Wednesday 12 December 2018

Government moves to join gang of small EU countries ahead of Brexit challenge

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to see reforms in the bloc that would deepen integration. Picture: Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron wants to see reforms in the bloc that would deepen integration. Picture: Reuters

Colm Kelpie

The Government has made a significant move to align us with a gang of other small EU countries cautious about plans for deepening eurozone integration.

The alliance is the clearest evidence yet of Ireland signing up with new allies ahead of the departure of the UK from the EU.

The group of eight small and medium EU countries - which includes non-euro members Denmark and Sweden, as well as the Netherlands, one of the founding states of the EU's predecessor - says it is economically liberal and open but wants more power retained at national level.

But the move is likely to result in a backlash from the French, in particular, and the Germans.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to see reforms in the bloc that would deepen integration, including a joint eurozone budget or common finance ministry.

With the formation of a new coalition in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to continue talks about reforming the 19-country currency bloc with President Macron.

Value

But the smaller EU countries - which include Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden - are cautious about Mr Macron's ambitious plans and issued a joint statement.

"Further deepening of the economic and monetary union (EMU) should stress real value added, not far-reaching transfers of competence to the European level," the statement noted.

"For that reason the discussion on the deepening of the EMU should find a consensus on 'need to haves', instead of focussing on 'nice to haves'," it added.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has said, as far back as a year ago, that Ireland will need to develop new coalitions within Europe post-Brexit to ensure that its interests are heard.

At an address at the Institute of International and European Affairs last year, while he was Public Expenditure and Reform Minister, he said that the UK was one of Ireland's largest allies in the EU, particularly when articulating concerns and policy views on competition, the digital market and aviation.

But the Nordic members, along with Ireland and the Netherlands, often joined forces with Britain to battle more protectionist traditions in France and Germany.

With the election of President Macron, eurozone integration has been given fresh impetus.

The joint statement said that reforms should focus on completing the banking union, improving compliance with budget rules and setting up a European monetary fund (EMF), with more ambitious plans left for later.

It said that the integration plans should focus on areas where member states are already closest to a compromise, such as the completion of the banking union.

The group said that it supports the idea of expanding the European stability mechanism fund into an EMF, but said that it does not back the European Commission's proposal on having the European Parliament oversee it.

"An EMF should have greater responsibility for the development and monitoring of financial assistance programmes," the statement said.

"Decision-making should remain firmly in the hands of member states."

Irish Independent

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