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Europe's route out of desolation

IT doesn't carry the romantic frisson of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, but should Europe align itself to Francois Hollande's slogan of "budgetary responsibility"? Yes. Austerity for life? No.

The Continent may finally have found a route out of its current desolation. In an uncertain world, few tears will be shed if austerity is on the rocks. After excess, a little of what you don't like can be good, but the austerity practised by Angela Merkel did not just resemble that superstitious school of medieval doctors who believed bleeding the patient until he died was the only solution.

Instead, the absence of reason behind the belief that cutting demand and employment would, by some strange alchemy, restore the Continent to growth and erode debt resembled some punitive religious mysticism, whose prime objective was to punish unworthy peripheral states for our profligacy.

The sentence was, however, curiously selective -- for banks wearing the German stripe escaped without sanction, whilst taxpayers of the Irish and Greek variety were destroyed.

And like many other variants of mysticism, there was also something profoundly amoral about a brutish project which has created a moral, economic and political failure of Weimar Republic proportions. The acquiescence of the Continent's elite to a collective Faustian pact with the world's bankers, in the hope that deference might save their hides, represents the clearest example of how the Berlusconi/Bertie age had removed any degree of ethical sensibility from politics.

The inevitable result of such a moral vacuum can now be seen in the coarsening of the political system by the rise of Sinn Fein and the French National Front.

It remains to be seen how the affairs of the world will affect a referendum which poses our electorate with what used to be quaintly referred to as a moral conundrum. A 'Yes' vote runs the risk that we will be seen to endorse the failed economics of the ECB, while our disingenuous Government is likely to misrepresent such a result as being an endorsement of its 2011 mandate.

But while this administration has done nothing to deserve such a boon, we and Sinn Fein know that voting 'No' would smash Ireland's attempt to return, bowing and scraping, to the parlour where the respectable European countries reside and -- more importantly still -- where American multinationals invest.

Though significant elements of justly disillusioned citizens are contemplating such a move, the intervention of the 'good' central banker Patrick Honohan, who sweetened the pill of current austerity with the promise of future flexibility, may persuade our conservative electorate to accept the less than glamorous 'safer alternative'.

Sunday Independent