GUESS who Eamon Gilmore will be rooting for in today’s French presidential election?
Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category
I AM thinking of going back on the drink next Sunday night. After more than 20 years on the wagon, I must issue a warning to innocent citizens that I intend to hit the bottle.
Husbands should lock up their wives. Pubs should close their doors. Motorists in the south Dublin region should steer clear of the roads.
There are two reasons for such a wild decision.
First, at about 9pm next Sunday, there could be good cause for a battered nation to celebrate.
At around that time, exit polls should show that Francois Hollande will be elected president of France. The implications for Europe and Ireland could be momentous.
SHOULD Enda Kenny back Francois Hollande, the socialist French presidential candidate?
This morning, he could do a lot worse than hop on the government jet and join Mr Hollande at a mass rally he is holding in Villepinte, outside Paris. The hot favourite for the presidency enters the final week of the first round of his campaign with the wind at his back.
Enda’s appearance on a platform with Francois would hardly go down a bomb with Nicolas Sarkozy. The incumbent French president is struggling to compete with Mr Hollande by holding his own rival rally down the road in the Place de la Concorde.
There is a lot at stake for Ireland — and Europe — in the French contest.
Last week, TDs were twice summoned into the Dail chamber for separate unscheduled announcements within 48 hours. The first summons was for the date of the referendum on the Fiscal Treaty. The second, for the details of the Anglo Irish promissory notes deal.
The official government line is that there is no connection between the referendum on Europe’s Fiscal Treaty and Europe’s green light for a delay on repaying the Anglo debt. The Government is scared stiff of getting up the nose of the European Central Bank, so the pretence has to persist that the twin stories — running in tandem to the hour — are just a coincidence.
In the world of realpolitik, there is now a better chance of the treaty being passed if Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan can convince us that the Anglo notes breakthrough is the first of a series of concessions from Europe.
WHAT was Michael Noonan up to on Wednesday night? The Minister for Finance told the Dail that a deal was close in the talks on the Anglo debt. No deal was done, but it was on the way.
The minister’s words, not for the first time, were in marked contrast to Enda Kenny’s lofty stance that wise men keep their mouths firmly shut during negotiations.
Ireland is, for once, in the driving seat in Europe. Let us enjoy the experience.
Enda Kenny was suddenly centre stage in Brussels on Thursday. No longer on the sidelines, you can bet your bottom deutschmark that Angela Merkel whispered in his ear; that she asked sotto voce if he could help her pet project — the fiscal treaty — over the referendum hurdle.
Angela will have been looking for the inside track.
In theory, the Irish referendum was not on the agenda, but it was on everyone’s lips.
Hopefully, Enda affected to be doubtful about the outcome when Angela or Nicolas tapped him on the shoulder and asked him for the lowdown on the referendum.
Perhaps he even confided in them, hinting at the results of a few negative private opinion polls. Hesitantly, he could have explained to Angela that we Irish are a very forgiving people. We bear no grudges, but are not gluttons for her austerity treaty.
He would do his best — but, funnily enough, yes… she could help.
Then perhaps he appealed for solidarity from his Christian Democratic sister, the German chancellor. And he could even have muttered a few timely reminders about the nightmare of the Lisbon referendum.
Let us hope he put the wind up Angela. And that he rather enjoyed the experience.
European leaders are keen as mustard that Ireland votes ‘Yes’. They are spinning a narrative of nonchalance. They are briefing that the treaty can go ahead with only 12 countries, that if Ireland wants to be left behind… well, who cares?
They are even saying that this referendum is different — because, this time, no country has a veto on the treaty.
The spinners are bluffing.
They certainly care. Otherwise they would never have agreed to tailor the wording of the treaty specifically to avoid a referendum in Ireland.
Now that they have failed with this little dodge, they will wish to soothe the wounds of the Irish people.
The last thing that European leaders need is for Ireland to opt out of this treaty.
In their eyes, the new rules of enforcement are necessary because of wayward souls like ourselves, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. They are horrified at the prospect of an errant outrider breaking the rules of fiscal rectitude, while remaining within the eurozone.
