Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Rescuing refugees from boats is right. But it is the beginning of the problem, not the end.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 30, 2015 in European Union

The return of the LE Eithne from its duties in the Mediterranean rescuing over 3000 refugees as part of Operation Pontus is rightfully a source of pride for the Irish people. When we see images of children being lifted from leaking boats we should indeed be proud of our Naval Service and their ability to play our part in the European operation to deal with the Mediterranean crisis.

Despite those images, we must be careful to realise that getting them safely onto Irish vessels, or even into an Italian port is not the end of the problem. As UN special representative on migration Peter Sutherland has pointed out, it simply isn’t fair to let the so-called frontline states like Italy carry the burden for what is essentially a European problem. Indeed, by showing such little support to Italy, we can hardly be surprised if Italian police then show a blind eye to those same migrants attempting to leave Italy and travel further into the European Union. This is a European problem that needs a European solution.

This crisis is almost the perfect storm in terms of political problems. Letting refugees into Europe, and essentially telling European citizens that we cannot control our own borders is fuelling the rise of the extremist far right. Abandoning refugees to their fate is morally unacceptable. Is the third option a recognition, therefore, that we must confront the reasons why so many people seek a new life in Europe?

We cannot blame people for seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Indeed, it is an awkward compliment that despite all the self-criticism Europe goes through, it is still seen as a land of peace, new hope and promise to so many. Therefore, if we do not want them to die, and do not want them in continental Europe, does it not mean that Europe must play a more robust role in creating a stable space in North Africa? In the past both Tony Blair and various German ministers have suggested the setting up of refugee camps in North Africa. But is creating vast camps just another short term solution? Instead, should the EU, with the consent of legitimate powers in the region, consider going further in terms of creating a stability zone, enforced by European troops, to act as a de facto magnet and processing centre for would-be refugees, and to relieve pressure on Italy and Greece by having somewhere safe to send them?

It is true, such a proposal has a hint of 19th Century White Man’s Burden about it. But let us be honest: we are faced with a desire by hundreds of thousands of people who wish to live under European government in Europe. Would helping them build some of that stability in a tiny piece of North Africa be such a bad thing? It is a radical concept. But given the scale of the crisis and its repercussions for European politics, reasonable men and women should consider all reasonable options.

The LE Niamh has replaced the Eithne on station, to permit the Eithne’s crew a well-earned rest, and will no doubt play just as significant a role in this humanitarian crisis. But it is a misuse of our professional military personnel to expect them to deal with the problem in the middle of the sea whilst their political masters in Dublin and Brussels remain paralysed by indecision and refuse to craft a credible long-term response to this crisis.


Two interesting political blogs.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 18, 2015 in European Union, Irish Politics

I’m always encouraged to see more online political debate about Irish politics, especially if it is of the rational debate of ideas as opposed to the hysterical name calling of  TheJournal.ie comment section. Here’s two  links worth a look at:

The first is www.politicalpeopleblog.com, which covers both Irish and international politics, and the second is The Arena, a weekly podcast with John O’Donovan, John McGuirk and Jonny Fallon under the need-no-introduction Slugger O’Toole label.

Have a goo.


The EU needs to show more imagination with Greece.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 4, 2015 in European Union

Greek flag 2Watching a Channel Four news report during the week, I was surprised to find myself tearing up at the interview of a young Greek woman who, despite her desperate situation, passionately defended being a European citizen and wanting to be part of Europe.

Regardless of how Greece votes tomorrow, Greece isn’t going away. Regardless of its recent political history, and the Troika’s failure with regard to Greece, these are Europeans too. We can’t let Europeans go without food or medicine, indeed, if that’s the EU we’ve created even I think we should abandon it.

Syriza (and the IMF) are quite correct. The Greeks, regardless of how they created the debt, can’t pay it back, and crippling the country in an attempt to avoid admitting that is plainly immoral.

Having said that, Syriza and most of their European Left supporters are in denial about where Greece must go now. Syriza were elected on an either deluded or plain dishonest platform of pretty much restoring the old patronage and tax evasion ways. They protest that, but it is the reality.

