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Explainer: How Irish bailout documents keep getting leaked to the public... via Germany

Yet another batch of draft documents has made its way out via the Bundestag. Here’s the story of how it happens.

The Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament - which has important powers over German funding for other countries.
The Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament - which has important powers over German funding for other countries.
Image: Markus Schreiber/AP

AS YOU WILL probably have noticed by now, TheJournal.ie and other Irish media have been reporting for a few days now on what we’ve christened ‘Euroleaks’ – a draft report by the European Commission, compiled after Ireland’s last Troika inspection in October.

Not for the first time, the documents have been leaked weeks ahead of when they were due to be published – and not for the first time, the source is from outside of Ireland.

As with an update from November 2011, the draft document was not due for publication for another weeks – but was circulated to members of the Bundestag and made its way into the wider world from there.

But how does this keep happening – and is there any significance to the fact that it always seems to be Germany that gets them first?

Let us explain.

He who pays the piper…

The fundamental principle behind the circulation of the draft documents is that those who are helping to keep Ireland funded – i.e. the other EU member states, the European Central Bank and the IMF – need to know where their money is going.

This is the main reason why Ireland has to subject itself to a visiting inspection from the Commission (which, for these purposes, represents the other member states), the ECB and the IMF every three months.

Because they are centralised and largely insular bodies, the ECB and the IMF don’t have to make any particular effort to keep their ‘shareholders’ in the loop – but the Commission is spending money on behalf of EU member states, and therefore needs to keep those countries abreast of Irish efforts.

For this reason, the Commission compiles reports which are distributed in their draft format to other EU member states ahead of their public release – which is often whenever the next round of bailout loans are due to be released.

This is what’s happened here – and, indeed, what happened in 2011. The EU’s finance ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Tuesday week – the first time they’re meeting with Michael Noonan as chairman – and are due to approve another €800 million in EU loans to Ireland.

It’s fair to concede that ministers shouldn’t have to make big decisions like that without at least some prior warning – and so they receive the draft reports well in advance of the meeting.

Why always Germany?

Cynics might assume that the reason the documents seem to pop up in Germany is because they’re the biggest European economy and the ones who are contributing most to Ireland’s bailout.

Though that is the case – and Germany is by far the biggest contributor to the €45 billion that we’re being loaned by various EU member states – the reason the documents always seem to leak from Germany is much more egalitarian.

The German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble is only one of the 27 finance ministers going to Brussels next week – but he has a little less discretion than his peers.

Germany’s constitution places a very heavy emphasis on the power of the Bundestag (parliament) – and in a series of major rulings, the Federal Constitutional Court has demanded that the parliament gets the right to approve (or veto) any measure that involves German taxpayers funding other countries.

To put it pretty simply, Schauble can’t authorise Germany to make any loans to Ireland – or anyone else – until the Bundestag’s budget committee gets to approve it first.

Therefore, when the Commission sends the documents to the Finance Ministry, the ministry then forwards them to the members of the committee.

Politicians being politicians, stuff tends to gets leaked. And when there are 41 of them on the committee – including some who ardently oppose the notion of spending German money to bail out foreign economies – stuff gets leaked that little bit quicker.

But why can’t our own TDs know first?

That’s a very good question – and, in fact, that is the case. The report that surfaced in the last few days isn’t the first to be published a little bit early. You might remember a similar report leaked in August, telling us that water charges would be coming sooner than expected.

That report didn’t leak from Germany, but rather from the Dáil itself – because the Department of Finance had emailed it around for the information of TDs as soon as it got hold of it.

Because of the increasingly regular leaks, the Department of Finance decided it would stop emailing the documents around – and instead now distributes them in hard copy, leaving a physical copy in the mailboxes of the members over in Leinster House, on the premise that it’s far more difficult to redistribute.

TheJournal.ie understands that this most recent document was actually left in TDs’ mailboxes early last week – but that, because the Oireachtas was on recess with only a handful of members knocking around last week for the abortion hearings, very few staff picked it up or were aware of its significance.

Therefore, it took until Thursday – when it was sent to German MPs ahead of their meeting this week – for the document to wing its way into cyberspace and into the inboxes of TheJournal.ie and other Irish newsrooms.

In full: TheJournal.ie‘s coverage of the Euroleaks revelations >

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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