Europe is on a bit of a spit.
Bravo. It is time that Enda played hardball, took advantage of their dilemma — and put Ireland first.
He must seek a substantial write-off of the Anglo promissory notes — the vehicle that threatens to impose austerity on us for years to come — as the price of an easy passage for the plebiscite.
Kenny is playing a canny game — publicly. Good for him. On Thursday, he insisted that the Anglo promissory note is a completely separate matter from the referendum.
The Taoiseach says there is no linkage. Indeed he said “the Irish people will not be bribed” to pass the treaty.
Of course not. But it sure would help if we were given a leg-up on the debt.
Eamon Gilmore was peddling the same line in the Dail, just as Enda was on the plane for Brussels. He repeated that there was no link between the two.
Nobody is fooled. Taoiseach and Tanaiste know that powerful European leaders, with massive egos, cannot be seen back home to have surrendered in the face of threats from little Ireland.
But at long last we have been handed a weapon.
Nobody seems to have told Joan Burton — the woman who should have been Gilmore’s candidate for finance minister — not to fire the torpedo.
Joan, the Social Protection Minister, released the exocet when speaking to the Financial Times on Thursday. (It is a moot question what a Social Protection Minister was doing talking to the FT about a fiscal compact on behalf of the Irish Government.)
But Joan told the truth — which is a dangerous path to take in the current Coalition’s spinning game.
Her choice of the FT — with its European and global reach — may have made her cabinet colleagues mental. It will have raised eyebrows — and no little trepidation — in Brussels, where it will have been widely read.
The FT’s story was unambiguous, stating clearly that: “The European Union should cut the cost of Ireland’s banking bailout to help it pass the eurozone fiscal pact in a high- stakes referendum, according to a senior Irish minister.”
It went on to quote the minister as saying that “a move by Europe on the promissory notes would be very helpful in the referendum campaign and would be noted by the Irish people”. And in a direct link with the annual payment to repay the Anglo debt, she added: “Yes, of course it would be helpful, because €3.1bn is almost as much as the public spending cuts that have taken place annually.”
Wow. The shorthand was devastating: No more Anglo repayments means no more public spending cuts.
Burton was on the button. That is exactly what the people want to hear. Three cheers for an honest minister.
Cynics are suggesting that Joan was part of a more devious strategy. Was she sent out to relay the real message to Merkozy? A more menacing message that could be delivered by a maverick minister while the Taoiseach and Tanaiste hold the official line?
Perhaps, but Joan is no puppet of party leader Gilmore — who, after all, gave her no support when she was pitching for the big prize of Finance. She owes him nothing.
Yet there is undoubtedly a sub-plot operating. The strange refusal of the Government to give any indication of a referendum date is consistent with a deeper strategy. Presumably they are hoping to announce a deal on the Anglo promissory notes a couple of weeks before polling day?
Irish diplomats are probably working overtime in all 27 European capitals.
If the deal is struck, in accordance with their promises to Angela and Nicolas, Enda and Eamon will insist that the two issues are in no way linked. They will claim a “historic breakthrough”, but will maintain that the timing — just before polling day — is a coincidence.
Joan can express her pleasure at the achievement of her ambitions. And then she can demand, following the historic debt write-off, that her Department of Social Protection is spared any further cuts.
Mad bankers in Europe and mad bankers in Ireland created the Anglo debt. Citizens are being asked to repay it. The Irish public is entitled to demand that the European austerity treaty is matched by a reduction in austerity elsewhere. The link between the Anglo promissory notes and the future austerity of the treaty is crystal clear.
Enda and Eamon have been gifted an unexpected opening. They dreaded the prospect of a referendum, anticipating a humiliating defeat.
Suddenly they can turn it into a positive opportunity.
The referendum provides them with a sudden lever in their efforts to extract concessions on our debt from Europe. If Europe delivers on the debt, Ireland can deliver on the treaty.
Okay Enda, but what about the jobless back home in Ireland? They are beginning to repeat an old joke around Leinster House: Taoiseach Enda Kenny will soon be paying a State visit to Ireland — he wants to reconnect with the problems of his native people.
