Thursday 29 September 2016

Greece isn't the word for visit of German president

Published 14/07/2015 | 02:30

Aishling Mooney [7] Amelia Byrne[7] and Olivia Onofri [7] from Dunshaughlin Girl Guides and Brownies form part of the Aras an Uachtarain guard of Honour
Aishling Mooney [7] Amelia Byrne[7] and Olivia Onofri [7] from Dunshaughlin Girl Guides and Brownies form part of the Aras an Uachtarain guard of Honour
President Michael D Higgins looks on as President of the Federal Republic of Germany Joachim Gauck plants a tree in the garden
Sabina Higgins with Daniela Schadt as they make their way down the Francini corridor in Aras An Uachtarain for a State dinner last night
State Visit

Tricky. In the week when the Taoiseach and his Government have contorted themselves into so many different positions over Germany's doings in relation to Greece that they now resemble doodles from a Picasso Cubist painting, who lands into town but the president of Germany.

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This isn't Angela Merkel - the chancellor was most likely in the leaba in Berlin yesterday catching up on a few ZZZs after pulling a virtual all-nighter in Brussels with Alexis Tsipras (which sounds like more fun than it probably was).

Like our very own Michael D, Joachim Gauck occupies a largely ceremonial role as President of the Federal German Republic - and also like our own President, he has an interesting and diverse Curriculum Vitae.

Born in 1940 during the Third Reich, he was raised in East Germany, became a pastor and rose to prominence as an anti-communist civil rights activist. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification in 1989, he was instrumental in exposing the crimes of the secret police, the Stasi. He was elected president in 2012.

Nonetheless, Mr Gauck has arrived in Ireland at a juncture when Germany's role in hammering out a deal with Greece is the topic of some torrid debate by both the citizenry and politicians.

After all, the memories of our own travails with bailouts and troikas and EU summits and Irish budgets being discussed in the Bundestag are still both painful and vivid.

Therefore it was never remotely likely that a formal, protocol-laden event such as a State dinner in Áras an Uachtaráin was going to take place without President Higgins uttering the G-word (Greece). And so he did, in his speech at the banquet honouring Mr Gauck and his partner Daniela Schadt last night, which was attended by around 80 guests including members of the Oireachtas, the judiciary, the Council of State and various folk from the arts and business sectors. "Events over the weekend and in the preceding weeks and months have been deeply distressing for the Greek people, for all of us who wish to see greater social, political and economic harmony among the nations of Europe," said President Higgins.

"It is critically important that we learn from the experience of recent times and provide the appropriate discourse and leadership which Europe needs to ensure that such episodes don't recur."

It was an oblique critique of the handling of the Greek crisis by the EU member countries, and the President concluded his remarks by saying pointedly he looked forward to working with his German counterpart "for the construction of a Union of peace and prosperity that can be shared by all the people of Europe".

In his speech, President Gauck praised Ireland for, well, not Doing A Greece when disaster struck. "Ireland took determined action and quickly managed to stabilise its economy.

"The fact that the Irish people backed the measures taken can also be inferred from Ireland's strong commitment to Europe," he added. (Happily for the denizens of Government Buildings, he didn't arrive during a water charges protest).

But in what could be viewed as a pointed remark pointing in the direction of Athens, he said, "Your country's efforts have made it an example for certain other states within the European Union."

Golly - haven't we come a long way? Once we were on the Naughty Step of Europe for being feckless and reckless, and now we're the eurozone poster-child for austerity. It gives one a warm, fuzzy feeling all over.

However, it was the only mention of the economic wars, as President Gauck fulfilled a packed programme during Day One of his three-day State visit, and gave the impression of a chap who was thoroughly enjoying himself.

As well as a courtesy call to the Áras upon arrival (where he got the full works - a 21-gun salute, a fly-over by what may have been our entire Air Corps of four jets), followed by a swift visit to the Taoiseach in Government Buildings, he laid a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance, and attended a reception in City Hall.

As he was welcomed by Dublin Lord Mayor Críona ni Dhálaigh, she jokingly referred to the Ireland v Germany crunch Euro match next October. "May the best team win," she said diplomatically, to the amusement of the President.

Mind you - we probably have a marginally better chance of getting a result off Germany than the unfortunate Greeks.

Irish Independent

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