But enough of the finger pointing: how do we now help this great people, and they are a great people, get off their knees and take their place as an economically sustainable EU nation?

Is it time to offer a compact: direct temporary control of tax collection, business regulation, labour and market reforms by Brussels, in return for direct welfare payments to Greeks to create a social floor beneath which no one will fall? We help them reform the economy, and in return either set up distribution of food, medicine, etc, or put money straight into their bank accounts.

Yes, I know, it sounds crazy. This is a sovereign democratic nation. But these are not normal times and this is not a normal crisis, and whatever about the political difficulty of selling a bail out in Germany or Finland, there are few Europeans who will begrudge us helping those at the bottom of the Greek pile.

Would such a compact need another referendum? Almost certainly. But at least we could be sure that writing off debt would be going hand in hand with putting in place the requirements to help Greece transform itself.

Greece is a beautiful country with the potential to be Europe’s holiday destination of choice. Its people are decent, compassionate and not afraid of work. But someone has to destroy the political and social structures that allowed generations of politicians to tell people economic fantasy.

This will hurt. Liberalisation causes uncertainty, and people will have to retire later, and yes, pay more tax. But there is a way out, and as part of that I’d rather some Greek grandmother look at a box of medicine with an EU flag on it, and know that Europe was more concerned with getting her medicine to her than trying to stop it.


Does the EU need to give Greeks welfare payments directly?

Posted by Jason O on Jul 2, 2015 in European Union

berlin airliftI posted this blog in February 2012, and I’ve decided to re-post because I think it is more relevant today.

“The fact is, the Greek people seem to be sleepwalking towards the election of a radical government that is going to destroy their country and effectively take them out of the euro. Not all their reasons for voting for the Syriza coalition are illogical either, given the corruption of Greek politics and the real pain that ordinary Greeks are feeling. Even right wingers like me, who support the EU/IMF and recognise the need for harsh fiscal discipline in the country, are beginning to despair at what the Greek people are going through. The fact is, if we are not careful, we will see Greeks dying, or possibly suffer third world levels of poverty as their public infrastructure collapses.

But what is the solution? To keep giving a corrupt, incompetent Greek state money, which it will squander, or use to stave off vital long-term reforms?

Instead, is it time for the EU to consider direct welfare provision, to stave off the worst excesses and protect the most vulnerable? Should the EU offer to voluntarily register individual Greek citizens and pay them a weekly amount directly? Or what about creating EU public works programmes, such as hiring thousands of unemployed college graduates to collect taxes from businesses? Would it be patronising, even colonialist? Quite possibly, but bear in mind that it was the Greek government that created this insatiable public money devouring clientelist monster, not the EU. It would be voluntary, anyway, perhaps dispersed from EU embassies, effectively the biggest direct aid programme in Europe since Marshall Aid or the Berlin Airlift.

How ever we do it, we cannot let Greeks starve. This is Europe, for Christ’s sake, and these are Europeans too. We have to offer the Greek people a realistic alternative to austerity, that is, austerity with a purpose. Maybe putting much needed euro directly into the hands of Greeks in return for complying with the reforms needed to make the Greek economy self sustaining? Will it work? I don’t know. But a chink in the eurozone accompanied by a Greek default would surely be more expensive than giving every struggling Greek  €200 a week?

Of course, when I suggest something like this there’ll be the usual Irish voices demanding that any such funds be spent in Ireland, but the reality is that Greece is in a far worse state than Ireland, and unlike Ireland, is in serious danger of a military coup. One thing is certain, and this applies to Ireland as well as Greece. Whilst you must get taxes and spending into alignment, you just cannot cut your way out of a recession.”


Give Greece a wire brush write-off?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 30, 2015 in European Union, Events, The Sunday Business Post

Sunday business post logoPublished in The Sunday Business Post

15th March 2015

When it comes down to it, if they’re honest, the Germans will probably admit in private that there isn’t a hope in hell of Greece paying back its debt. They’ll also admit that the debt isn’t really the problem.

The real problem is that Angela’s hard line is beginning to take on the same golden calf standing in German politics as the commitment to restoring the national language is here. Except unlike us, the Germans tend to mean it.