Kenny is on a global roll. Last week, after waving goodbye to his new friend, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, he announced that he himself would be heading over to China pronto — next month, presumably before the jet-lagged Xi forgets who he is.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Enda dropped into Dail Eireann to answer a few questions before jetting over to Berlin for dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Last Friday he flew to Rome to share his thoughts with the Italian premier, Mario Monti.
The photos were good.
The meeting with Merkel was not as exclusive as we were led to believe. Enda was lumped in with the third division European premiers of Latvia and the Czech Republic. The dinner wasn’t a one-to-one with Angela, but he still made it into division three.
The photos were good.
This week the Taoiseach is popping over to Brussels to tell all 27 European premiers how Ireland is toeing the European line.
The photos will be good.
Enda, the newly born statesman, has only just returned from the US pow-wowing with ex-president Bill Clinton, his second transatlantic visit in two weeks.
Kenny the world leader will be barging his way into the White House in three weeks on St Patrick’s Day to greet his old friend Barack. Hopefully he will manage to squeeze Barack in between his return trip to China and Easter recess. Earlier this month he was in Downing Street rubbing shoulders with David Cameron; in January he hosted a visit to Dublin for the UK’s deputy PM Nick Clegg.
Xi’s visit to Ireland was probably the highlight of Enda’s weeks of mixing with international statesmen. It has been hailed as “historic” and maybe it will be — but you can be sure that the only aspect of the Chinese VP’s stay in Ireland that will be remembered by the masses will be the photos of his gallant attempts at kicking a football and swinging a hurley.
Is Enda’s hob-nobbing with the mighty doing Ireland’s economy any good? It certainly gives Kenny a wonderful profile. It let him be pictured with Paypal’s vice president, the vivacious Louise Phelan, at a press conference announcing 1,000 jobs. It supposedly adds to his stature, to be greeted by Obama, Cameron, Xi, Merkel and Monti on equal terms. But is it reducing the jobless numbers at home?
Whether Kenny played any part in delivering the 1,000 Paypal jobs to Dundalk is unknown. The success is more likely to have been the result of solid work by the IDA over a number of years. Work that has brought Google, Facebook, Twitter and others to Dublin. But Enda is in the right place at the time of the arrival of more jobs. So he might as well cash in on it — call in the cameras and claim the credit.
God knows how the IDA’s reporting minister, Richard Bruton, feels about Enda stealing his thunder. Maybe Richard will be allowed to get in on the act soon as (according to the most successful of all State agencies) there are more in the pipeline. It is unlikely that the next jobs announcements will be on the same scale, so Richard will probably be allowed a slice of the action when it breaks.
Is there any substance behind the euphoria and the Kenny spinfest of recent events? Or is it just a ball of smoke?
Of course the Paypal expansion is great news. Jobs are gold dust and multinationals come bearing gold. These are genuinely good jobs. They are not part of Enda’s fantasy ‘Jobs Plan’ initiative, with its 270 measures unveiled amid great fanfare just 10 days ago. The 270 measures are unlikely to create even 270 jobs. Nor does the hard-nosed Paypal fit into the fairyland ‘Pathways to Work’ programme launched by Enda and Minister Joan Burton last Thursday.
Multinationals are the saviours of the economy. Without them we might see another 250,000 of our sons and daughters on the dole. One in seven Irish jobs exist courtesy of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Without them, emigration would have erupted, turning a flood of Ireland’s departing youth into a tsunami. US companies are keeping thousands of our sons and daughters at home.
So Enda’s and Richard Bruton’s efforts to bring foreign investment to Ireland should not be greeted by begrudgery. Nevertheless we need not take their role too seriously. Opportunist politicians invariably pop up when the IDA delivers the jobs. The photos fool plenty of people.
The spin is working, but the economy is not.
Amid all the bubbly comment about multinational jobs last week came a reality check.
The domestic economy is as flat as a pancake. Small business is in tatters. Jobs are being lost.
