How can Greece dig itself out of crisis? From the sunny shores of south-eastern Europe, it could do worse than take a look at the windswept, north-western corner of the continent and study what the Irish government is doing.
As I noted last week, Greece, in spite of the disastrous condition of its public finances, has hardly suffered at all so far in terms of the living standards of ordinary citizens. Gross domestic product is thought to have slipped by a mere 1.1 per cent last year. By contrast, Ireland has experienced a vicious recession: between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009, Irish GDP slumped by more than 10 per cent. Read more
Greece’s fiscal emergency is a most mystifying crisis. At one level, it is the most serious test of the eurozone’s unity since the launch of the euro in 1999. Unless correctly handled, the problem with Greece’s public finances could shake the foundations of Europe’s monetary union.
At another level, however, Greece itself seems to be getting off remarkably lightly. Germany suffered a 5 per cent slump in gross domestic product last year; Greece is expected to have suffered a fall of about 1.1 per cent. Spain has a 19 per cent unemployment rate; Greece’s rate is only 9 per cent. The Irish government is imposing extreme austerity measures on its citizens to protect Ireland’s eurozone membership; Greece’s government is, so far, doing nothing of the sort. No wonder Greece’s 15 eurozone partners, the European Commission and the European Central Bank are furious with the political classes in Athens. Read more
The distance separating Britain’s perceptions of the European Union from those of its Continental partners is so vast that the English Channel might as well be the Pacific Ocean. This was my first thought when I read not just David Cameron’s speech on what steps a future Conservative government would take to limit EU involvement in British affairs, but also the way the speech was reported and the reactions on each side of the Channel.
The Financial Times story, for instance, said Cameron’s speech set out “a very limited programme for European reform” – an interpretation which would raise howls of laughter across much of Europe, where the Conservative leader’s proposals are not viewed as “very limited” and are most definitely not seen as an effort at “reform”. Read more
There is something fishy about the race to fill two of the biggest jobs going in Europe – the first long-term presidency of the European Union, and the post of EU foreign policy chief. The closer the EU gets to decision time, the more various unofficial candidates are ruling themselves out or running into difficulties. As far as concerns the presidency, the latest person to say she doesn’t want to be considered for the job is Mary Robinson, the former Irish head of state.
In some ways, it’s a shame. The politically independent Robinson commands much respect across Europe and beyond – more than certain candidates I could mention from Belgium and Luxembourg. It would also be a clever move on the part of the EU’s 27 leaders to put a woman in the presidency and so boost the EU’s profile in the eyes of its citizens. Read more
Read today’s analysis in the FT of the consequences of Ireland’s vote on the Lisbon treaty. Follow this link:
EU embarks on voyage of discovery after Lisbon Read more
A couple of months ago, some European Union policymakers talked despairingly of how 2009 risked turning out to be “a wasted year”. Now the EU is on a roll. The impasse over José Manuel Barroso’s reappointment as European Commission president was removed last month when the European parliament stopped playing games and renewed his term of office.
And all of a sudden, it looks as if “a decade of deadening debate over the European Union’s institutional shape” – as British foreign secretary David Miliband puts it in today’s FT – will soon come to an end, after Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon treaty produced a massive majority in favour. It may not be long before the EU has its first full-time president, a new head of foreign policy and a new Commission with a five-year mandate serving under Barroso. Read more
Victories in referendums rarely come as big as this. With full results in from more than half Ireland’s constituencies, the pro-Lisbon treaty camp is ahead by 66.8 to 33.2 per cent. What’s more, the turnout is high – almost 59 per cent, compared with 53 per cent when Irish voters rejected the European Union’s Lisbon treaty in June 2008.
No wonder Irish premier Brian Cowen looks like the cat that’s been served the cream (when he and his party are annihilated in the next Irish parliamentary election, he can always say he did the noble thing on Lisbon before perishing). And no wonder Irish big business is pleased, too. They were very visible on the Yes side during this campaign and they needed a convincing result to justify the money and effort. Read more
The early results look pretty conclusive: Irish voters have approved the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, possibly by a very large margin. A poll by the opposition Fine Gael party suggests the pro-Lisbon forces may have taken between 60 and 65 per cent of the vote.
That would be a comprehensive turnaround from the 53.4 to 46.6 per cent victory for the No camp in the June 2008 referendum in Ireland. Voters in Dublin seem to have given overwhelming backing to the treaty, according to RTE, the Irish state broadcaster. Read more
Voting in Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon treaty got off to a pretty slow start at one polling station I went to in central Dublin this morning. By 8am, an hour after the polls opened, fewer than a dozen people had arrived to cast ballots. Nevertheless, it struck me as significant that two voters told me that they had switched to voting Yes from No in Ireland’s June 2008 referendum on the treaty. By contrast, no one said they had switched to No from Yes.
