Sunday 24 June 2018

It's fun to love Europe right now, but foolish to trust too much

Leo Varadkar makes a coherent case for Europe but this love affair could prove ephemeral for Ireland, writes Colm McCarthy

Leo Varadkar makes a coherent case for Europe but this love affair could prove ephemeral for Ireland. Stock picture
Leo Varadkar makes a coherent case for Europe but this love affair could prove ephemeral for Ireland. Stock picture
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

Writing in these pages before Christmas, Leo Varadkar expressed the view that Ireland's natural home was in the European Union. He wrote: "Over the past few weeks the support we received from the EU negotiators and fellow Heads of State and Government was invaluable and was the clearest possible illustration of the values of the European Union, and why small countries are better off in a big union. It puts beyond any doubt that our future lies in the European Union at the heart of the common European home that we helped to build."

Compared to Britain's very public and unresolved nervous breakdown about its role in the 21st Century world, this is a coherent point of departure for Ireland's foreign policy. The Taoiseach though must surely understand that Ireland's love affair with the European Union could prove ephemeral. Support from Brussels for the retention of an open border post-Brexit has enthused both Government and Opposition politicians and deflated the small band of Irish Eurosceptics. But support from Brussels on this critical issue comes a few short years after the country was the victim of a straightforward stick-up, perpetrated by Jean-Claude Trichet's European Central Bank in Frankfurt with the knowledge, and for all we know, the active connivance, of the French and German finance ministries.

Trichet threatened two successive Irish governments with the withdrawal of liquidity support to the banking system in 2010 and 2011, unless the government paid numerous billions to unsecured and unguaranteed bondholders in bust banks which had already closed for keeps. There were justifiable suspicions at the time, never subsequently dispelled, that Irish taxpayers were subjected to an arbitrary levy, when the country was already in an IMF programme, designed to reassure lenders to the broader eurozone banking system and to the benefit, among others, of fragile French and German banks. The ECB manoeuvre was opposed, at the time and subsequently, by officials at the IMF, non-Europeans and the only members of the troika with no dog in the race.

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