SO here’s the good news: after last night’s EU agreement to write off €100bn of Greek debt, Ireland now has a clear moral argument to be given the same treatment.
Now here’s the bad news: the deal also means that we are headed down the road towards another European referendum – and after the Lisbon Treaty trauma, that’s the last thing Enda Kenny needs.
Although the Taoiseach is trying his best to act tough, the reality is that he is little more than a helpless bystander as the great European powers try to sort out the worst financial crisis in EU history. France and Germany are clearly calling the shots, with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, painfully aware that the wrong decision now could cost them both their jobs. The deal that’s now been agreed is a massive risk, but perhaps the best option available – forcing European taxpayers to pick up the tab to save the euro.
What does this mean for Ireland? On a basic level, the official expansion of the eurozone’s main rescue fund to over €1 trillion (even if it has been done by smoke and mirrors) means our overall share of the burden should be substantially eased.
Unfortunately, there’s one enormous fly in this ointment. As well as resolving this nightmare, Europe’s leaders are determined to make sure nothing like it can ever happen again.
The chief lesson as far as they’re concerned is that monetary union without political union just doesn’t work – which is why they want another treaty to give Brussels even greater control over each country’s individual economy. But this could mean big trouble for Kenny’s Government. Another referendum would be an almighty struggle between powerful forces, with absolutely no guarantee of victory for either side. We have already given Brussels the right to examine a Government’s budget before it is presented to the Dail. Another treaty might well give them the power to write that budget as well. The Taoiseach insists that we must pay our debts, but many people are clearly sick of being told that there is no alternative – and a referendum would be the perfect opportunity for them to lash out at our new European masters.
It’s been obvious for a long time that Ireland is merely a pawn in a much bigger game of Euro-chess. Last night’s so-called “solution” has left that pawn looking just as weak and vulnerable as ever.