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.”