herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

Ireland could be Iceland without EU, says Euro chief urging Yes vote

FRANK: EU Commission chief in Dublin as Lisbon debate heats up

IRELAND could have followed Iceland down the path to bankruptcy were it not for the EU, European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom has said.

Despite this belief, Ms Wallstrom also said that people were right to be Eurosceptic, but "Ireland would be so much worse off without Europe."

"It's no coincidence that Iceland chose to seek membership of the EU because they see the protection and solidarity that a country like Ireland can get," Ms Wallstrom told the Herald in an exclusive interview.

The Swedish politician is in Dublin to seek support for the Lisbon Treaty, and said her message was not that people should love Europe but they should work with it.

"We don't expect them to walk around cheering for the EU everyday. But people want the EU to be there when it has to be," she said, adding that the economic crash should help Irish people realise that.

"We admired and envied the Celtic Tiger and the way you used it. Today, most people feel the effects of the deep economic crisis.

"Everybody understands it has hit you in a different way because of the construction industry.

"But there is this solidarity and also protection by the EU. We have to live through this."

However, her colleagues in Brussels are acutely aware that domestic factors, including Brian Cowen's unpopularity, could mean 26 other countries get an answer to a question they never asked.

Ms Wallstrom said: "The national parliament has now been concluded in 26 member states, so the ratification is sort of set in 26 members' states.

"That is why what you do and your decision will affect the rest of Europe.

"That is why it is interesting and important what happens here," she said.

Noting what she believes are blatantly false posters belonging to the 'no' side, she the pro- Lisbon campaign is facing "an uphill task".

She said: "I can understand that this is not at all easy if you actually have to argue with this kind of statements that are false.

"I think it is important to meet with the 'no' side and those who still have concerns and want to have proper answers to their questions. We can only try to help and to be factual and correct."

She added: "I don't think anybody wants to speculate what happens in the case of a no vote.

"We can only explain, for example, what will be the immediate consequence for the Commission.

"That's the only thing I know as today, the paradox is that immediately the Commission will have to prepare the decision to reduce the numbers of the commissioners. Because of the Nice Treaty, from now on we will have to reduce the number of commissioners."

A commissioner for each member state was one of the concessions granted to Ireland after the rejected vote last year.

But she said the intervention in the Irish debate by outside parties should not be seen as a threat or a lecture.

"Maybe we don't tell you often enough: We want Ireland in the EU ... Ireland being in the EU, to the rest of the EU, it means so much," she said.

Read the full interview tomorrow, including why Irish childcare is lagging behind other countries, how the European Central Bank is prepared to put "an enormous amount of money" in Ireland and Ms Wallstrom's view that Charlie McCreevy must regret his loose tongue

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