And, as we know, Brussels has a habit of changing the answer any time anyone offers the
wrong inconvenient answer. Nevertheless, the Irish government’s decision – made on the advice of the Attorney General – to hold a referendum on the latest EU "Stability Pact" is not, I hazard, likely to please everyone:
"I am very confident that when the importance and merit are communicated to the Irish people that they will endorse it emphatically by voting yes to continuing economic stability and recovery,” the Taoiseach [Enda Kenny] said.
The compact, agreed at special EU summit earlier this month, proposes tough new budgetary discipline on each euro zone state, including near-zero public deficits. It has already been approved by 25 of the EU’s 27 members.
Mr Kenny has previously denied it will condemn the State to further years of austerity.
"In the end what this will come down to is a vote for economic growth and stability," Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said. "We now have an opportunity to go beyond the casino capitalism.”
The promise of DOOM! if the treaty is rejected may be enough to
terrify persuade the plain people of Ireland to endorse the pact but I wouldn’t want to risk too great a punt on that proposition. Ireland is not Greece but she is still, if you like, in care and it must be possible that the referendum will become an opportunity for voters to express their disapproval of, well, just about everything.
Whether that will mean anything is, naturally, a different matter but just holding the vote introduces a measure of additional uncertainty at a time when uncertainty is considered neither popular nor profitable.
Perhaps a No vote will simply exclude Ireland from the pact (though since the referendum is being held after Ireland has signed the bally thing who knows what would happen) but, though I may be mistaken, the strength of the pact lies in it being agreed to by every country. Nevertheless, Do you want the German finance minister to rewrite the Irish budget? is not guaranteed to be a winning proposition.
The stakes are quite high. As Johnny Fallon says:
This referendum has the potential to be a defining moment in the history of the Irish state and the biggest test yet of the government.
Ireland has been through a traumatic crisis and at each point governments have decided what is best. This time it is up to the people. Make no mistake there is an enormous risk for the government here, should this referendum fail then the government will be in serious trouble and a complete rethink of Ireland’s plans and interaction with the EU will be required.
The prize for success is just as big.
Should the Irish people back the fiscal compact then all talk of default, no cuts, easy ways out and walking away from the EU will be put to bed. The government can carry on with its long term plan with a mandate of even greater strength than the general election.
A No vote, however, might mean another general election though since Fie Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail will each campaign for a Yes vote (TINA!) the prospect of a fresh election cannot please any mainstream party.Tags: Brussels, Europe, Eurozone, Ireland