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Column: To tackle Ireland’s problems, we need to vote No

We need a deal on the bank debt, writes Declan Ganley – and voting No will give us the strongest hand in the future.

Declan Ganley

AS I WRITE this, Joan Burton has just finished a press event telling Irish women that Europe has been good to them so they should vote “yes”.

In that statement, she exposes everything that’s wrong with the Yes campaign’s attitude to the EU, and to this Treaty. If I told you that if you opposed any law passed by the Irish government, you were anti-Irish, you’d laugh in my face, and you’d be right to. Yet our politicians are once again doing the rounds telling you that any real “pro-European” supports every stupid idea out of Brussels because “Europe has been good to us”.

This campaign is not about the past. I’m pro-European (indeed, I support far more EU integration) because Europe has been good to us, and I’m against this stagnation treaty because Europe is our best hope to get out of this crisis, but only if we get the policies right.

Let’s start with this Treaty, that the Government has renamed the “stability treaty”. That’s spin, but it’s only half wrong. The Treaty stabilises things all right – but it stabilises us into a long term pattern of stagnation at best, and permanent crisis at worst.

We’re in a crisis because global investors look at Europe and don’t know how the bank debts of French and German banks are going to be paid back by countries like Greece, Spain, and Ireland. The solution proposed is effectively to squeeze those countries until the pips squeak, causing huge political instability (as we see in Greece) while passing a law banning any such crisis from happening again.

‘If we want a way out of the mess, we need to tackle the core problem’

The problem is that the people in these countries quite rightly object, and potential investors aren’t going to put their money into a Europe fringed by countries in economic, fiscal, and political perma-crisis that’s a direct result of EU policy.

If we want a way out of the mess, we need to tackle the core problem – Europe’s bank debt. This isn’t simply a matter of political morality – although it definitely is that too – but a matter of simple economic sense. The global community will not have confidence in the full faith and credit of the euro until the European Union federalises its debts, purges them from the system, and makes them manageable. That is an economic imperative, and slowly some politicians (even some of our own) are starting to see it.

So what about the Stability/Stagnation Treaty then? Well, let’s look at what it does and does not do. It does lock in the present fiscal straightjacket, and make it permanent – making further job-killing tax increases and politically difficult spending cuts a never-ending reality. It ties us to the ball and chain of the bank debt, meaning that these debts, which we did not incur, are passed onto our children, and their children. It purports to grant us access to the European Stability Mechanism, and we are told that that is the most important reason to back it.

The problem is that the ESM is entirely unfit for purpose. It is not big enough to cope with the demands that will be made of it. Moreover, it’s an entirely dangerous organisation – about to be granted huge powers with a blanket of legal immunity from any judicial process anywhere in the Union. Don’t believe me? Here’s article 32:

The ESM, its property, funding and assets, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy immunity from every form of judicial process except to the extent that the ESM expressly waives its immunity for the purpose of any proceedings or by the terms of any contract, including the documentation of the funding instruments.

You’re being told by our Government that you must hand over huge amounts of power to an organisation that will in the most literal sense be above the law, will be without any elected oversight, and will be absolutely unaccountable to anybody but the smallest elite. Our Government thinks this is a good idea – but I suppose sheep rarely bleat on the way into the slaughterhouse.

This is the real, and much more fundamental problem with the current, unreformed Brussels. It has a contempt for oversight and accountability. We need real democratic reforms of the EU, like those I wrote about with Brendan Simms in the Sunday Business Post earlier this year.

‘There are no good options here’

We must be honest about Europe and Ireland’s real problems, and on the Treaty, it comes down to this – there are no good options here. Ireland faces so-called austerity whatever the outcome of this vote is, and anybody who tells you otherwise is being a little cavalier with the truth. We do owe money to people who funded our schools and hospitals and public sector benchmarking, and every cent of that must be paid back. The bank debt, however, is not ours. It’s not the people of Greece’s. It’s not the Spanish people’s either. It is the result of failed private companies making horrible investments in failed projects, and it must be purged from the system and federalised at all costs.

This is not just my view. The new French president wants a Treaty focused on growth, as does the German parliament. As do millions of other Europeans. The treaty is going to be renegotiated and changed and shifted – that’s a certainty. Do we want Enda Kenny going into those renegotiations with people looking at him saying “Well, Ireland’s happy”, or do we want him saying “Folks, I need something on the bank debt to get this thing passed in a second vote”?

We have time, we don’t need to rush this. The referendum should never have been held amidst so much uncertainty – and that it is confirms that our politicians are sadly more concerned with being seen as “good Europeans” that they are with building a good European Union that works for all its people.

As it is, the practical decision is very clear. Be pro-European, pro-growth, pro-reform, and say No. The politicians work for us – so give them their instructions. No deal on the bank debt? No deal.

Declan Ganley is the founder and chairman of Libertas, a think tank dedicated to fostering a democratic, federalist approach to reforming the EU.

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