Tory-bashing and crisis economics

Friday 24 May 2013 08.37

By Seán Whelan, Economics Correspondent

Michael Martin has just made an important speech staking out radically new policy territory for Fianna Fáil on Europe, Britain and Ireland.  In it he says:

- The economic crisis is so deep the EU can no longer keep watering down agreements to find the lowest common denominator.

- If that means a two speed Europe, the so be it.

- Britain’s in/out debate cannot be allowed to paralyse decision making for the next four years – important decisions must be taken now to restore the economy.

- The EU needs economic stabilisers like the US federal transfer system – if that needs a direct EU tax to fund it, he will support it.

-  Ireland must get ready for a British exit from the EU – every government department should be preparing action plans now.

- Ireland should spell out what it wants from the EU and work with other countries to advance this agenda – it is no longer good enough to drift along with other people’s ideas and tinker at the edges.

Above all he said the Ireland “needs to stand up to the British Tory view of Europe”.

Micheal Martin told the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin that he is convinced a reformed EU is vital to Ireland’s future. But he says the Union is not working the way it is now.  He said the EU does not have an agenda for overcoming the recession, and doesn’t even recognise there is a grave fracture in the union, that its debates are far behind the reality on the ground, and that the EU is fast losing legitimacy among the populations of Europe.

It wasn’t just the British who were targeted – without naming them explicitly it was clear he is ready to have a cut at the German view of the crisis and how it should be dealt with as well.  He said the EU must stop expecting universal austerity to deliver growth. The policy is not working and needs to change.

As for Ireland, he says it needs to adopt a new role in Europe – that of critical friend – not afraid to speak out when it sees things it doesn’t like, and not afraid to advance its own policy ideas and seek out allies to progress them.  This would be a radical break with past Irish practice at EU level.

“Our gradualist and conservative views worked for us in the past, but now we must define what our ideas are”.

The price of keeping Britain in the EU and satisfy the Tory Eurosceptics may well be too high, and this country should be prepared for a British exit.  In communicating to the Irish people he set out a clear party line of opposition to the “British Tory view of Europe”.

He said the idea current among some in London that Britain can leave the EU and enjoy all the benefits of the single market was not on.  And he said the EU risked damaging itself if it allowed Tory policy to dominate debate.

“If we allow those looking for re-nationalisation of powers to dominate the EU  agenda there will be a huge opportunity cost”, he said. The risk is that too much time and energy is spent trying to deal with the British view when it should be poured into dealing with the economic crisis – by developing the Banking Union among other things – as well as dealing with the undermining of democratic legitimacy of the EU, which is being eroded by the poor efforts to deal with it.

“People will be too focussed on trying to keep Britain in rather than deciding what price is worth paying. We need to focus on how the EU can be the driving force for social and economic developments over the next 20 to 30 years, not following the British Tory agenda for hollowing out the EU.”

This new European policy is likely to feature in next year’s European Parliament Elections, when Fianna Fáil will face its first countrywide electoral test since it lost power – and challenges from the left and right that may try and surf on the Eurosceptic waves coming from London.  With some very selective “Brit bashing”, Fianna Fáil will be trying to be both nationalist and European at the same time.

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