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Time is short and Europe must act

Eight months after negotiating the terms of our €85bn bailout, representatives of the EU/ECB/IMF "troika" returned to Dublin yesterday to check up on our compliance with the terms of the November 2010 agreement.

Despite the change of government in March, the new regime has adhered strictly, too strictly claim some of its opponents, to the terms of the deal hammered out with the EU and the IMF.

This year's budget deficit is on target, the banking system has been rationalised and economic growth looks set to resume this year. The troika recognised this stating that Ireland had "continued to steadfastly implement" the terms of the November 2010 deal.

Yet despite being by far the best pupils in the bailout class, ratings agency Moody's slashed our credit rating to "junk" status earlier this week and the Government's hopes that Ireland can stage at least a partial return to the bond markets before the end of 2012 now look impossibly optimistic.

While Moody's took a lot of flak for cutting Ireland's credit rating, the truth was that, with Irish government 10-year bonds trading at just 55pc of their face value and yielding over 13pc, the credit rating agency was merely publicly stating what most bond investors had long since worked out for themselves. Blaming Moody's was a case of shooting the messenger.

However, while Moody's can hardly be blamed for telling it like it is, the failure of the principal eurozone member countries, Germany in particular, to agree on a long-term solution to the problems threatening to destroy the single currency has meant that all of our efforts have been in vain.

Ajai Chopra, the head of the IMF's mission to Ireland, said as much yesterday when he called for a "European solution to a European" problem. It is hard not to sympathise with Chopra and our own Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Under normal circumstances Ireland should be well on track to stage a partial return to the bond markets in the second half of 2012 before fully exiting the EU/IMF bailout programme in 2013.

Unfortunately the Irish bailout has fallen victim to European leaders' conflicting opinions on the nature of the eurozone. Despite overwhelming evidence that monetary union cannot survive without fiscal union and that the only way to avoid financial meltdown on the eurozone periphery is to federalise the debts of countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland, Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is the main beneficiary of the single currency, remains implacably opposed to such a move.

Further complicating matters is the ECB's obstinate, some would say mad, refusal to countenance any write-down of government or bank bonds. Meanwhile, as the EU and the ECB fiddle, the eurozone burns.

With the crisis having now spread to Italy, the eurozone's third-largest economy, the drift and dither that has substituted for policy for the past three years is no longer an option. If they wish the euro to survive the time has now come for Europe's leaders to choose.

Irish Independent