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'The ESM for legacy bank debt should be allowed' - former AG Peter Sutherland

The current chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs International also said he saw no reason for Ireland to change its corporation tax rate.

Peter Sutherland (file photo)
Peter Sutherland (file photo)
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocallireland

A NEW REPORT, produced to coincide with Ireland’s current presidency of the EU and the country’s 40th year of membership, has been released today.

Containing interviews with Peter Sutherland, Pat Cox, Lucinda Creighton and Micheál Martin, the report – Forty Years A-Growing – An Overview of Irish-EU Relations – by Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute, was produced with the aim of grasping the “specificity and subtleties of the Irish debate on Europe, both historically and in its most recent developments.”

In his interview, the former attorney general and current chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs International, Peter Sutherland, believes that Ireland is still largely pro-Europe.

EU membership and the Irish people

Describing thoughts of joining the EU in being one of “considerable pride”, Sutherland believes that many people saw it as a way of gaining financial independence from the UK and that it helped us to form a “separate identity as a people.”

Believing that a “general positive view” still remains, Sutherland ‘regrets’ some of Ireland’s ‘exceptional positions’ within the EU, such as the stance on neutrality and the ‘unfortunate outcomes’ where Ireland voted no in certain referenda, only to vote yes in subsequent ‘replays’.

Ireland’s neutral position

The former AG believes that Ireland’s neutrality became sacrosanct following the country’s official non-participation in World War II. Putting the moral imperatives to one side, Sutherland felt that Ireland’s weak economy at a time had also prevented participation at a national level.

Since then, however, he believes that the threat of Ireland’s neutrality has been ‘exaggerated’ in referenda, when no threat was posed.

Open to an increased role, Sutherland said that his personal belief was that Ireland should deepen its integration with Europe, which would also include the areas of foreign policy and security.

Ireland’s mixed messages when voting on Europe

While being irritated by other countries desire to lecture Ireland about how, “having done well out of Europe, we now reject it”, he finds this point understandable, due to how we “profess to be great believers in European integration and then apparently vote against it.”

Referendums have also been held when they may not need to have been, according to Sutherland. Describing the Crotty judgement as having led to referenda for “virtually every European treaty change imaginable”, there have been some instances where the State has gone to the polls on specific issues which he believes were not “fundamental principal issues”.

Did the Fiscal Compact Treaty contain a ‘blackmail clause’?

With access to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) dependant on voting yes, Sutherland disagrees that this was a form of blackmail. “I turn it on its head by asking: is a country allowed to blackmail everybody else by stopping their progress?,” he said, believing that no one country should have the power to veto any moves toward greater European integration.

On this point, he believes that the UK is now in a position where it is “perilously close to leaving the EU” – a strategy that Sutherland does not understand.

Is Ireland’s denouncement of austerity damaging the EU’s view of the country?

Describing Ireland’s “negative reactions” as ‘understandable’, Sutherland said that constructive engagement can fall by the wayside when a country is “suffering pain”.

Despite the negativity, he believes that Irish people still see EU membership as being “a vital positive for our future.”

Sutherland continues to see Ireland’s positives – which includes our membership of the Eurozone and the fact we are an English-speaking country – while believing that the country instead needs to focus on what he believes are the “real challenges”:

The most important policy area for our future has to be education and there are real challenges here, particularly at second and third level, where our rankings by OECD and various indices are not good.

All things considered, Sutherland still believes that Irish people make “discerning judgements” and that the belief still exists that greater European integration “increases our influence over our own destiny and therefore, in a way, our sovereignty.”

Is the European project under threat?

Sutherland’s personal belief is that the Euro will survive, even going so far as to have “some sympathy for Mrs Merkel’s efforts,” adding:

She is trying to solve in a lasting way the problems of a continent and to bring her people with her. This is not easy but it is, I hope, at a stage where we may begin to see real progress.
The basic issue is that Europe cannot survive in a globalised world without being competitive. Nor can it survive with accumulating debt.

With Europe having gotten to a “certain stage of danger as we are now”, Sutherland remains unconvinced that enough has been done to prevent contagion.

Hopeful that the ECB will continue to play an important role, he believes that “some interventions” by the president of the Bundesbank “have not been helpful” – views which have “not been supported by Mrs Merkel.”

Legacy bank debt

Asked whether he understood Germany’s rejection of the ESM being used for legacy bank debt, Sutherland’s answer was short and to the point:

I believe that the use of the ESM for legacy bank debt should be allowed in one way or another.

Ireland’s corporation tax

Sutherland does not see Ireland as having to alter its corporation tax. Wondering why this single tax continues to be the focus, he wonders why questions aren’t being asked about the subsidies that richer countries have pumped into their own industries.

“If you start saying that tax raising in particular areas, or the spending of national resources, has to be done in exactly the same way throughout the European Union, the European Union will not survive,”he said. “The changes required will never be agreed.”

A federal Europe

“I’m a federalist who believes in subsidiarity,” Sutherland said.

While believing that joint decisions should be made in relation to broad issues, which includes defence and monetary policy, he believes that decisions related to culture, social systems and education should continue to be decided at the national level.

In-full: The interview with Peter Sutherland >

Read: ‘Respectable case to be made for debt write-off’ – Pat Cox >

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Paul Hyland

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