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The Great Lisbon Tax Ambush

Posted on: June 9th, 2008 2 Comments

The Scene: the Elysee Palace, June 20 (next Saturday). A private breakfast celebration for five heads of state: Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and Gordon Brown are already seated.

French flunkey: “Madame et Messieurs: Monsieur le premier ministre d’Irlande, Brian Cowen.”

Applause as a triumphant Taoiseach enters the room.

Sarkozy: “Taoiseach, you are the toast of Europe. Yesterday was a historic victory for European democracy.”

Cowen: My arse it was. You cute whores ducked a referendum. Left me carrying the can. We pulled the fat out of the fire at the eleventh hour. No thanks to your Finance Minister, Nicolas, sounding off about her mad plans for tax harmonisation. I presume she will be sacked?

Silence.

Gordon Brown: How did you do it? I can’t even win a by-election, let alone a referendum.

Cowen: We mastered the art of glib slogans. We kept information to a minimum. We used weighty words like ‘Good for Ireland, Good for Europe’ and meaningless mantras like ‘For Jobs, the Economy and Ireland’s Future’.

Fooled the Irish people. We told them the minimum about what was in the treaty. We brought President Barroso to Dublin to scare the bejaysus out of them. Long term, it cost us in street ‘cred’. We buckled in front of the farmers. The campaign was all strokes and no substance.

But you guys pulled the ultimate stroke — by insisting it was not a new constitution, just a treaty.

Berlusconi: Stroke politics. Mamma Mia. That’s the language I love. You and I are going to get along famously. Could you depend on the media? For the next election would you consider buying the entire Irish media? I find it helps when you’re in a tight spot.

Cowen: Not yet.

Well, its great to be feted by the Big Five.

Anyone else coming to today’s celebration ?

Angela Merkel: No, we thought we would keep the party tight. We have some discreet business to do today. Welcome to the inner circle.

Cowen: (Gobbles an entire croissant in one mouthful). Thank you. We in Ireland knew that our devotion to the European cause would be recognised in a tangible form.

For a start, perhaps you could slip us a few bob to keep the farmers sweet? We may not be able to keep our promise to them. They bought into Lisbon at the last moment. What little package have you cooked up for Ireland?

Merkel: Glad you asked. Yes, we have prepared a package, a document for you to read.

Give it to him, Nicolas. We thought you could sell it to the Irish people .

Cowen: Thank you very much. What is in it ?

Merkel: Just a few paragraphs about tax.

Berlusconi: Tax? What’s tax? We in Italy pay the least tax in Europe. Long live the black economy.

Cowen: Jaysus. Is this the old document about tax harmonisation, about how to raise Ireland’s corporation tax to the level of yours at 30 per cent, Angela?

Is this the ominous tax proposal from the Commission that failed to surface before our referendum so as not to scare Irish business?

I will not even read it.

Sarkozy: No, no it is a variation on the theme.

Cowen: (Reads. Starts having convulsions.) You guys know I could never sell this piece of deceit to the Irish people. Quite the opposite: we will be vetoing any hike in our business taxes. It would bankrupt Ireland’s already fragile economy.

Hey lads, this is hardly the way to show gratitude to us for digging you out of a hole.

Sarkozy: Eaten croissants are soon forgotten.

Merkel: The introduction of the new tax will be staggered. We will dress it up as being “Good for Ireland, Good for Europe”. So will you.

Cowen: You guys must be joking ?

Gordon, surely you do not buy into this treachery?

Gordon: Umm, in principle we are not against it — nor in favour. In practice, a scary number of UK companies are thinking of locating in Ireland. They are causing us sleepless nights. We need similar tax status to Ireland. We see the merits in fair tax for all.

Cowen: Perfidious Albion. Forget it, lads. We will not hesitate to use our veto.

We are not for turning on tax harmonisation. All the US multinationals would take flight. What else have you to offer Ireland?

Sarkozy: Another croissant?

Merkel: We had been having a discussion before you arrived. We resolved that your veto could not last forever. So we decided to offer you a palliative for the day it goes.

Cowen: Merde. You will send me back to Dublin empty- handed.

Do your worst. I am off.

Merkel: Just a moment, before you lose the cool. If you insist on the veto, we might have to look at other areas of common interest.

You have an odd outfit in Ireland called FAS , I believe. It is due to receive €200m from Europe. We thought all that money for training seemed on the generous side.

We even noted that FAS was slated in a recent report for giving such bad value. Perhaps we should look again at our funding for FAS? We could suspend it — pending an investigation.

Cowen: You bastards.

Sarkozy: Be pragmatic, Taoiseach. In 10 days’ time France will take over the EU presidency.

We have energetic plans to help Ireland’s ambition to be a ‘knowledge economy’.

We had already earmarked billions for your universities, for Irish business and for research to make you the Silicon Valley of Europe.

We have committed €184bn towards your National Development Plan.

It would be such a pity if we had to divert this largesse to the new Eastern members, just because you insist on the veto.

Cowen: You will leave Ireland an industrial wasteland. The multinationals will vamoose. They need a highly educated workforce, above all else.

They are already belly- aching about our infrastructure — much of it funded by Europe. They do not come solely for the tax rate. We need the other components, too.

If you go ahead with this threat, we will create mayhem. Ireland’s Commissioner will block this proposal. We will obstruct it on the European Council . Our MEPs will take it to the floor of the parliament.

Sarkozy: That will be difficult.

As you know, the Lisbon Treaty dictates that you have no Commissioner at times, that your clout on the Council will be halved.

And Ireland will be but a pimple in the parliament.

You are now the eunuchs of Europe.

Cowen: You are a crowd of effers.

Sarkozy: Mais mon ami, that is what you voted for. Merci bien. You have done Europe a great service.

Berlusconi: Precisely. I applaud your honest campaign, your strokes.

And thank you for keeping mum about the treaty really being the rejected constitution in another guise. Quite a stroke. They never rumbled you.

So, let us talk turkey about tax.

Cowen: Is there anything else to eat for breakfast?

Sarkozy: You were quite enough.