Wednesday 18 September 2019

Meet the person who controls our finances

Government must run all of its plans by our Hungarian 'master', writes Ronald Quinlan

THE MAN IN CHARGE: Director of economic and financial affairs at the European Commission,
Istvan Szekely. Photo: David Conachy
THE MAN IN CHARGE: Director of economic and financial affairs at the European Commission, Istvan Szekely. Photo: David Conachy

FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan has said he will deliver the Government's three-year budget outlook in October in an effort to give certainty to the markets and to consumers.

What he hasn't said, however, is that before he delivers it, his ambitious plans will have to pass muster with the man whom UCD economist Morgan Kelly recently described as the EU's "proconsul" in Dublin, Dr Istvan Szekely.

And while that might sound like a mere formality given Ireland's strict adherence so far to the ambitious targets set by our EU and IMF overlords, Prof Kelly's claims in relation to Dr Szekely's negotiating style suggest otherwise.

"There's a Hungarian university lecturer called Istvan Szekely and he's essentially the EU proconsul in Dublin. Anything the Government wants to do, they go along and they talk to him. And he's a strange guy. If he doesn't like what they're saying, he stands up and he shouts at them, and he wags his finger. It's like primary school, very odd," Prof Kelly told a bemused audience at the Kilkenny Arts Festival three weeks ago.

Whether Prof Kelly's claim is true or not, we may never know.

Dr Szekely, for one, isn't telling. Contacted by the Sunday Independent for comment on the UCD academic's colourful description of his behaviour, he said simply: "Thank you very much for bringing this matter to my attention. I do not intend to react to this opinion in any form.

"But, as during previous review missions, I would be happy to discuss any matter related to the [EU/IMF] programme at the end of our next mission in October," he added.

The timing of Dr Szekely's upcoming visit to Dublin incidentally coincides with Mr Noonan's intention to deliver his three-year budgetary outlook.

And if you're looking to pin down the precise date of Mr Noonan's grand announcement, you could do worse than narrow your search down immediately to the period running from October 10 to October 20, dates that a spokesperson for the EU Commission says it expect the EU/IMF delegation to be in Dublin to conduct its latest review.

Contrary to the common misperception, Dr Szekely's work isn't confined to running the rule over and the red pen through Ireland's finances. According to the EU Commission, our Hungarian 'master' is, as a country director, responsible for the fiscal rectitude of no less than eight other EU states.

And while he is listed as a faculty member with the Department of Economics at the Corvinus University of Budapest, his affiliation is as an honorary associate professor, as opposed to lecturer.

Sunday Independent

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

Don't Miss