Saturday 19 October 2019

Editorial: 'Now is not the time for EU's larger beasts to break ranks'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar found himself at odds with Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, in Davos, yestertday. Photo: AP
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar found himself at odds with Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, in Davos, yestertday. Photo: AP


According to Aesop's Fables: "A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and we then know how to meet him."

And there is nothing like an existential crisis to separate the shallow from the steadfast when it comes to choosing companions for the hard road - or Border - for that matter.

Hot on the heels of Jacek Czaputowicz, Poland's foreign affairs minister, breaking ranks with the EU party line on Brexit, claiming Ireland has "treated the UK harshly"; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar found himself at odds with the country's prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, in Davos.

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Mr Morawiecki attacked "tax havens in Europe which abuse their power, or abuse their taxation systems".

With turmoil in London, the solid ground of consensus that had been holding among the EU 27 in support of our position is shifting.

This was inevitable, in the end there are only interests. The British have a £39bn (€45bn) divorce bill they can use as leverage.

The economic chaos a no-deal crash-out would guarantee can also be brandished to concentrate hearts and heads.

And the EU, after all, is only as strong as its resolve to hold together.

Managing Brexit is the biggest challenge it has faced since its foundation.

The Polish prime minister seized on the opportunity to declare himself a strong supporter of a digital tax for technology giants, to which Ireland is notably opposed.

Ireland opposed an EU plan to end national vetoes on tax matters in the EU.

It is clear the larger beasts in the EU forest will at some point be calling in favours down the line for standing with us on Brexit.

But now is not the time to break ranks nor seek advantage. Brussels must be aware of the signal that will be sent out regarding solidarity, loyalty and trust if Ireland is thrown to the wolves at the 11th hour to satisfy the interests of the larger beasts.

A divide-and-conquer agenda plays into the hands of those with a vested interest in disrupting the world's biggest trading bloc.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged a no deal would trigger a "major dilemma", which would require Ireland, the UK and EU to sit down "after a period of chaos" to hammer out an agreement.

He is correct. Brexit - orderly or not - does not dispense with honourable obligations on all sides. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said yesterday she would put all her efforts into a "well-ordered" Brexit.

"The easier the relationship, the easier for all of us," she said.

She appealed to think beyond narrow national agendas and to reform institutions with a view to achieving "win-win" outcomes.

A no deal would deliver quite the opposite.

Irish Independent

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