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Karen Coleman: Vote Yes to appease Merkel and Germany's taxpayers


IT would be foolish to expect significant reductions in our banking debts in return for a Yes vote on this fiscal compact treaty. And even if we do broker some sort of a deal, Angela Merkel will still have to sell that to her taxpayers who are already fed up of paying for the mistakes of profligate states. The fact that their banks lent stupidly to our banks is irrelevant for them. And now there's talk of bailout fatigue in Germany so expect even stiffer opposition to any easing of our debts.

It may take months, if not years, to persuade Ms Merkel and her EU counterparts to reduce our debts. Just see how Greece was pushed to the brink before its second bailout deal was given the green light. And Greece may still go bankrupt.

And here's another conundrum. We shouldn't be voting on this fiscal compact in any case because most of its rules have already been enshrined in EU legislation.

Confused? Let me explain.

Last December a new set of laws on how EU countries and particularly eurozone states should run their national budgets came into force. The measures are designed to prevent countries from running up massive debts and spending way beyond their means. Their aim is to prevent a recurrence of the kind of financial mayhem we're currently dealing with.

The so-called 'Six-Pack' deal imposes restrictions on the level of debt and spending EU countries can incur. It specifically reinforces previous attempts to get countries to keep their budget deficits below 3pc of GDP and government debt below 60pc of GDP.

Under these new economic governance rules, fines can be imposed on deficit sinners and the EU will have greater oversight into how member states run their fiscal affairs. The deal also includes an early warning system to detect potential financial landmines such as an Irish property bubble and gangster banking.

Sadly, these regulations come long after the horse has bolted. We really needed them during the boom years to stop our property bubble from mushrooming into a self-destructive disaster and to put a check on banks all over Europe from throwing money at cowboy outfits such as Anglo Irish.

This 'Six-Pack' deal was brokered after months of fraught negotiations involving European governments, the EU Commission and the European Parliament. It contains many of the measures now included in this new fiscal compact treaty.

So why are we having a referendum on rules already endorsed by all of the countries and institutions in the European Union? Good question.

The short answer is that we shouldn't be voting on it at all as it duplicates much of what is already EU law. The longer answer is that this fiscal compact is largely a face-saving exercise for Ms Merkel to convince her hard-working taxpayers to continue to cough up money to fund the bailouts.

But there's an added twist. Ms Merkel made additional demands for this new deal. She wanted these deficit rules to be enshrined in national legislation and preferably in national constitutions. And she secured the ultimate sting in the tail: countries that didn't sign up to it wouldn't be allowed access to future bailout funds.

And there's another twist.

This fiscal compact is not a European Union treaty. It's what they call an intergovernmental treaty. In other words, it's an agreement brokered by countries that are members of the European Union but who decided to do a deal among themselves after the British Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed the treaty. He refused to have anything to do with it because he feared it could lead to the erosion of British control over the financial services of the City of London. The Czech Republic has also refused to endorse it.

So to be clear, this treaty does not involve the EU institutions but instead is a deal struck by the governments of 25 EU states. And, unlike other EU treaties such as Lisbon and Nice, which required the unanimous approval of all member states, this treaty will come into force with the ratification of just 12 of the 17 eurozone countries.

SO we are now being asked to vote on a set of rules that have for the most part already been approved in a previous package enshrined under EU law. But this deal can be passed by a minority of member states and you now hear it being called the European Fiscal Stability Treaty which gives a dishonest impression that it's an EU treaty, which it is not.

If Ireland says No we will be prevented from accessing further bailout funds should we need them in the future. But if we say Yes we may well be enshrining tough new rules in our Constitution. And presumably that makes it more difficult to change or reverse them in the future if we want to.

There's a nasty stench of the backroom poker game about this whole thing and I fear it signals the development of the dreaded two-tier Europe. We are being backed into a corner with a gun to our heads. It is a deal largely led by Germany and it is being implemented outside the workings of the European Union. It is undemocratic and unwarranted. Now you may think that the EU and all those eurocrats and politicians in Brussels and Strasbourg are a waste of space but at least they represent some kind of democracy among the EU's 27 member states. This deal is a potent illustration of a new reality: Berlin, not Brussels, is calling the shots.

You can't blame Ms Merkel for looking out for her own people and trying to reassure the Germans that the taxes they're paying for the bailout funds are not going to be wasted. We'd probably do the same if we were in her shoes. And maybe it's a pity this determined lady isn't our Taoiseach.

And speaking of Enda Kenny, he will no doubt say that this process is democratic because we're getting to vote on it through the referendum. Besides, he's supporting it and didn't we vote him into office -- so isn't that democratic enough for us? But why would Enda Kenny endorse a deal that will come into force with the ratification of just 12 eurozone states?

And why would he support something that puts a gun to our heads and potentially catapults us into a no-man's land if we reject it? What's democratic about that?

Irish Independent