Friday 23 March 2018

Don't tangle with me, says Kenny, after a night of tough talk

How deal was done

Sarah Collins in Brussels

EU LEADERS shouldn't tangle with An Taoiseach, the man himself says.

Enda Kenny credits his softly, softly negotiating style with securing what he claims is a far-reaching deal to ease Ireland's bank debt burden, clinched after a hard day's night of summitry that descended into chaos shortly before midnight on Thursday.

As the final minutes of the Italy versus Germany semi-final at Euro 2012 were playing out on screen in the press bar of Brussels' Justus Lipsius building, five floors up Italian premier Mario Monti was threatening to give the boot to a €120bn growth pact.

The pact was to have been the feather in the cap of the EU's crisis-busting strategy.

There was talk around the table of breaking to watch the match, but the idea was swiftly ditched as tempers frayed.

At 10.30pm, Herman Van Rompuy, the unassuming ex-Belgian premier who chairs the EU's summits, emerged to brief the press.

"The discussion is not at all blocked," he said. Moments later, there was a mass exodus of besuited chiefs from the summit room.

They were the 10 non-eurozone premiers, shown the door after Mr Monti, backed by his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy, held the growth pact hostage in exchange for an emergency plan to stem the bond market rout plaguing both their countries.

Mr Van Rompuy quickly rejigged the agenda, dedicating the rest of the night to ending the impasse.

Meanwhile, squirrelled away down one of the Justus Lipsius's labyrinthine corridors, finance officials from the eurozone's 17 member countries were beavering away on a solution.

Running between that room and the summit proper was one of the Taoiseach's most trusted advisers and former deputy ambassador to the EU, Geraldine Byrne Nason. The bones of a solution began to emerge.

Just after 12.30am, a "non-paper" leaked out of the room. It spoke of "examining the situation of the Irish financial sector with a view of improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme".

It was a real surprise, given the Taoiseach's inscrutable comments earlier in the day about the need for "patience and timing" in European negotiations.

Not only that, but the paper opened up the possibility of the eurozone's rescue funds recapitalising banks directly and buying the bonds of stressed states, radical moves that had been dismissed out of hand repeatedly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Suddenly, at 1.15am, the diminutive French President Francois Hollande appeared, the lead author of the growth pact that was being held for the very stiff ransom of a relaxation of the terms of a Spanish and potential Italian bailout.

"It's complicated," he told reporters gathered in the French briefing room, declaring himself sympathetic to the Italian-Spanish cause. "Germany is seeking solutions."

Ireland didn't seem to feature on the radar until suddenly, at 4.30am, a breakthrough. It's finished. And the Irish deal was intact. Just the statement to finalise.


Shattered but satisfied, the Taoiseach greeted the press less than an hour later, declaring a "seismic shift in European policy". He was short on detail but long on triumphalism.

But how much of the deal was down to Italian and Spanish browbeating?

"They were expressing reservations when it really got into the deeper heat of the night," Mr Kenny said.

He preferred a lighter touch, he said. "To those the naysayers who say you should be beating the Lambeg drum up and down the streets of Europe, there is another way of getting results and that's what interests me," he said.

"I'm a hard grafter and as some of them found out, they shouldn't tangle with me too often," the Taoiseach added.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News