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Thursday 14 December 2017

Angela and Francois give peace a chance – but Enda's on the warpath

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

IT may have been all about giving out peaceful vibes, but the Taoiseach came over all warlike about the behaviour of our banks while he was in Oslo yesterday for the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize.

"The most obscene crime ever committed in Ireland was the scale of the economic burden placed on people as a consequence of incompetence, greed, corruption and whatever other areas will apply if and when court cases take place," he declared.

Enda sure has come a long way from the snowy slopes of Davos almost a year ago when he was nigh-buried under an avalanche of outrage for blaming the crash on the feckless natives – "We all went mad borrowing," he reckoned last January.

For a change, it was Angela Merkel who was misty-eyed. Actually, misty-eyed and a bit quivery-lipped. Onstage, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee was heaping praise on France and Germany for becoming such fast friends after the end of World War Two almost 70 years ago.

"The presence here today of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande makes this day particularly symbolic," declared Thorbjorn Jagland, as applause rang out around Oslo's City Hall.

Suddenly the pair, who were sitting side-by-side in the front row of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, jumped to their feet, turned to the crowd and raised their clasped hands like a tag-team of unlikely boxers.

In Nobel terms, it was the emotional equivalent of actress Gwyneth Paltrow's famous Oscar blubfest. Never mind that Francois and Angela have spent much of this year bickering over how to fix the eurozone (she says cut back, he says spend more), for this was a rare moment of showbiz for the battered behemoth that is the EU.

However, not everyone has cheered the decision to award the Nobel prize to the European Union – three former peace laureates, including Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu – criticised the choice.

But a spot of controversy didn't prevent the EU from putting on the ritz (even though the hooley was being hosted by a country that has twice refused the chance to join the euro-gang).

The award was being collected on behalf of the 500-million-strong euro-clan by a Troika of Top Dogs: Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso and Martin Schulz, the respective Presidents of the European Council, Commission and Parliament.

And there were stirring pro-EU speeches.

Jose Manuel pointed out that the EU "has overcome war and totalitarianism".

Herman recalled how, in 1940, "my father, then 17, had to dig his own grave. He got away, otherwise I would not be here today", he said. But he also referred to how the economic war was causing "great hardship and putting the political bonds of our union to the test".

However, the strongest words came from Mr Jagland, who cut through the prevailing rose-tinted hypocrisy in the room as to the benign and democratic-minded nature of the EU, by stating bluntly that much of the unrest across the continent was due to the failure to tackle the banking debt in a fair manner.

This fighting talk obviously stirred the Taoiseach's blood, for a short while later, he got stuck into the banjaxed banks.

"I think that struck a real chord with political leaders who are here present in Oslo," he said.

"Was it ever more evident – the impact of a bank on a country – than in our own case?"

But few of the leaders back-slapping each other in the hall could see the irony of their actions – that by constantly changing the goalposts and refusing to extend a helping hand to member countries like Ireland who are struggling to abide by the unfair rules, that the EU is stoking rebellion rather than promoting peace.

Mr Van Rompuy may have received an ovation for his evocative, Kennedy-esque declaration: "Ich bin ein Europaer."

But it's woefully clear that some Europeans are still more equal than others.

Irish Independent

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