a convoluted deal with Bank of Ireland that no one really understands, the Government would have learned its lesson and concentrated on working behind the scenes.

Ironically, the one time that it did largely adopt this approach, during the negotiations that preceded the halving of Ireland's bailout interest rate from 6pc to 3pc last year, the Government's efforts were rewarded with a successful outcome.

Lessons

Instead of learning the lessons from this success, the Government rapidly reverted to its bad old habits, with entirely predictable results. Far from winning friends and influencing people, the Government's favoured tactic of loudly proclaiming its desired result and then attempting to "bounce" the EU, the ECB and other European governments into accepting it, has been a complete failure.

Instead of winning our negotiating partners over to the Irish point of view and persuading them to offer us concessions, the Government's tactics have done the exact opposite, generating unnecessary irritation and even anger. Definitely not the mood you want your negotiating partners to be in when you are seeking concession from a position of weakness.

After this week's rebuff on the extension of the repayment period on Ireland's debt to the troika, it's well past time for a rethink. For starters a bit of modesty would not go amiss. Regardless of what we might like to think ourselves, Ireland is merely a bit player in the eurozone crisis. Spain and Greece are the principal actors.

The Irish Government should let the Spaniards and the Greeks take centre stage. With their rapidly-worsening crises they are in a far better position to extract compromises from Brussels and Frankfurt.

When they do we can then insist on receiving similar treatment. It is only by boxing clever in this way, rather than indulging in counter-productive megaphone diplomacy, that the government can hope to achieve its objectives.

Irish Independent

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