Thursday 23 May 2019

Analysis: Ireland will still have allies, but none of the stature of UK


Once Britain leaves, Ireland will still have tax allies, but none of the stature of the UK
Once Britain leaves, Ireland will still have tax allies, but none of the stature of the UK
John Downing

John Downing

Ireland has worked in a sea of shifting alliances over its 45 years in the various manifestations of the European Union.

We have always coat-tailed France in matters agricultural since 1973. The Gallic heft to ensure its big tillage, dairy and beef producers are protected has proved a very useful shield as the Common Agricultural Policy was given several revamps.

When the hunt was on for major EU regional and social fund grants in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this country made common cause with others seeking compensation to bolster their economies against the economic shocks of the big EU projects. Ireland and others were keen, but fretful, about throwing open borders to trade, and also surrendering the right to devalue national currencies and fix interest rates as part of what would eventually become the euro.

Enter the so-called 'Poor Four' grouping of Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland, fighting to ensure a big aid fund was created. Then-Spanish premier Felipe Gonzalez famously did a late-night walk-out from a landmark leaders' summit in Edinburgh in December 1992, when he felt the funds were insufficient.

That walking terrace of houses, Helmut Kohl, stopped Gonzalez. Talks resumed and aid eventually flowed in significant amounts.

There have been other specific alliances around very specific issues. Over time, Irish officials learned the value of taking positions on some matters not of direct interest to Ireland. Support for another member state could later be traded for its support for an issue of importance for this country.

But in the horse-trading world of Brussels diplomacy, Ireland has had one constant ally: the United Kingdom. In the early 1990s, Ireland literally hid behind Britain on proposals to mirror economic unity with more common social policies, as championed by EU Commission president Jacques Delors.

The British popular press made Delors a hate figure, dubbing him as ready to "sneak socialism" into Maggie Thatcher's Britain "via the back Delors". British premier John Major became a victim of that rhetoric at a summit in Maastricht in 1991 and was obliged to opt the UK out of those social provisions. Ireland, happy the provisions were sufficiently weakened to not obstruct multinational investment, quietly signed up.

The UK's determination that taxation must remain a matter solely for member states has been a rock of reassurance for Ireland. Once Britain leaves, Ireland will still have tax allies, but none of the stature of the UK.

Yes, changes on taxation policy do require unanimity and everyone has to agree before that principle can be weakened. But subtle suggestions that "solidarity" with Irish interests on Brexit may be somehow linked to Ireland playing ball on EU tax policies are worrying.

They must and can be resisted. But such events ironically remind us how badly Ireland will miss the UK in the EU.

Irish Independent

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