The unhelpful European Commission and the ESRI pricked Enda’s balloon. Both issued gloomy reports. The latest projections for Europe are depressing. The report from the Commission asserted that Europe was now in a “mild recession”; that Irish export growth will slow in 2012; that domestic demand will fall even further because of higher taxes, increased unemployment and households paying down debts.
And what about growth?
The European Commission manages to hold out the hope that it can reach 0.5 per cent. The ESRI puts it as high as 0.9 per cent. Bad news for Enda, who still insists that it will reach 1.3 per cent.
And jobs? The European Commission expects unemployment here to rise again this year. The ESRI anticipates an almost unchanged jobless rate of 14 per cent. It expects a small fall next year, but only because there will be further mass emigration. Even the government poodles in the Department of Finance admit that unemployment will stay above 14 per cent in 2012.
Has the Government simply given up the ghost on the jobless? Small and medium-sized businesses, critically important in the employment game, are closing their doors by the day. The Government is unmoved. The revival of an earlier discarded plan for the Government to dump the cost of statutory sick leave pay on businesses will bury a few struggling outfits and ensure that others lay off staff.
The Government should remember that the problem of absenteeism and statutory sick pay was created by Irish governments, not by small and medium-sized businesses.
Enda will be adding to the jobless numbers if he goes ahead with this.
Two seemingly paradoxical words — “jobless growth” — are creeping back into the economic debate. Decoded, they mean that exports may improve, but that the backbone of employment, the small and medium-sized businesses, are being sacrificed.
Successive governments, including Kenny’s, have played the multinational game skillfully.
Maybe all those trips overseas are paying off, but when Enda next spots Ireland from the government jet, he should ask the pilot to bring him down to earth in a small business park.
Brussels, last Monday. A meeting, on the margins of the summit, between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Angela Merkel: “Good morning, Mr Kelly. Perhaps when you have stopped horsing around with Nicolas for the cameras you might spare me a moment to give you your instructions? And no photo-ops today, please. I posed for a picture with you last year — which won you the general election.”
Enda: “Yes, Chancellor. Sorry, Chancellor.”
Angela: “That is okay. I understand. Nicolas is desperate. No one — including Carla — wants to be photographed with him since he lost his AAA rating.
“I have just heard — confidentially — from the ECB that your own Central Bank is forecasting that Ireland’s growth rate this year will be only 0.5 per cent. Brilliant. We Germans love low growth. Indeed, Citigroup is dubbing the Fiscal Compact Treaty — which you have just signed — as a ‘compact for low growth’. We Germans are salivating at the thought.”
Enda: “Great, the austerity programme is working. Down with growth.”
Angela: “Only last week, Mr Kelly, you confirmed that growth in Ireland would be 1.3 per cent this year. Nobody believed you, but you gave us the normal waffle about export-led expansion. All those multinationals must be doing well because the domestic economy in Ireland is on its knees.
“But how come your Central Bank is forecasting 0.5 per cent and you yourself are predicting 1.3 per cent?”
Enda: “A good question, Chancellor.”
Angela: “Well, answer it.”
Enda: “The Central Bank is on the button. I am gilding the lily a bit. My handlers tell me that we need to puff up the growth rate to make it look as if we will be able to pay off our debt. If we lower it to realistic levels, our debt repayment prospects will be seen as a fantasy. You and Nicolas will then say that our debt is unsustainable. The markets might take a poor view.
Angela: “Mmm. You nearly pulled a nice stunt on the markets last week with the bond swap. They almost believed that real investors were picking up Irish debt. You and I know that it was mostly State-owned Irish banks switching under pressure from your puppets in the NTMA. Nice one, Mr Kelly!”
Enda: “Did we fool them? Or do they still think the debt is unsustainable?”
Angela: “Of course it is unsustainable. Nothing could be more obvious. We fully support the rubbish you are pedalling about the debt. But privately we know that after Greece gets a second bailout we will have to rescue Portugal. Then it will be your turn. The end game is to keep Spain and Italy out of the emergency ward. You guys are small beer. We will bail you out because you are ultra-agreeable.
“But we will extract a price from you, of course. You will have to surrender a bit more autonomy, if you have any left by then. Maybe a little flexibility on corporate tax, Mr Kelly? So, tell me, why have you never demanded a debt write-off?”
