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Put a cork in it, Jose, EU live in a bubble

You know you've reached rock bottom when even the Portuguese are having a pop.

This is a country where military dictatorship remains a fresh memory, and corruption is still at levels more often associated with former Soviet satellites; a country whose main economic achievement has been to become the world's leading producer of corks. Right now they face many of the same problems as Ireland -- basket case banks; high public debt; a dispirited people worn down by austerity and tax hikes; a divided and weak government with no popular support. The weather's better, that's all. The Portuguese will soon be running to the IMF and EU for assistance, just like we did -- probably because no matter how much extra wine we're all drinking to get through the day, there's still not a big enough worldwide market in corks to keep the senhors and senhoras in the manner to which they've grown accustomed.

Sadly, that hasn't stopped the country's great and good from lecturing the Irish on our own failures, chief amongst them being Jose Manuel Barroso, spud-faced former Maoist revolutionary turned centre-right career ladder-climber, who, by some stroke of good fortune, managed to wake up one day and find himself President of the European Commission despite not getting a single vote from any of the couple of hundred million people across the EU whose destiny he holds in his self-satisfied, unelected mitts. Last week he responded to criticism of the EU from Joe Higgins that the working class were being made to shoulder the burden for a failed banking system, by insisting Ireland had only itself to blame.

"It was not Europe that created this fiscally irresponsible situation," he harrumphed in Strasbourg. "The problems of Ireland were created by the irresponsible financial behaviour of some Irish institutions and by the lack of supervision in the Irish market."

None of which was exactly earth-shattering, except for reports which soon emerged that Barroso had been "furious" at being criticised. Joe Higgins can be a pain in the neck all right, but "furious"? Isn't that a bit of an overreaction? It's certainly an insight into the sealed universe inhabited by pompous, jumped-up European bigwigs. It surely can't be the first time Barroso has heard criticism of EU policy. Or maybe it is. These people exist in such a weird bubble that it's perfectly possible to believe they have no idea of what ordinary people actually think of them as their chauffeurs drive from one pointless meeting to another, with stops only for lunch at someone else's expense along the way.

Barroso's putdown would carry more weight if Ireland had been given the chance to sort out its problems without arm-twisting from the big boys in Brussels who didn't want their own financial misjudgments to finally backfire on them. Instead it suited them to pretend everything went bad just because a few miscreants in Dublin and Athens spoiled the party.

Lest he forget -- he'd definitely rather that we would -- Europe was the author of its own downfall, too. Don't forget the staggering hubris which followed the creation of the single currency; the bullying and blackmail which accompanied the Lisbon Treaty, when Barroso himself flew into Ireland, assuring us it was better to be part of one big happy family rather than going it alone. Some supportive family Europe turned out to be. They'll still be making a killing from Irish repayments on the bailout loan when the recession is nothing but a distant memory for them. Even now, they're still pretending that pouring another few billion here and there into struggling economies, whilst turning a blind eye to the deep structural failings of individual economies and the federalist EU project as a whole, will stave off disaster.

When disaster does finally strike, it's us who'll be left with the bill, whilst Barroso and his fellow cheerleaders for economic and political union will breeze off in their chauffeur-driven cars to the next well-paid job, still not bothering to put themselves to anything so vulgar as a popular vote, still smugly insisting they did nothing wrong.

That's the most maddening part of Barroso's insistence that there was a "lack of supervision in the Irish market". If he means that regulators here failed to spot that the ship of state had sprung a leak, he'd be dead right. What he really means, though, is that there was insufficient supervision by men like him in Europe and that everything would be tickety boo if only unelected Eurocrats had the power to strike a blue pencil through any parts of national budgets which didn't advance the interests of German and French finance.

As it happens, Joe Higgins was wrong as well -- and not simply because of his fetishistic obsession with the woes of the working class at a time when any fair-minded analysis would have to concede it is already struggling middle class homeowners who are bearing the brunt of this recession, and whose children, educated at great personal expense and sacrifice, are now emigrating, according to the ESRI, at the rate of 1,000 per week. More tellingly, Higgins was wrong to accuse Europe of destroying Irish living standards. We are the ones doing that by letting Europe have its way unchallenged.

Nothing's going to change after the election either, since politicians on all sides of the Dail are committed to doing things the Brussels way. Why wouldn't Europe save its own skin by throwing us to the wolves? It doesn't mean we have to open the door and invite in the wolves for dinner. That's the benefit about reaching rock bottom. It's a horrible feeling at first, but at least the only way is up. Since there's nothing to lose anymore, the possibilities for creative and independent thinking ought to be limitless.

We're behaving, though, like a battered wife who is still trying to curry favour with the brute who knocked her about, rather than showing him the door and starting over. Europe doesn't really care about us; its leaders don't ultimately give a hoot what happens here. They care what happens over there. Quite right too. But by the same token, we should also start putting our own interests first.

Sunday Independent