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Kenny missed open goal in EU premier league


France's President Sarkozy and Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Photo: Reuters

France's President Sarkozy and Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Photo: Reuters

France's President Sarkozy and Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Photo: Reuters

Enda Kenny is the most popular politician in the country at the moment when really, if his Government was to do the job it was elected to do, he should be among the most unpopular.

In Europe, meanwhile, he is among the most unpopular, certainly with those who matter, at a time when Ireland needs to be making friends and influencing people.

It is a curious dichotomy which, on the face of it, can adduce a certain admiration for the man: we do enjoy a bit of bloodymindedness with the French and Germans, after all.

But it is also a lesson in the reality of politics on a big stage, as opposed to the backwaters at home, where Mr Kenny spent most of his career in relative obscurity.

The Taoiseach would seem intent on maintaining his popularity at home for a while yet, perhaps because it is so novel for him, and, on a human level, who can blame him?

It is nice to be liked, particularly for a man who has spent most of his time as a leader firmly rooted at the bottom of the popularity stakes.

He is to be admired, also, because he did not allow his holding of that position to deflect him from his determination to get the top job, that of leader of Fine Gael and the country, positions which he achieved through a measure of chance and cunning.

Now that he has scaled the heights, however, it is time for him to accept that he cannot disprove the universal truth that all political careers will end in failure.

Increasingly, it seems, the career of Enda Kenny will be judged not by success at home but by failure abroad, specifically in Europe, where he has performed poorly. His ultimate failure, then, is destined to be this: he clumsily contrived to barter away what remains of the country's independence.

This weekend we await an outcome on Tuesday of the unfolding disaster that is Greece, a country which was ill-prepared for the eurozone in 1999 and again in 2001 when it joined on the back of bogus budget figures.

While it is difficult to state with certainty what the outcome will be, it is comforting to hope that the elites in Europe will, somehow, contrive among themselves not to allow Greece to fail.

The repercussions of failure are too unpredictable to contain.

In the event that they succeed, and Greece is nailed to the cross of austerity, the elites will again plot the next Great Leap Froward.

Their argument is already well rehearsed: the ultimate solution to the eurozone debt crisis is ever deeper political union.

At home, the economy is on a course for a recovery of sorts. That course was charted before Mr Kenny became Taoiseach, and, since his election he has done nothing to alter it.

Therefore, all going well -- which should not be taken for granted -- Ireland will be accepted to have turned a corner around 2015, in time for the next election.

The expectation is that Mr Kenny will lead Fine Gael into that election.

Right now, I suspect, he may like to get out in time to write his own political obituary, which would be, to the effect, that he manned the tiller home.

When the time comes, however, it is more likely that the Taoiseach will succumb to the lure of another term, during which his failures in Europe will be manifest, to outweigh his successes at home, such as they may be.

That failure was evident shortly after Mr Kenny attended his first summit in Brussels as Taoiseach. At home his spindoctors presented it as a resounding success, but as time passes, a truth is emerging.

On March 14 last, the Economist magazine asked if Mr Kenny had missed a "golden opportunity" for an early success at the summit.

At that meeting, the Taoiseach made a plea for a reduction in the interest rate on Ireland's €85bn bailout.

The eurozone had agreed in principle to a reduction to match those of the IMF. But Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy said Mr Kenny should not get a discount without making a concession: their price, an increase in Ireland's 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate.

It was a concession Mr Kenny could not make. So the summit ended with Greece receiving a one per cent interest rate cut, while Ireland got nothing.

Mr Kenny was, however, said to have been offered an easier way out.

At his late-night press conference, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council who chaired the meeting, made an intriguing comment that did not get much attention at the time.

He said Ireland had not been asked to move either on the tax rate or tax base; it only had to promise "constructive engagement on tax co-ordination".

Had Mr Kenny signed up to such empty words, he could have brought home a reduction in Ireland's interest rate and the preservation of our corporate tax rate.

The Channel 4 journalist, Faisal Islam, put it more bluntly. He tweeted: "So I just got quite an interesting internal account of what happened between new Irish leader Kenny and Sarko/Merkel at the Euro Council" and "Kenny was v cocky: we are new Gov, bailout has to change". "Content/attitude stark comparison to humble Papandreou. Merk/Sarko v upset" and "EU source: "Kenny had a terrible impact".

Since then, the Taoiseach has spared no opportunity to blame Fianna Fail for his hostile reception in Europe. A flurry of diplomatic activity has been embarked upon, it is said, to undo the damage caused by previous administrations.

The truth would seem to be something else: on the back of the Celtic Tiger, Fianna Fail may have strutted an arrogant strut in Brussels to the irritation of many, but Mr Kenny's determination to make an impression, otherwise known as a-bull-in-a-china-shop approach, has not helped.

In the three months since, Ireland has been fighting a rearguard action to get back in front of the open goal which was presented to Mr Kenny when he attended his first summit.

Sarkozy is barely on speaking terms with him; Merkel is not as outwardly hostile, but is determinedly still plotting her own course, and that of Europe.

In March, on the basis of a discussion with his Taoiseach, Michael Noonan, to his embarrassment, prematurely announced that an interest rate cut was a done deal.

Now it has been left to the Finance Minister to pick up the china shop pieces.

Van Rompuy paid a visit to Dublin last weekend. Therefore, we can assume, a formula of words is still being worked upon to get everybody off a hook created by the bravado of buoyant Mr Kenny.

But the goal that was open in March is no longer so open. The French and the Germans are likely to demand more than "constructive engagement" from the Irish.

Therefore, it seems more likely than before that the price to be exacted will be a concession by Ireland on the harmonisation of the corporation tax base -- or no cut in the ruinous rate.

If the concession is given, it will, of course, be presented as a victory, even though it will be anything but: the truth is that it will be the thin end of a wedge towards the nirvana so beloved by the euro-elites, which is ever deeper union.

Never waste a good recession, they say.

Already, the elitists, such as Jean-Claude Trichet, are making it clear: "A European finance ministry would be an important first step," he said recently.

A former German foreign minister, in London a fortnight ago, was unrepentant in defending this approach. The most important foreign policy decisions made in postwar Germany, he said, were made in the teeth of public opposition: "It's called leadership."

In Dublin last week, the elitists were at it too. Peter Sutherland, a former Fine Gael EU Commissioner, said Ireland should be willing to cede more control to Brussels over fiscal and budgetary policy.

Pat Cox, another fatcat, who controversially defended the (some would say) failed European project on the Marian Finucane Show recently, is in line to be the Fine Gael candidate for the Presidency.

Hell, even the Taoiseach himself, talking to the employers' group Ibec last week, was reported to have made a "surprisingly pro-Europe speech", as well he might, now that he is scrambling to get back onside after getting stuck in a mess partly of his own making.

Sunday Independent