Posted by Jason O on May 11, 2012 in Fiscal Treaty Referendum 2012
The talented Andrea Pappin and I have decided to put together a modest offering explaining or at least stirring questions (we hope) about the Fiscal Treaty, which you can access here.
Is it a Yes document? Well, I’m voting Yes, but, to be honest, I actually don’t know if she is. We’ve put together our thoughts on the treaty, and have tried to ask questions for people to consider rather than do a blatant “Vote Yes or they’ll murder us in our beds!” We did ask someone prominent on the No side to write something, but that person missed our deadline so we’ll just add their contribution in when we get it.
Anyway, have a read.
The issues upon which the Fiscal Treaty referendum will be decided seem to be solidifying around the question of access to future funding of public services. With that in mind, two questions for the No side occur to me:
1. If we accept that Sinn Fein have changed their view of the IMF from being absolute bastards to generous and decent lenders of last resort, does this mean that Sinn Fein will accept and support any new conditions required by the IMF for a post 2013 bailout?
2. Joe Higgins (to his credit) has suggested that the gap in spending be closed through increased taxation. He then, like every Irish politician, puts on his Progressive Democrat hat and pledges that the vast majority will not pay extra taxes, only the very wealthy. Does Joe believe that the very wealthy will sit quietly and pay the extra taxes required indefinitely? In other words, the only reason they are not paying more at present is because they were never asked?
There’s a repetitive nature to every Irish referendum on the EU. The Yes side, normally a centrist establishment, will make the usual “Yes to Jobs/Heart of Europe/Seat at the table/Send the right signal” arguments. The No side will run their standard “Vote No to change things you don’t like” position. But will a No vote change anything?
Quite possibly, but perhaps not in the way many on the No side suggest. Will a No vote mean that we will have no access to funds to plug our spending gap from the end of 2013? Again, possibly. The treaty says yes, but you can’t rule out the acrobatic legal suppleness of EU politicians. But let us suppose that it does rule out those funds. Then what?
Well, some months ago, I wrote that many former Yes campaigners were telling me privately that they were almost hoping for a No vote, because it would finally call the No side’s bluff in terms of cold hard cash to fund welfare and pensions. A No vote would lead to an emergency budget in 2013 that would be forced to finally implement the surgical amputation of a large part of our post World War Two social safety net and our public sector as a major employer in the state. This prospect has some on the economic far right rubbing their hands with glee, because not only will it be seen as not ideological but a fact of mathematics, but it will be irreversible. Think about it: We will be forced to close the spending gap through a mixture of massive spending cuts and to a lesser degree, through taxation. That means that in the future, if a left wing government wishes to reverse those cuts, it will have little choice but to raise taxation which is politically poisonous in what is essentially an economically libertarian country.
I am amazed that the hard left don’t see this. They will argue that the treaty will force cuts and tax rises by limiting borrowing anyway, which is true. But the difference is that EU funding will allow us to do it at our own pace, and make more pragmatic choices as the economy recovers. There will still be pain, but there will also be a controlled return to the bond markets and not the short, sharp heart attack of an instant balanced budget brought on through hubris on the hard left and to the secret delight of the economic far right.
I recently attended, and greatly enjoyed, a debate organised by Marc Coleman of Newstalk on behalf of the centre-right “National Forum” thinktank. The subject was the Fiscal Treaty, and the speakers were Brian Hayes TD, Minister of state at Finance, Eamon O Cuiv TD, Michael McDowell and Declan Ganley. A few observations:
Brian Hayes gave a pretty stock Vote Yes for Jobs/Send the right signals for FDI speech. Having said that, his speaking style was quite engaging, almost Blairite, and he did have the one killer line that the No campaign either avoid or struggle to engage with: What happens if we need a second bail out? He seemed on top of his brief, and along with Lucinda is beginning to emerge as one of the younger FGers worth watching.
Eamon O Cuiv is an odd fish that I can never quite work out. There seems to be a certain sincerity and thoughtfulness there, yet I can’t help thinking that he has never made a political sacrifice on a point of principle. His point seemed to be that we can blackmail Europe into giving us a deal on promissory notes and corporation tax. Curiously, he seemed to be against federalism but in favour of a federal EU banking regulator.
Declan Ganley was funny and very comfortable with the mantle of European Federalism. I’m not sure I agree with his stance on the FC, which seems to be to play chicken with the rest of Europe, and some aspects of his federalism would worry me, but he deserves credit for laying out a clear vision of the EU and its future direction. He also seems to have lost some of his more agressive style and it has done him good. Irish politics certainly gains from his participation.
Michael McDowell always reminds people when he speaks what we are missing from the Irish political scene. He’s a politican that likes ideas and discussing them, which is very refreshing compared to the “I’m calling for a full scale review” carry on that most Irish Pols offer. He strongly advocated a Yes vote, making the same “Who is going to pay?” argument that Brian Hayes made. He then attacked the concept of a United States of Europe on the grounds that there is no European demos. He made very valid points about the dangers an EU superstate without a real democratic anchor, but having listened, I’m still more with Ganley on this.
One other observation about the evening was the tone of the meeting. I spotted a lot of ex-PDs in the audience, and any mention of the Croke Park Agreement set off the crowd. Marc Coleman gave a pretty fiesty centre-right speech which was notable by its absence on the political arena, outlining a series of positions that a moderate US Republican or British Tory would regard as perfectly reasonable. I don’t say that disparagingly, by the way, what I mean is that it is a pretty disgraceful state of affairs that we don’t have a party advocating a clear centre-right pro-private sector position.
One other thing: Nessa Childers MEP spoke, giving a centre-left analysis. She was heckled a bit, but for the most part listened to. Curiously enough, I have always found right of centre meetings far more tolerant of left wing contributors (and rightly so) than vice versa. Or is that just me? One woman at the back called for a minute’s silence for that poor Greek bastard who took his own life. Do you ever notice how people who call for a minute’s silence always wait until they have exhausted what they want to say, and then want the minute’s silence from someone else’s speaking time? A pet peeve of mine.
You can get more information on the National Forum here. I’m not a member, by the way, but I would go to another meeting if it was a lively as this.