Tuesday 10 December 2019

Our EU masters will make us a vassal state

To escape the clutches of the Troika and maintain our sovereignty, we must urgently reduce our budget deficit, says Jody Corcoran

While the Heads of Government were in Brussels on Thursday to rubberstamp a Franco-German plan to subjugate Europe, breathtaking in its ambition, the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, was in Dublin.

Mr Bruton -- also a former EU Ambassador to the US, and a member of what is euphemistically referred to as a "think tank", the Centre for European Policy Studies -- was here to deliver a speech to the Google Leaders' Forum at the Google Headquarters on Barrow Street.

To these multinational leaders of now and the future, Mr Bruton set out a "simple remedy" to a problem, what we might call the near total absence of democracy at the heart of the European project: the direct election of a President of the European Union. "European patriotism," he said, "like national patriotism, is not something that will arise spontaneously."

He then chose to use the unnerving language of a true propagandist: European patriotism, he said, had to be "fostered by the use of symbols, and appeals to people's emotions, by political leaders who make a conscious decision to do so".

In Brussels, meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy was about to not only warm to this theme but to take it significantly further, to let the cat out of the bag, as it were.

As mandarins from the Franco-German alliance packed their bags to take up residence in Athens, President Sarkozy said the deal signed had laid the foundations for the creation of an "economic government" of Europe.

The night before, on the eighth floor of the German chancellery, amid what we were told were white walls, grey carpet, white sofas and a Picasso portrait, le petit president and the dour chancellor were putting the finishing touches to a Great Leap Forward.

In the decades and centuries to come, our great grandchildren will look to this seminal moment when aboard a red-eye to Beijing, and may say when asked: "I am from Europe."

Over a dinner of roast duck and potato puree, Sarkozy and Merkel drew up their "bold and ambitious" plan. When it was done, the President of the European Central Bank was called in.

Jean-Claude Trichet, unelected, close to the end of his tenure, arrived from Frankfurt at around 10pm to have his rubber arm gently twisted, to formally, without ceremony, allow for Greece to become a protectorate of Europe, of its core -- that is, of France and Germany.

The plan was then dispatched to

a nondescript little man from Belgium, Herman Van Rompuy, the first long-term and full-time President of the European Council, unelected by the people.

His place in history assured, dutifully he had it cut and pasted and circulated to the Heads of Government, our own Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, among them. It was 4am on Thursday, July 21, 2011.

Enda Kenny was asleep at the time, content, perhaps, to dream up more ways to "spin" what was about to unfold as his honouring of an election promise.

Six months earlier, full of vim and vinegar, the new Taoiseach, the accidental taoiseach, had gone to Brussels for his first meeting as a Head of Government -- a small head, it must be said, in the great scheme of things.

There are 330 million people in the 17 countries of the eurozone, an area which has a Gross Domestic Product of €9,200bn; in Ireland there are just 4.6 million and a GDP of a mere €150bn.

In Brussels on March 11 last, swept away by the improbability of it all, Kenny had let loose: among other things, he had demanded a reduction in the interest rate on Ireland's bailout. "Kenny was v cocky . . . Kenny had a terrible impact," it subsequently emerged.

Le petit president, in particular, had bristled at this upstart from the periphery. How dare he.

To make the Great Leap Forward, Sarkozy reminded Kenny of a requirement of Ireland, inter alia, that our corporate tax rate on the Googles of his world be raised in line with the rest of Europe.

Chastened somewhat by this baptism of fire, Kenny would retreat to safer ground, to attacks on the Vatican, the judiciary and any other individual or entity otherwise known as fish in a barrel.

That nondescript Belgian, Van Rompuy, was dispatched to Dublin by his paymasters in Europe: what, precisely, would be wrong with the empty formula of words you were offered, he asked of the Taoiseach -- "constructive engagement on tax co-ordination"?

At the age of 60, about Leinster House for 36 years, the new Taoiseach had been around long enough to know a festering rat when he smelled one.

