“The European train will be leaving the station on January 1, 2013 and the Irish people should be on board.” So declared Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dail on Wednesday morning in response to a question of mine relating to the Referendum on the EU Fiscal Compact which the government has been obliged to call. The Taoiseach was speaking in Irish as it was ‘Lá na Gaeilge’, with Leaders’ Questions in Irish. However, the impression he was trying to convey was false in any language, which is that rejecting the Fiscal Compact would somehow mean not continuing as a member of the European Union or indeed as part of the Eurozone.
The Taoiseach evaded the main question that he was being asked in relation to the assertion that any EU Member State which rejects the compact would not be able to access funds from the European Stability Mechanism(ESM) in the event that this was needed. When the Treaty establishing the ESM as a bailout fund was signed in July of 2011, there was no mention of forcing participating Member States to implement aggressive deficit limitation and to sharply increase the power of the EU Commission to interfere in their financial affairs.
However in an amended version signed on February 2 this year, we find the clause, ‘It is acknowledged and agreed that the granting of financial assistance in the framework of new programmes under the ESM will be condition, as of March 2013, on the ratification of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance(Fiscal Compact) by the ESM member concerned.’ This is a blackmail clause designed to put pressure on the Member States to ratify the Fiscal Treaty.
There was no public debate about this change before it was signed. It was done quietly behind the backs of the people of Europe. Taoiseach Enda Kenny signed this amended agreement, thus conniving with the blackmailing of the Irish people in the event of a Referendum being held in this State, which is now of course the case.
It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister of any country in the position that Ireland has been reduced to by the activities of the financial speculators, should agree to clause like. Obviously, the Irish government wanted itself to have the propaganda weapon of being able to say to the Irish people that we would be isolated and bereft of any help in the event that the country experienced further difficulties necessitating some kind of financial assistance from the EU. And indeed we have already heard government spokespeople use language like this in advocating support for the compact which we on the Left are labelling the ‘Austerity Treaty’.
However, embarrassingly for the government and the backbench deputies from Fine Gael and the Labour Party, the story doesn’t end there. You see, even if the Taoiseach has signed the amended ESM Treaty, it cannot be ratified by this state until all the legal architecture has been put in place which includes also a change to one of the two cornerstone treaties of the EU, The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which requires unanimity to be accepted. That legal framework has still to be brought before the Dail and it has to be voted on and passed there.
This now raises starkly whether the backbench members of the government parties are going to support handing the EU bureaucracy a big stick to wave over out people’s heads in the upcoming Referendum to get the people to vote ‘Yes’. And not just the EU bureaucracy of course but also the political establishment in this State in what will be a hard fought contest.
The fact that the Irish government could at this stage, still demand that the blackmail clause be removed and refuse to do so, reduces mightily their ability to use it as a weapon to pressurise the Irish people. They will be labelled as hypocrites if they persist in this charade.
The government was anxious to have the blackmail argument because they have very little positive reasons to recommend the Treaty to the Irish people. They couldn’t dare repeat the headline argument and posters that were used during the Lisbon Campaign that ‘Yes’ would mean ‘investment and jobs.’ Instead more general arguments will be used along the lines that passing it will mean that Ireland will be intrinsically linked to the European Union and garner good will. That is contradicted by the the stony hearted EU bureaucracy which, together with their counterparts in the IMF and ECB, have demanded that the ordinary working people the unemployed, pensioners and the poor must endure crushing austerity to channel massive resources to salvage the skins of the European financial speculators. The government will now be challenged to remove the blackmail and can expect a torrid time if they refuse.