Saturday 25 January 2020

Enda jets off, shoes in his hand, to bend the ears of Europe's mama and papa

Sure all this slashing and cutting and snipping and raising and abolishing is a tiring business, you know. Quite exhausting, in fact.

Who could blame Enda for fancying a bit of post-Budget R&R in the south of France? Y'know, gather a few pals, nip down on the oul' jet (just pop into some handy head of government en route to make it official, like) and do a bit of sauntering along la Croisette in Cannes?

But quelle dommage -- those heady days have gone the way of dead things like the dodo and Anglo. And so last night, after two days of Budget bickering and a day of introducing a new euphemism into the political lexicon -- the Taoiseach announced yesterday that the ill-judged cut to disability allowances for young people has been "paused", subject to review, or in other words it's already fitted up in a concrete overcoat and is sleeping with the fishes -- Enda took to the skies.

However, he wasn't going on holliers. He was heading to Marseille for the Congress of the European People's Party (EPP), a pan-European grouping of which Fine Gael is a member, before then whizzing up to Brussels for what's being hailed as the last-gasp chance to rescue the eurozone.

And because it wasn't strictly government business but a party event, the Taoiseach left the jet in its hangar and took off his belt and shoes passing through security like everyone else, flying out on Air France first to Paris and then on to Marseille, arriving after 11pm.

This was one congress that he could ill-afford to miss. For the EPP aren't just a fringe group, but an immensely influential political family whose members include the Mama and Papa of the New Europe, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, along with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy. In other words, the very men (and woman) who have until the end of this week to save the euro are all (or nearly all, as Herman was remaining hermit-like in his Brussels bunker) in the same room today, and Enda has a golden opportunity to bend their collective ears.

Even though the event is usually more akin to an Ard Fheis, with the EPP passing resolutions and taking care of local business, all minds are concentrated on the eurozone and the Merkozy double-act to save it.

And so the EPP gathering has turned into a pre-summit summit, as 17 out of 27 EU heads of state belong to the party.

"It's one of the huge advantages of being in the EPP is that the Taoiseach gets to meet these people in a less pressured environment," said one insider.

And today when the 17 heads plus other powerful pooh-bahs such as Mr Barroso and European parliament president, Jerzy Buzek (the EU has more presidents than Mount Rushmore) sit down for their private session this morning, it's likely to be a robust discussion.

For not every member state is enthusiastic about the cunning plan of Merkozy to turn the eurozone countries into some sort of 'Star Trek'-style Borg Collective where all resistance is futile, and the German chancellor's talk of the need for a Lisbon III treaty referendum and the French president's heavy hints about fiddling with other nation's corporate tax rates have certainly spooked the Irish Government.

Yesterday in the first day of the congress, one of the earliest speakers, French prime minister Francois Fillon was acting as the floor-show for his boss, Sarko, and was banging the war-drum for him.

He dismissed doubts about the Merkozy double-act: "You should see it as a pioneering force to get us out of trouble," he told delegates.

"And to be blunt, we haven't seen any other proposals," he added daringly. Not everyone appeared to agree.

So despite his late flight, Enda will be up and at it early today, kicking off with a breakfast meeting with the Fine Gael team, followed by the summit in the congress building in the city, and then each leader will address the session, before they all dash off to Brussels to save the tottering euro.

Just another quiet week in the office, then.

Irish Independent

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