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John Drennan: Europe needs Ireland as much as we need EU allies

Michael Noonan's taciturn profile has, after those much-loved pre-election song and dance routines, come as a disappointment to some.

Ironically, the absence of noise may not actually be bad; for like all the best of those old-fashioned bank managers, finance ministers, if they wish to avoid trouble, shouldn't speak unless there is a purpose to it.

In fairness, Mr Noonan did finally locate his inner bark at last week's EU Council meeting where he noted the current penal rates of interest being charged as part of the 'bailout' were threatening rather than enhancing the stability of the eurozone.

The subsequent observation that the scenario where there was an EU crisis every three weeks over the diverse bailouts 'was not the smartest way of ensuring success' could be criticised for being a statement of the obvious.

However, the rarity of statements of the obvious that are also sensible in this unique crisis means we shouldn't be too scornful too quickly.

The decision of Mr Noonan to leave the closet of consensus should end the growing claims that the Finance Minister had been overwhelmed by the scale of the task he faces. In fact, far from being terrified, the silence of the wily old Limerick schoolteacher's caution is more likely to have been informed by that knowledge of history which tells politicians that when you are outnumbered by hostile enemies you must watch, wait and only strike when you are certain that you will at least survive the consequences of your actions.

We certainly have no shortage of the sort of enemies who, if faced with any displays of independence, are all too quick to tell us we should remember that the greatest gift the gods can give to any of us is the ability to see ourselves as others see us.

Unsurprisingly, since Mr Cowen and an addled government tossed our sovereignty into the IMF/EU Axis pawnshop with the insouciance of drunkards who pawn their wedding rings en route to the early house, we have been none too enthusiastic about this option.

Ireland may once have been the EU's virtuous scholarship child but by the close of the Ahern era we bore a closer resemblance to Hogarth's infamous A Rake's Progress. It is an evolution that has left the Government remarkably short of options for, if like Hogarth's rake we simply slump in our debtors' gaol, fit only to raise dirty hands in supplication to the world, the EU will continue to treat us like an immigrant chambermaid in an upmarket hotel.

We can, of course, threaten to burn the place down but the submissive conservative Irish, who like social order, savings, property and pensions, do not possess the insouciance of the Hellenes who merrily default on quite the regular basis.

Last week, however, Mr Noonan's temperate demarche was the first official indication by the Government that it may be time for Germany and France to realise that Ireland's difficulty is not, when it comes to corporation tax, their opportunity.

Instead, in a week where history was very much on our minds, our Franco-German EU 'partners' should brush up on their own respective histories for, as Marx, who was a far better philosopher than an economist, wisely noted, history when repeated generally ends in tragedy.

When it comes to the current Great Disruption, our German 'partners' should in particular recall the contrasting impacts of the very different allied responses to the First and Second World Wars.

In 1918 the decision of a vindictive allied command, driven by the perfidious French, to impose reparations, (most of which were never even collected) on the defeated Germans , was economically mad and morally dubious.

After an initial period of sullen acquiescence it inevitably plunged a continent into economic crisis and from thence an existential and moral wasteland of xenophobia and despair.

In contrast, after the Second World War, the Marshall Plan, which invested billions into the reconstruction of Europe and which was driven by an America that was never overburdened with historic notions or specious moral qualms, secured an entirely different result.

It should be noted that then, as now, it was no easy task to suggest building prosperity.

The popular thing, particularly with domestic electorates, would have been to squeeze Germany until she squealed. Instead, in Europe's version of 'curing Home Rule with kindness', America devised and funded a Roosevelt-style rescue that Germany, which was far less enthusiastic about theories of moral hazard back then, was more than willing to accept.

It would be excessive to compare the current crisis with the aftermath of the war, but Europe is experiencing its worst economic disruption since 1945. And the situation is deteriorating to such an extent that politicians are frantically inventing new economic 'terms of art' to disguise Greece's status as the designated canary in the coal mines of default.

The bad news for us, of course, is that in spite of the increasingly desperate claims that Ireland is not Greece, these days when our Hellenic cousins fall off the cliff, Ireland tends to be next. On one level it is understandable that an impatient untrammelled ECB elite and politicians, whose instincts are based on opposite principles to Franklin D Roosevelt's sanguine 'nothing to fear but fear itself' philosophy, are choosing the punitive road of reparations.

Just as an Irish lawyer never met a (legitimate!) cheque they could refuse, we already know to our cost that bankers and politicians will always take the unimaginative route if it is the easier option. The problem with the current 'easy option' of imposing a regicide's peace on the poor alleged Pigs is that, even as France's petit president looks fearfully in the charmless direction of Marine le Pen and Frau Merkel battles to avoid the disintegration of her party, there are other examples from history to show this fear-drenched response will not work.

Instead, like Europe in the Thirties, where the response to the then economic collapse of replacing free trade with tariffs only served to further collapse the continent's economy, the new punitive economics of crime and punishment are exacerbating our woes.

It is too optimistic to suggest that all we need to resolve Europe's crisis of fiscal sustainability is to realise, a la Mary Poppins, that 'a trillion or two of liquidity helps the austerity medicine go down'. But if we do not collectively devise imaginative methods to restore growth to Europe, in the long run the alleged Pigs, the ECB and German wolves and the French poodle will all be dead.

Today Europe is being governed by an equally unlovely duo for it is hard to expect too much radicalism will come from the unlovely handbag of a Merkel whose political ideology does not extend beyond the theories of the German hausfrau and a vainglorious opportunistic French lout.

It took 700 years for Britain to realise that when it came to Anglo-Irish relations, generosity reaped the biggest reward. We and the other alleged PIGS can only hope the hausfrau, the lout and the rest of our colonial masters learn the lessons of their own quite similar histories somewhat more swiftly.

Sunday Independent