No vote can be part of European anti-austerity movement

‘Take the gun out of Irish politics!.’ This was the refrain of the establishment political parties for the last third of the Twentieth Century, meaning that people should be free from any threats when it came to deciding structures governing the future of this island. These are the very same parties which are now holding an economic and political weapon to the heads of the Irish people to coerce them into voting ‘Yes’ to their austerity Treaty on May 31.

They connived with the European Union establishment in February to quietly slip into the draft treaty setting up the new bailout mechanism a provision, saying that it could only be accessed by Member States which had ratified the Austerity Treaty. Knowing that the institutionalisation of austerity measures would give rise to widespread hostility among ordinary people, this is their weapon to achieve a ‘Yes’ by fear.

It is simply a lie to say that, in the event of the sharks in the money markets denying loans to this State, funds could not otherwise be accessed. The European Financial Stability Facility was set up in 2010 to last for a three year period. This is the fund which is being drawn down currently as part of the Troika /Irish government agreement. If needed, it is open to the government to apply for a new programme from the EFSF up until June 2013. This is made clear by the EFSF itself which stated, ‘following the Eurogroup meeting held on 30 March it was decided that the EFSF would remain active until July 2013 . . . For a transitional period until 2013, EFSF may engage in new programmes in order to ensure a full fresh lending capacity of €500 billion… after June 2013, EFSF will not enter into any new programmes.’

The ‘Yes’ side counter, that funds may not be needed next year but further into the future, and by voting ‘No’ to the austerity Treaty the State would not have access to the new fund being set up – the European Stability Mechanism(ESM). As I explained last week this would in fact be in the hands of the current government as in the event of a ‘No’ vote, it can tell the European Union that it will simply not agree to legally enshrine this fund in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union until the blackmail clause is removed.

If the Fine Gael and Labour parties had any respect for the right of the Irish people to freely decide, they would now declare that, in the event that the treaty was rejected on May 31, they would do just that.

Much deeper questions arise, however, in the event that a second ‘bailout’ is needed by this government. Would this be a bailout of the people of this State, or of the European financial markets system at the expense of the people, as is happening with the current programme? The latter would spell disaster for society entrenching and intensifying all the horrific consequences of austerity such as mass unemployment, growing poverty and the hollowing out of crucial public services like Health and Education.

There is now a real window of opportunity to force a change of policy across Europe. In last Sunday’s elections, the working class of France and Greece have trenchantly rejected the present policy of austerity pushed on them by their outgoing governments and the Troika acting on the diktat of the financial markets. The Dutch government collapsed under pressure from below and in Italy such pressure is also being manifested. Very significantly in Germany the Social Democratic Party(SPD) has forced a vote on the Austerity Treaty in the Bundestag to be postponed until after the Irish Referendum and the parliamentary elections in France in June. This follows a declaration by SPD MEP, Martin Schultz, currently the President of the European Parliament, that, ‘we must be honest enough to recognise that the current orgy of cuts will not generate growth. But without growth the countries facing a debt crisis will barely even be able to meet their interest payments.’

Many of these parties and individuals like Schultz are pillars of the EU establishment. They now fear the consequences of austerity. They fear the growing mass reaction of working people to this failed policy. This puts the Irish people in a pivotal position to give the movement against austerity a huge push forward and to force a complete change in policy. This has to be based on major public investment in jobs and bringing financial institutions into public ownership and democratic control as instruments for the betterment of society. A ‘No’ vote, far from ‘isolating us in Europe’ as the government claims would in fact be embraced Europe wide as part of the growing crescendo of demands for an end to destructive austerity.