Sunday 26 October 2014

France's distress and Ireland's opportunity

Editorial

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

Francois Hollande has ruled out an international partnership with Bashar Assad to fight against the Islamic State group
Francois Hollande has ruled out an international partnership with Bashar Assad to fight against the Islamic State group

Every so often we are reminded that the EU does not really have a problem until it hits home in Germany and France. The French President's call for an urgent Eurozone summit to address economic stagnation is just such an occasion.

Monsieur Francois Hollande is about as low as he could be, with approval ratings in the mid-teens making him France's most unpopular leader for several decades. Belatedly, he is prepared to risk all by dishing out very tough medicine to get the nation's finances into some kind of shape.

But yesterday he also issued a call for concerted Eurozone action to stimulate economic growth. His call for an urgent summit of the currency zone's 18 leaders met with an initial favourable reaction in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel can assuage fretful German citizens by pointing to French efforts to tackle public spending and debt as grounds for an easing of public purse strings.

Both the EU powerhouse economies are ominously becalmed. France's problems are long-standing, but Germany's faltering growth is newer and especially disconcerting, but has also lead to hopes that the both countries can now make common cause.

"Europe is threatened by a long and possibly interminable stagnation if we do nothing," was Mr Hollande's forthright warning. Germany is well fixed to respond strongly, as its balanced budget and low level of long-term debt means it has scope to invest and help kick-start growth.

Ireland's more recent economic position is better than that of Germany and France, with good growth believed to be influenced by events in the USA and non-Eurozone Britain. But there is no doubt that Irish people would face a more prosperous future if Germany and France also began to thrive again.

So, this could be good news for Ireland and could help support a nascent economic recovery here. We know that Mr Hollande is speaking to a hostile domestic audience and addressing France's particular set of problems.

But if there is positive and concerted action by the Eurozone leaders, there could well be benefits for Ireland. We are a long way from the visionary initiatives of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand - but eight years of austerity have taught everyone to moderate expectations.

For now let's just hope that Mr Hollande's call is heeded. It would be a rare event, but hope springs eternal.

Failure to spend storm funds is inexcusable

We all know the havoc wreaked in many parts of the country last year by a series of seasonal storms.

We also know that the Government moved to ease the pain for towns and communities who suffered as a result of the damage caused This was mainly, but not exclusively, confined to coastal communities, with piers washed away, flood damage to public buildings and other assorted damage in need of remedial attention.

It is disappointing, therefore, to learn that government funds set aside for remedial works remain largely unspent.

This has arisen because of a failure of local authorities, various government departments and the OPW to agree on the best way to proceed and how the money should be spent.

It is understandable that this difference of opinion exists but it is akin to someone being told they can buy a new shirt to replace one damaged in the rain, but they cannot spend the money on a rain jacket. It does not make sense.

Irish Independent

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