The crisis in Europe, meanwhile -- some would say -- had been allowed to get to such a point that a Great Leap Forward was presented as the only option: Italy, Spain, even France herself was under threat.

The final realisation of a dream that had animated the founders of the Common Market more than 50 years ago was at hand: but the Taoiseach did not seem to realise it.

In the days leading up to Thursday, Kenny seemed anxious to play down the significance of it all, perhaps because he did not fully grasp the significance of it himself, that is, until the moment he awoke to find the grand plan dispatched by Van Rompuy in the dead of night.

For example, since his election, the Taoiseach has not had a single substantive bilateral meeting with a eurozone leader; he did not once lift a phone to a person of influence. He has said that he "delegated responsibility" to his Minister for Finance: let us not forget, then, the ignominy of Michael Noonan granted an audience with his then French counterpart, now IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, aboard a shuttle bus in Budapest.

Enda Kenny awoke on Thursday to find his wildest dreams had come true, albeit in the short term.

To first take Athens (then Lisbon, Madrid, Rome and Dublin), the Franco-German alliance had acted decisively.

The bailout interest rate would be cut, not by 1 per cent as was offered to Kenny in March, but by 2 per cent and the payback period doubled to a minimum of 15 years.

Who could say no to that?

Then the kicker: the European Financial Stability Fund would be allowed to intervene in secondary bond markets to buy back debt, that is, France and Germany would underwrite Greece, the effect to subjugate one of the oldest and most profligate nations on earth.

As you might expect, Kenny seized upon the plan, preposterously, to spin it as an achievement of his Government.

To use the parlance of sport, the truth is that the new Taoiseach had managed to catch a breaking ball in his sleep. In doing so, an opportunity has been presented. However, the question is, will he take it?

The opportunity comes laced with risk. The offer made to Kenny last March, which he rejected -- "constructive engagement on tax co-ordination" -- is contained in the new deal: this time it is called "Ireland's willingness to participate constructively".

The Taoiseach maintains that Ireland's position has not changed, that the corporate tax issue is off the table, the Gallic spat at an end: "C'est fini."

If only it were that simple.

The intention of the Franco-German alliance is to immediately turn the screw on Ireland.

When he hailed his "bold and ambitious" plan to create an "economic government" of Europe, Sarkozy said this: "By the end of summer, Angela Merkel and I will be making joint proposals on economic government in the eurozone. Our ambition is to seize the Greek crisis to make a quantum leap in eurozone government."

He had the good grace to admit that such words were "once taboo"; but what was once taboo is now official policy, laid bare. The overarching ambition could not be clearer. Ball in hand, the Taoiseach has an opportunity -- call it a window -- which will be open for, at most, 18 months.

To escape the clutches of the Troika, and to reassert a measure of self-determination, Ireland's €18bn budget deficit must urgently be brought down to manageable proportions.

If the Taoiseach fails to do so, what amounts to a further bailout will be required in 2013, which will involve "selective default", the precedent now set, all underwritten by France and Germany, at which stage "c'est fini" will take on a different meaning.

In their shortsightedness, alas, the forces at home are already railing against him: the trade union movement, the public sector, some employers' organisations, his own backbench TDs, perhaps even some of those in Cabinet.

Motivated by a combination of immediate greed and a desire to maintain a form of social cohesion, the risk is that these forces will fail to see the bigger picture: that Ireland, like Greece, will end up a vassal state.

Add to that the influence being brought to bear by the grandees of Fine Gael, such as John Bruton, Peter Sutherland, even Pat Cox, the man most recently described as an "ultra-europhile".

Many prominent Europeans have privately welcomed the eurozone catastrophe, labelling it a "beneficial crisis": never waste a good recession, they say.

So the omens are not good.

The issue is relatively simple, though: on that red-eye to Beijing, how will you want your great grandchildren to reply: "I am from Europe" or "I am from Ireland"?

Greece was finally forced to surrender last week; others may quickly follow. The choice is clear: nothing less than the sovereignty of the State is now at stake.

Sunday Independent

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