President Higgins defends criticism of EU's handling of economic crisis

Friday 03 May 2013 21.56
President Michael D Higgins said his remarks were right, proper and constitutional
President Michael D Higgins said his remarks were right, proper and constitutional

President Michael D Higgins has defended comments he made in yesterday's Financial Times in which he criticised aspects of how the EU is dealing with the economic crisis.

President Higgins said there was no difficulty as far as he is concerned about his remarks.

He said they were right, proper and constitutional.

President Higgins said: “What i was really doing in Strasbourg was addressing a debate, that I feel is very important, on the future of the union in a time of crisis." 

He continued: "I had in earlier speeches... spoken about the necessity to have the debate and for public intellectuals to participate in it. What I was really looking at was the importance of restoring the spirit that was in the founding treaties.”

Asked if he would continue to express his views on the matter, the President said that nobody would thank anyone for looking on at the very serious situation in Europe and not putting tuppence into the debate.

He said he was addressing a debate he believes to be very important on the future of the union at a time of crisis.

President Higgins said while people are not required to agree with him, he was making his contribution in a debate which he said is very important.

The President also said governments do what governments do, and he as President does as his oath asks him to do.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore yesterday welcomed the President's remarks.

Mr Gilmore said: "He was not just reflecting the position of the Irish Government, but reflecting a decision made by the European Commission, when the European Commission decided last June the link with bank and sovereign debt should be broken."

Fine Gael MEP and former presidential candidate Gay Mitchell also said he agrees with President Higgins.

He said that Europe should not continue with just one approach to the economic crisis.

Chair of the European Parliament's Monetary and Economic Affairs Committee Sharon Bowles has described President Higgins comments as mostly “well made”.

Ms Bowles said Mr Higgins had “hinted a lot” about his beliefs when he recently addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

She said the recent bailout of Cyprus had proven that “some countries were more equal than others” and expressed the fear that the “spirit was being ripped out of Europe”.

Ms Bowles felt it was "unlikely" that EU leaders would finalise their promises to break the vicious circle between sovereigns and banks, as called for by Mr Higgins, this side of the German general election.

She noted that the bond market had decided that “catastrophe would be averted” - hence the low yields recently - as there was “no other explanation” to their behaviour.

Ms Bowles said leaders had to make growth their "top priority" and not just pay "lip service".

She said there cannot be austerity with no prospect of growth as countries will therefore not be able to pay down their debts.

Ms Bowles said she felt the “tide was moving that way” but expressed concern that “it takes a long time to feed through”.