Sunday 20 January 2019

We must see beyond EU fog to protect interests

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement at the CDU headquarters in Berlin after Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) voted to begin formal coalition talks with Chancellor Merkel's conservatives. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement at the CDU headquarters in Berlin after Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) voted to begin formal coalition talks with Chancellor Merkel's conservatives. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
Editorial

Editorial

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has got a welcome boost from long-time rivals in the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Delegates have voted to continue coalition talks with Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, increasing hopes of success.

The EU powerhouse has been without a new government since elections last September, and as Chancellor Merkel's caretaker role continues, so her authority is being eroded.

Ms Merkel's boosted hope of putting together another "grand coalition" with the SPD is good news for the European Union.

The SPD, led by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, is keener on new EU developments being championed by French President Emmanuel Macron than the cautious Ms Merkel.

Viewed from the outside, the renewed Berlin-Paris EU axis is good for the continuity of the European project in the wake of Brexit. But success in the marathon German government-making process is merely enhanced and is still not assured.

Equally, not all the projects being mooted by the dynamic Mr Macron are in Ireland's medium to longer-term interests. The Irish Government must see beyond the current fog of Brexit to other developments, notably continued efforts to co-ordinate company tax regimes.

Ireland's commitment to the European Union must continue. But we must also rigorously pursue our national interests within the EU.

Credit unions must heed calls for change

When the history of the second half of the past century comes to be written, the role of the credit union movement will feature in heroic terms. Local activists helped rescue people from evil loan sharks, and encourage self-reliance, thrift and dignity with a system of people's banks.

There will always be a need for this kind of local grassroots activism, which can transform people's lives. But times change, and organisations like credit unions must also take account of these changes. The recent boom and economic crash had an impact on a small number of credit unions that did not manage their extraordinary growth and other changes too well. But it is important to also note that these numbers were small, and in the main our credit unions stayed the course in very difficult times.

New research for the credit union movement here and in Britain, reported in this newspaper today, does ring some alarm bells. On the plus side, people's affection for credit unions remains strong. But the simpler reality is people are choosing not to borrow from their local credit union as in times past. Many are opting for banks instead, a trend that would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago.

The report also questions the value of the "merger mania", deemed by experts in the Department of Finance and Central Bank to be a panacea after the scares of the economic crash. Clearly, the mergers had implications for the local link between people and their credit union.

More alarmingly, the supposed improvement in financial performance arising from mergers is now also in doubt. Even more alarmingly, the current state of affairs now questions the very existence of this most valued movement in Irish life.

Irish Independent

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