Saturday 24 February 2018

New book reveals how Merkel and Sarkozy tried to 'ambush' Enda over company tax

Enda Kenny, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel
Enda Kenny, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel

THEY were supposed to be bosom buddies, Enda and Angela.

They became friends because of their shared membership of the European People's Party (EPP), the centre-right grouping to which Fine Gael and Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats belong.

Fine Gael said the friendship grew from the numerous EPP meetings Mr Kenny attended while in opposition.

Although Ms Merkel might never join Mr Kenny to climb Croagh Patrick, a connection existed between the two and this was evident in the Berlin meeting and photo-op the German chancellor granted the now Taoiseach during the last general election campaign.

Access was extremely limited to that meeting. One photographer and cameraman were briefly allowed into the room in Ms Merkel's party headquarters in Berlin to get a few shots of a handshake, before Mr Kenny came back downstairs to talk to reporters.

Intriguingly, one of the cameras was left on and some audio of the two chatting – Ms Merkel speaking in clipped English – was recorded, although the hyper-sensitive German press operation insisted it was not to be broadcast or even reported on.

But the snippet of conversation was nevertheless fascinating. The chancellor asked Mr Kenny how the Irish election was going and he reassured her it was going very, very well for Fine Gael.

Weeks later the bonhomie disappeared as Kenny attended his first EU summit as Irish leader.

The attempted "mugging" of Mr Kenny by Ms Merkel and then French president Nicolas Sarkozy is recalled in a new book, 'The Price of Power: Inside Ireland's Crisis Coalition' by 'Sunday Business Post' journalist Pat Leahy.

Mr Leahy reveals more details of what quickly became known as the 'Gallic Spat', which saw Mr Sarkozy and Ms Merkel attempt to bounce Mr Kenny into concessions on Ireland's corporation tax rate in exchange for a better deal on the bailout loans. At the Brussels summit, Mr Kenny was called into a meeting with European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, where Mr Van Rompuy waffled about nothing at all, leading the new Taoiseach to wonder what was going on.

The French and German leaders arrived to ambush the Taoiseach, who immediately saw the set-up for what it was and resisted the pressure.

Mr Leahy notes that expert spinning by Government press secretary Eoghan O'Neachtain turned Mr Kenny's failure to secure a cut in bailout interest rates into a triumph against bullyboy tactics.

What easily could have been seen as a disaster was instead spun to portray Mr Kenny as gamely resisting the European powerhouses.

The title of Mr Leahy's book could just as easily be 'Move Along, Nothing to See Here' since it portrays a Government sometimes living on the edge as it seeks to repair the economy and exit the bailout.

Another example was the chaos surrounding attempts to impose losses on senior bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank in March 2011, something that sounded good during the election campaign.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan was scheduled to make a Dail announcement on the afternoon of March 31, to the effect that bondholders would be burned.

According to Mr Leahy, Enda Kenny's chief adviser Mark Kennelly didn't want his boss facing a hostile media at a press conference, but Mr O'Neachtain insisted the Taoiseach had to lead on such an important issue, or else be slated.

"Ye're the ones who promised to burn bondholders," the former army man told Mr Kennelly, pointing out that Fine Gael and Labour had yet to even spark a match.

By Fiach Kelly

Irish Independent

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