We forget that for every Greek worker waving a sign saying “We are not a German colony” there’s a German worker happy to hold aloft a sign saying “Not a cent of my taxes, Angie!”, and unlike the Greeks, the Germans actually can remove her from office.

But what really matters to the Germans is the fear that firstly, the Greeks will immediately go back to their old ways of regarding taxation as being an interesting philosophical concept, and secondly, the Spanish, Irish, Portuguese and Italians will all suddenly stop self-flagellating, look at our trousers bunched around our ankles, and pull a collective “Now, hold on a minute!”

The trick then, is to find a way of cutting the Greeks some slack but doing it in such a way that the other problem countries do a Meatloaf: “I’ll do anything . . . but I won’t do THAT!”

A bit of imagination will be required. It’s all well and good signing memorandums of understanding, but nobody really believes them. You have to make them do something so humiliating that other countries baulk at the idea of requesting the same deal. For example, letting Brussels nominate the head of Greece’s tax collection authorities, and the head of its public service, and maybe even its finance, labour and justice ministers.

Extreme? Yes. Humiliating? Definitely. Worth a hundred billion of a write-off? Hmmm.

Would the Irish, Spanish or Italians concede the same? I doubt it. Sure, the wags say that Greece and Italy did actually let Brussels nominate their prime ministers, but this is much bigger. This is actual direct control.

Would we allow Olli Rehn be appointed to the Seanad and then made Minister for Taxation and Public Sector Reform for a €30 billion write-off? Sure, we announce, until he tries to bring in, say, Swedish tax transparency where everybody’s salary and tax is published online. Or tries to get us to pay for, God forbid, the actual amount of water we use?

How would our political class react if Brussels demanded that all our junior ministers not be members of the Oireachtas, but people technically knowledgeable of the portfolios they are covering?

How would learned colleagues in the Kings Inns react to a Dutch justice minister announcing that he was abolishing the difference between Irish barristers and solicitors? Good God man, an affront to democracy! There’d be wigs flying everywhere in indignation.

Suddenly €30 billion would become a mere metaphysical construct, something that pales into insignificance when your real live water bill arrives and the minister thinks nothing of turning off the water supply if you don’t pay, and doesn’t know or care who Joe Duffy is.

Yeah, the demonstrations will be all “national sovereignty now!” but the truth is that we wouldn’t want that nosy bloke from down the road looking up how much you actually earn and pay in tax, or that you don’t declare to the Revenue that mobile home you rent out every summer.

This would be the troika on speed with a SWAT team. We’d actually harp back nostalgically to Ajai Chopra and the way he’d look at you, peering over his half-moon glasses and saying “these ministerial pensions are a bit Liberace, aren’t they?”

And that’s the problem: the Greek compromise by its very nature, whilst relieving the actual pain of the Greek people, has to humiliate them to ensure that the rest of us don’t ask for a portion. We’ve got to wheel a lovely big wooden horse up to the gates of Athens, and everybody has to know what it means.

It’s like those old stories about how so many sexually transmitted diseases were solved with a bottle of Dettol and a wire brush. Has to be done, good in the long run, but still makes onlookers look on and exhale with a grimace thinking, “Thank Christ that’s not me.”


A few awkward things about the Greece situation.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 30, 2015 in European Union

1. It is indisputable that ordinary Greeks are hurting hard, as their economy constricts and public spending is curtailed. Ordinarily, lending Greece money to help them through a rough patch would be the decent thing to do.

2. However, Syriza seems far more interested in maintaining a public sector that Greece can not afford under its own resources, rather than figuring out a way of creating wealth to fund public services. Austerity is another word for maths.

3. Every country in the EU is a democracy, not just Greece. For every Greek on the streets demanding an end to “austerity” there’s a Finn, German or Dane telling her elected representatives “no more”. Greek democracy isn’t better than anyone else’s democracy.

4. The Greek referendum result should be taken for what it is. Yes means “We want to stay in Europe”, No means “We’ll take our chances”. Both results are legitimate, so please, spare us the No is a great democratic victory, Yes is a bullied people. The Greek people will vote in their own self-interest, as we do when we vote on EU treaties.