Enda: “I never asked for a debt write-off because it never occurred to me that we could get one. Do you mean to say that we would have a chance if we asked?”
Angela: “You would be quids in, Mr Kelly. Nicolas, Mario Monti and I were only discussing it yesterday. We were gobsmacked that you had not yet sought a debt write-off. You keep restricting yourselves to seeking a change in the interest rate on the Anglo bonds. We know we will have to give you that. But when, when, when are you going to demand a write-off of the debt?
“I hate to say it, Mr Kelly, but you are a pushover.”
Enda: “Not today, anyway. I have told them back home that we will never be given a write-off.”
Angela: “Well, if you never ask, you will never get it. You also told them in the Dail that the growth rate would be 1.3 per cent, so they will soon rumble you as a spoofer.”
Enda: “How can I do a U-turn at home? I have almost brainwashed the Irish people into believing that a write-off is a lost cause. As a diversion, I have told them that a stimulus package for jobs is on the way from Europe.”
Angela: “Forget it, they are not totally stupid. They must know that it is a conjuring trick to run a stimulus package alongside this week’s austerity compact. We would rather hand the East back to the Russians or see the return of the Kaiser than permit you and the other spendthrift countries a stimulus. Instead, we will allow you to throw shapes at future summits about ‘the need for job creation’ and ‘help for small business’.”
Enda: “Thank you, Chancellor, thank you. I badly need to be seen to be promoting employment at a European level. Unemployment in Ireland is running at 14 per cent. We haven’t a clue what to do about it.”
Angela: “Bravo. Keep it right up there in the teens. And I see your Central Bank is now predicting that it will still be 14 per cent next year. That is wonderful. We Germans love to see high unemployment in other countries. It means austerity is working.
“Unemployment in Europe is running at its highest level since the euro began, while in Germany unemployment is falling. And our fellow fiscal disciplinarians in Netherlands and Austria are running unemployment at less than 5 per cent. What are your projections for Ireland’s numbers on the dole?”
Enda: “Pass, but they will be woeful.”
Angela: “Then why in the name of blessed Helmut Kohl did you sign the Fiscal Compact? Why in the name of God did you not threaten us in Europe and promise the Irish people back home a referendum on the treaty?”
Enda: “Wrong way round. My Government threatens Ireland and promises the earth to Europe. And as for a referendum, Chancellor? You must be joking. A treaty would be defeated. We are doing everything in our power to duck a referendum.
“We feared that you, Nicolas and Mario would go bananas if we put it to a vote. So we moved heaven and earth, simply to please you. We would far rather listen to the economic diktats — sorry, friendly advice — from Berlin, than bend to the will of the Irish people.”
Angela: “That is becoming increasingly obvious. Good. Good. Good. But we cannot understand why you do not lob the referendum grenade more often? Just to mark your card, we are scared stiff that Ireland will hold a referendum on anything at all. Why did you not hold one to amend the EU/IMF deal when you came into office last year?”
Enda: “Because we would have won it. You and Nicolas would have blown a gasket.”
Angela: “Mr Kelly, I have changed my mind. Let us pose for the picture after all. I do one with all my satellites.”
Enda: “Thank you, Chancellor. And you might just tell the photographer — for the caption — that the name is Kenny, not Kelly.”
Did the troika get it hopelessly wrong? Perhaps our less than welcome visitors have gone native.
A delicious thought occurs — that our persecutors will soon have egg all over their faces. All we now need is icing on the cake. What a bonus it would be to see Sarkozy bite the dust in the French presidential elections in May, and for Angela Merkel to be similarly humbled next year.
Keep your fingers crossed.
GOOD Christian that he is, Enda Kenny is surely a believer in the Second Coming.
Good citizen that the Taoiseach is, he is surely equally a believer in the second bailout of Ireland?
I hate to point out to him that there is far stronger evidence for the inevitability of the second bailout than for the second coming. And the second bailout is, sadly, probably a little more imminent.
Enda thinks the second coming will arrive first.