Cormac Ó hEadhra interviews EU Ambassadors about the euro crisis, member states' relationship with the EU and relations between Ireland and the country they represent
One of the most dominant member states in the European Union has said it supports Ireland's effort to reach a deal on reducing its sovereign debt.
This is in stark contrast to Germany's view as expressed by Angela Merkel after last week's summit in Brussels.
When asked if Ireland had an ally in France in its effort to reach such a deal, the French Ambassador was unequivocal: "I would say definitely yes."
"We can understand at the moment Irish difficulty. The government had to take in a situation where the banking debt had been guaranteed by the State. We can understand how hard it is now for the public debt.
"So this separation between the banking debt and the sovereign debt looks to us quite reasonable, in a way. Because Ireland has been implementing very, very well the programme that has been imposed on it by the ECB and the IMF."
She added that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius made clear to the Tánaiste in Paris recently that France would support Ireland's interpretation of the June statement, which seemed to allow the use of ESM funds for legacy debt. This interpretation has since been disputed by Germany, the Netherlands and Finland.
When the issue of sovereign debt in other countries was discussed, Ms d'Achon said France recognised more solidarity was needed.
"Both Spain and Greece are going through difficult budgets at the moment...they are making a lot of effort. So at one point, just like Ireland, they need a reward. They need more solidarity from the partners."
Leadership in the EU
Ambassador d'Achon described the euro crisis as a "wake-up call for European countries". But she added the EU was now speaking with one voice (Van Rompuy) and that many "instruments" had been put in place to deal with the crisis.
"Even in the US they know where to phone when they want to call the EU."
She acknowledged however that public perception has to be worked on.
When asked about the influence of officials such as Mario Draghi of the ECB, Council President Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso of the Commission, though they are not directly elected, she mentions the European Parliament and says it is a "collective effort".
"Perhaps in the future we'll make progress on electing directly a President of Europe...who knows."
A "wealth tax" was part of the budget recently announced by the French government, led by Socialist President François Hollande, for people earning over €1m per annum.
When similar ideas are proposed in Ireland, some parties insist there would be a flight of capital or investment from the country and that job opportunities would be lost. The ambassador said this argument was also heard in France, but that it was a "gesture" and soon faded. "Most people are happy to do business in France, will continue to do so."
Could a similar tax work in Ireland? Though cautious about interfering in Irish tax policy, she says: "I don't think capital will flow away. There are still many, many incentives to come and invest in Ireland. Not least would be it's an English speaking country.
"It's a gate for many companies to work in Europe, in the eurozone...there's also a very business-friendly environment in Ireland."
Financial Transactions Tax
The ambassador also discussed the hotly disputed financial transactions tax, which has recently been agreed to by 11 eurozone countries, including France.
This has raised some eyebrows. Some commentators say this may lead to a fragmentation of not just the union but also the eurozone.
"Well I wouldn't say that we leave the others behind. We’re just offering an opportunity to join us...if others don't want to join, again it's not that there will be two different Europes. I think we can advance at two different paths."
Ireland is opposed to the financial transactions tax. The argument is that the Government wants the financial sector here to remain competitive, as many people are employed in it. When asked if she thinks Ireland should join the group of 11 member states who have agreed to the tax, the answer is affirmative.
"I think with what happened with the bankers here, I would think that some people in Ireland would support the tax, if it is well used after that...then, why not?"
She said France is in favour of the tax so the banking sector – which was, in part, responsible for the crisis – restores some of the lost resources.
France is among a group of countries enthusiastically discussing plans for a separate eurozone budget. This is part of fiscal integration and is distinct from the €140bn budget for the 27 member union.
Does this again raise the possibility of a two-speed Europe?
"If we have to work first with the eurozone members, it's not that we're leaving the other ones apart or aside, I mean it's just that...at 27 (member states), now quickly 28...we can work at different speeds."
This development will be closely watched by political and business interests here.
Corporate Tax Rate
There was much rhetoric in France before the presidential election in May about Ireland's relatively low corporate tax rate. Since François Hollande’s election, the issue has not come up.
Does the new administration have a more benign view or is it still a bone of contention and being worked on in the background?
"I think President Sarkozy made a big deal of it at the time. I think this question is very well understood in Paris. We know how important the corporate tax rate is for Ireland specifically right now, with the crisis going on and the fact that you are still in the programme."
Does that, therefore, signal the end of the threat to Ireland’s corporate tax rate?
"We have started to work quietly for a common consolidated tax base. We are not speaking about the rate anymore. Unfortunately for us we have, at the moment, lots of things on the agenda and I don’t think the corporate tax rate will be an issue for the next coming weeks."