5. The Euro is flawed in design. We either go for a federal union, or this is going to happen again.

6. Greece should not have been let into the Euro in the first place.

7. Ireland is full of people and parties calling on other countries to give THEIR money to the Greeks. There’s then a lot of looking at shoes and out windows when they’re asked about giving our money. Same with Mediterranean refugees: great at demanding other people house and feed them. If people could eat guff and “solidarity”, the Irish Alphabet Left would have fed the Greek people ten times over.

8. Still, at least we’re getting a glimpse at Richard Boyd Barrett’s Ireland.

9. Having said all that, Greeks are going hungry and without medicine. I’d support the EU, using my taxes, setting up emergency relief centres to get aid directly to the people who need it. Just not through the Greek government. We need to show the Greeks that yes, they are our fellow Europeans and we do actually give a s**t. An EU without Greece is a poorer EU.


Ireland goes to war? A hypothetical scenario.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 5, 2015 in European Union, Irish Politics

NATO tanks1st December 2017: Russian forces enter Estonia, Finland and Poland, taking NATO by surprise. Resistance in all three countries is stiff, and US, UK, French, German and Italian aircraft all provide air support.

In the Dail, the Irish government condemns the invasion. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein call for the United Nations “to act”. They are not specific on detail.

2nd December: it is now clear that a full Russian invasion is underway. Media briefings in Moscow clarify that the purpose of the “pre-emptive defensive action” is to secure the Baltic states, Poland and Finland as neutral states outside of NATO. President Putin goes on TV to explain the action, and, speaking in fluent German, pledges that only those countries are combat areas, and that Russian forces will not invade other European countries.

Read more…


Why Canada, Australia and New Zealand should join the European Union.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 26, 2015 in European Union, Not quite serious.
Europe: not as much a place as a way of life.

Europe: not as much a place as a way of life.

For some reason, this is one of my most popular posts. Have no idea why.

As debate currently rages (why do debates always rage, and never, say, saunter?)  over Britain’s future in the EU, some UK eurosceptics are quick to point to the Commonwealth as a potential alternative. This got me thinking: never mind the Brits, why are we in the EU not trying to get Australia, New Zealand and Canada to join up? Now, before you go off shouting, hear me out.

There are good reasons:

1. Firstly, it’s true, None of them are actually in Europe. Meh. A minor detail at best. French Guyana is in the EU, and it’s not even in the same hemisphere. That’s the thing about Europeans: we’re very bendy. All three have European histories, and large sections of their population have direct links to the Old Continent. So we might have to change the name from the European Union to, say, the Democratic Union. Big deal.

2. Their head of state is half-German (and lives in Europe), and her husband is Greek. Australia’s prime minister was actually born in England. The previous one but one was Welsh. Seriously? They’re probably entitled to an EU passport already.

3. Admittedly, it would mean being in a political union with France, who exploded the odd atomic bomb near two of them. But the Brits exploded them IN Australia, and they were forgiven. And don’t say the Brits didn’t know what they were doing at the time. They didn’t explode them in Scotland, and hardly anyone lives there. Anyway, it’s not like Canada has no experience in dealing with stroppy French people anyway. Might even calm Quebec down.

4. Every single Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian would be entitled to live, work, study and vote in the EU. No visas, no nothing. They’d also get free emergency healthcare, and of course, tariff free access to the single European market and the upcoming EU-US free trade area. Europe would get access to Canada’s oil, Australia’s uranium, and New Zealand’s dwarves.

5. Australia and Canada would be the seventh largest countries of the 27 countries of the EU. They’d be big cheeses. New Zealand would be like Ireland without kiddie fiddling priests and banker-terrorists.

6. They wouldn’t be negotiating with the Chinese, a couple of million to one billion, but over 500 million to one billion. And with the US one-to-one. When George Bush threatened to put a tariff on European steel before the 2004 election, the EU threatened a tariff on Florida oranges. He backed down. That’s what having a single market of 500 million gets you.

