Monday 20 November 2017

John Downing: Enda Kenny can take solace from meeting 'worse political crocks' in EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May shares a joke and clasps hands with Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a group photo at the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May shares a joke and clasps hands with Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a group photo at the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels. Photo: Reuters
John Downing

John Downing

Enda Kenny returned from an EU leaders' summit yesterday with the air of a man who is 'going nowhere anytime soon'.

There is a growing buzz around Leinster House that the Taoiseach is in no rush to quit Government Buildings or the Fine Gael leadership.

There is a line of argument that the pressure is really on the would-be successors: Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald. Each of these has their hands full right now, and the longer they struggle, the better for the Taoiseach.

And the Taoiseach very probably felt better about his political lot looking at those around him at the two-day leaders' summit, which really only further sketched the myriad problems surrounding Brexit. In the margins of these jumbo EU set-piece meetings, there is always an air of convivial glad-handing and backslapping.

Sometimes it has taken on the air of a mutual admiration society. But not these days, as very many of the EU's national leaders are facing into very tricky times.

Take the once invincible German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. After a series of regional elections reverses she is battered by a rising right-wing, and her party is preparing for next year's federal election amid an anti-migration backlash.

'Mama Merkel' has been in power for 11 years and has yet to declare whether she will seek a remarkable fourth consecutive term.

She has known many better days in politics and a survey in late August for the 'Bild am Sonntag' newspaper showed just 42pc of Germans favoured her continuing and 50pc were against.

In France, President Francois Hollande is likely to be staring at the end of his political career.

His poll ratings have been lamentable for very many months and an opinion poll earlier this month showed him in 12th place among a list of likely next presidents.

Many in his Socialist Party want to ditch him in favour of his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, who has a better public image.

In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came into power three years ago promising a new era of political efficiency and stability. He has staked his future on a political reform referendum due on December 4, at one stage saying he would quit if it was rejected.

In Italy, as in Ireland and elsewhere, political leaders do not always get an answer to the political question they put in a referendum.

Many colleagues and allies have been less than committed in their support for his plans to slim down the decision-making process.

The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, probably wins the dubious accolade for being in the most parlous political situation. He has been in office as caretaker Prime Minister for almost a year and might still be looking at fighting a third general election since December 2015.

Rajoy's party actually won the two inconclusive elections but failed to get a majority. Tomorrow, the Spanish Socialist Party will meet to decide whether they will agree to at least abstain and allow Rajoy more room to govern. That would at least postpone another election in Spain. Enda Kenny could surely offer some pointers here.

Then there is the case of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who came into office in extraordinary circumstances last July.

Looked at dispassionately, she would appear to have operated extremely cleverly, backing the EU stay campaign in a very desultory way. Then she got elected Prime Minister without a contest in the wake of the June 23 shock Leave vote.

Ms May marked 100 days in office at the EU leaders' summit by having to wait five hours before she could address her "future former colleagues" for just five minutes.

But that is as nothing compared with what is to come and her longer-term tenure as Prime Minister is far from assured.

Critics can well point out that all of this amounts to coming at the argument from the wrong end. True, seeking out cases of people faring worse than you, is hardly the height of ambition.

But sometimes politics is just like that.

Irish Independent

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