7. All three share our values on everything from gun control to the death penalty to gay rights to social healthcare to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, stability, and a solid economy. And they are not run by people who are mad. Or at least no more mad than our ones.

8. Every fourteen years, they’d get to run the whole of Europe for six months. Including Britain. Assuming they stay.

9. They’d be entitled to a European commissioner, seats on the European Council of Ministers and the European Court, and about 80 seats in the European Parliament between them. Think about that: they could make 80 of their pols live in Belgium for months at a time. Offer that up front and they start drawing up the list in their heads.

10. No reason why an Australian, Canadian or Kiwi could not end up as President of Europe. After all, Canada has cultural and liguistic links with Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium. Australia and New Zealand with Ireland and the UK. And here’s the thing: no natural enemies. Europe is full of countries with grudges going back years: No one has a grudge against Canada, New Zealand or Australia, which makes them ideal for appointment to the top jobs.

11. Finally, and this is the best reason of all: imagine the fury amongst British eurosceptics if the three started negotiating to join, against the wishes of their betters.

Is it plausible? Who knows? I’m just saying, don’t be too hasty. At least have a browse through the brochure.


Is it time for Tony Blair’s immigration control zone?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 20, 2015 in European Union
Welcome to Blairsville?

Welcome to Blairsville?

Let’s stop beating around the bush here: there are two massive forces at work with regard to Mediterranean immigration into the European Union. The first is that Europe offers a perceived better life than the poverty and chaos going on to our south and east. The second is that the average European does not want thousands of refugees becoming our problem, and is voting for parties advocating a hardline. Awkward? Yes. Racist? Possibly. But that’s the reality facing Europe’s leaders, and managing it means that we must confront that reality.

Europeans don’t want refugees dying in their thousands off our coasts. Nor do we want our navies opening fire on them to discourage them, even if such a thing were legal. But what is the option? Where do we put them? We can’t just let them drown. This is Europe, for Christ’s sake.

Many years ago, Tony Blair suggested the idea of paying a North African country to act as our control zone, where refugees could be landed, provided for, and processed. It would at least provide a safe zone, ideally run directly by the EU, probably with European troops and support staff, for refugees to be sent and receive shelter and care. Secondly, it would allow Europe breathing space, to work out how to manage the inflow without just dumping thousands on the Italians, French and Spanish.

There’d be huge resistance to such an idea. It wouldn’t be long before the phrase “concentration camp” or colony would be bandied about, and it would be a costly operation, and that assumes we can find a location.

There’s also the reality that such a place would almost certainly not be a temporary location, but would become a society in its own right, with its own tensions and conflicts and our soldiers and police in the middle of it. But, if it were run well enough, with some integration into the European single market, many may choose to live there as a home, especially if entering the continental EU illegally will result in immediate deportation back to “the zone”. As well as all that, there’s no doubt that such a place will be come a magnet for immigrants in its own right.

It’s not an ideal solution, but seeing the death rate in the Mediterranean, it must surely now be considered.


When Greece left the Euro.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 21, 2015 in European Union

In the end, it came down to that much ballyhooed phrase, “national sovereignty”. For all the technical arguments between the Syriza government and its EU partners, the Greeks needed money and the rest of Europe didn’t believe it would get it back. After months of negotiations and little progress, the crisis in Athens forced the Tsipras; government’s hand. All the promises of restoring public sector employment and early retirement and spending to the old pre-crisis PASOK/New Democracy levels needed money, and Greece didn’t have it. What little money it had was going on barely keeping the creaking state going and paying the interest on eye-watering debts. Something had to give.

The South American option, default and devaluation, and with it a return to the Drachma, was the final tool in the box, and with angry crowds losing patience on the streets, and the fascist Golden Dawn now in second place in the polls, the decision was made. Greece was leaving the Euro.

The army sealed the borders as vehicles were searched to prevent the export of savings. Capital and withdrawal controls were introduced instantly, and the mint began printing the old notes once again. A swathe of new laws made it a criminal offence to keep large amounts of euros.

On the issue of debt, Prime Minister Tsipras and his finance minister found themselves battling the left of the coalition over the size of the default. Tsipras wanted to haircut the debt to a manageable level, but then promptly pay the new interest debt, believing it to be vital to eventually permit Greece to re-enter the bond markets at a future date. In particular, he wanted the government to focus on defaulting on other state debts. The communists in the government were outraged at any debt remaining, with some leaving the government immediately. But Tsipras got his way, and when Greece defaulted it maintained over half of its debt.

Devaluation sent imports, especially food and energy soaring in cost, with the government then having to subsidise both for a growing part of the population, eating again into state revenue. The tax system, which was now beginning to function in a more efficient manner, was slowly increasing tax revenue, especially on wealthy Greeks, but as every country has learnt, it had its problems. Ordinary Greeks took to the streets objecting to having to pay higher taxes alongside soaring imported goods prices caused by a feeble Drachma.  It wasn’t long before “Traitors!” was being sprayed on Syriza posters, and the prime minister and his finance minister were being jostled in public.

The government focussed on taking advantage of the weak Drachma to transform Greece into THE value destination for European tourism. Money was invested in tourist facilities, and Euro controls were loosened to permit hotels and resorts to source the supplies they needed. Across the EU, anti-EU parties started advocating Eurosceptics holiday in Greece, and the image of Nigel Farage puffing on a cigar on a Greek beach surrounded by buxom Greek women became iconic.

The government did find itself having to make awkward decisions. As tourism started to recover, the tourism industry warned the government that large numbers of people begging were beginning to swamp the resorts on the basis that tourists had money, leading to Syriza having to deploy police (and in some cases soldiers) to form checkpoints and clear the streets, a scene that did not go down well in left wing circles across Europe, nor in Greece, causing Syriza to lose its parliamentary majority.

Although the devaluation did lead to a modest recovery in employment in the tourist industry, the failure of the government to keep its promises on the public sector and spending meant that it was now being attacked on the left by communists and former Syriza members and the right by New Democracy and fascists.  The devaluation had now brought new problems with inflation soaring and the Bank of Greece aware that raising interest rates would not really help given the source of inflation. Tsipras and Varoufakis barely managed to block a proposal to get the central bank to just print more money.

A savage attack on a group of German tourists, killing two and injuring five, by supporters of Golden Dawn did not help the tourism led recovery, unleashing stories across Europe of muggings and begging and seriously dampening demand for Greek holidays with northern Europeans. The Greek tourist minister’s promise to put troops on the streets to protect  tourists became a spectacular own goal.

The government was faced with a dilemma. The only way out of its downward spiral was economic growth. The problem was that the actions needed to trigger that growth, including market and labour deregulation and lower taxation, were pretty much the exact opposite of what Syriza had been elected to do. Greek exports to the rest of Europe were growing as a result of devaluation, but the country was simply not producing enough export income to fund the social welfare system it wanted. Instead, it wanted the welfare system first. More Greeks were in employment now, but the soaring cost of living was making their standard of living worse than under the Troika. It was becoming a common joke that the Euro was still the de facto currency in Greece, with large purchases having an official Drachma price, and an under the table Euro price. Families kept Euros under the bed for a rainy day, despite the law.

Devaluation was also resulting in higher raw material costs, which began to feed through into export prices, making them less competitive.

Golden Dawn rallies attacked the government for not cracking down on immigration, and racial attacks were becoming more widespread, with the under-resourced police either stretched beyond capacity or in some cases sympathetic to Golden Dawn.

With no majority, and paralysed, the Syriza government called an election, with polls putting it in fourth place behind the Communists, New Democracy and Golden Dawn, all vying for top spot. The European Council, which had already suspended Greek voting rights after the Syriza government had unilaterally defaulted, warned that if Golden Dawn formed the next Greek government, the option of the expulsion of Greece from the EU would have to be considered.

On election night, Golden Dawn narrowly defeated New Democracy and won a majority. In his victory speech, the incoming prime minister announced that he had already negotiated a deal with Russia to build a massive Russian naval base. That night, 42 illegal immigrants were killed by fascist gangs, in some cases in plain sight of police. The Kremlin offered to send Russian police to assist in the maintaining of law and order.

Copyright © 2015 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.