In the 2008 referendum, the Lisbon treaty was defeated by a margin of 53.4 to 46.6 per cent on a turn-out of 53.1 per cent. That was a decisive result. But because Ireland is a small place, with an electorate of just over 3m, the absolute difference between the Yes and No votes was not that great. Some 862,415 people voted against Lisbon and 752,451 in favour. Read more
According to Brian Cowen, Ireland’s premier, a No result in Friday’s referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty would raise the prospect of a “two-speed Europe”, with some countries forging ahead with closer political and economic integration and others staying outside. But isn’t a two-speed Europe the dog that is hauled out of its kennel every time there’s a EU institutional crisis but which, in the end, never barks?
After Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty in June 2008, a number of politicians were quick to assert that a two-speed Europe was the only way to keep the European “project” on the road. Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister, who has lived through more EU crises than most of us have had quetsch plum tarts, mused in public that perhaps it was time for a “Club of the Few” to go ahead on their own. Read more
Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon treaty on Friday should in principle be about the treaty’s contents, not the state of the Irish economy. But the economy’s collapse over the past 12 months compels both pro-Lisbon and anti-Lisbon forces to confront the question of whether membership of the European Union – and, specifically, of the eurozone – has helped (even saved) Ireland, made things worse, or not made much difference one way or the other.
An interesting angle from which to approach this question is to ask whether Ireland has fared better than another island off the north-west coast of Europe that was thrown into turmoil at almost exactly the same moment last year – namely, Iceland. Iceland isn’t a EU member and doesn’t use the euro. Has this accelerated Iceland’s recovery or held it back? Read more
One day I’ll break the habit of only visiting Ireland when there’s a referendum on a European Union treaty. It can easily mislead you into thinking that the Irish people like nothing better than a passionate ”national conversation” (as the latest faddish expression puts it) about Europe. In fact, it is closer to the mark to say, as Eamon Delaney does in an article for the Irish magazine Business & Finance, that “Ireland is an island with a self-absorbed political culture which is not all that interested in overseas affairs”.
Be that as it may, I’m back in Dublin and the contrast with the political atmosphere of June 2008, when Irish voters rejected the EU’s Lisbon treaty on institutional reform, is pretty startling. Fifteen months ago, businessmen and economists I talked with were in no doubt that Ireland was heading into a recession, but none predicted the whirlwind that has wrought unmatched havoc on the economy and come close to destroying the national banking system. Read more
Now that José Manuel Barroso is safely re-installed as European Commission president for the next five years, it would be tempting to think that – from an institutional point of view, at least – all is well in Brussels. Tempting, but wrong.
Once again, it is our old friend the Lisbon treaty that is the problem. On October 2 Irish voters, who rejected the treaty in a referendum in June 2008, will have the chance to reverse their verdict. Opinion polls indicate that the Yes camp will win this time. But there is an unmistakeable air of nervousness at the European Union’s headquarters that the polls may not be a reliable guide to the eventual outcome. Read more
From a European Union perspective, it’s somewhat surprising that the extraordinary financial crisis we’ve been living through has not generated more pressure for another big push at EU integration – if not in the political sphere, then at least in the economic one. According to conventional EU wisdom, it usually takes a crisis to make Europeans understand why closer integration is a good thing. But on this occasion, it’s not happening – or at least, not yet.
For the perfect explanation as to why this should be so, I recommend an article by Otmar Issing, the European Central Bank’s former chief economist, in the latest issue of the journal Europe’s World. Issing’s article discusses the merits of issuing common bonds for the 16-nation eurozone – an initiative that would, in theory, mark a major step forward in European integration – and comes down firmly against the proposal. Read more
I was in Stockholm this morning when the happy news arrived that Germany’s constitutional court had given the green light in principle to the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. I call the news “happy” not because I am biased in favour of Lisbon, but because it meant that for once the task of writing about the treaty fell to someone else at the Financial Times (on this occasion, my Berlin-based colleague Bertrand Benoit).
The EU’s masochistic efforts at institutional reform, encapsulated in the Lisbon treaty, were one of the first things I wrote about when I arrived in Brussels in 2007. Two years later, I find that the subject refuses to go away, seeping into my daily work like a sewage leak in a cellar (a domestic problem familiar to house-dwellers in low-lying Brussels). All the more maddening is the knowledge that almost no one in the outside world cares one stale fig about the treaty. Read more
An EU survey sheds more light on the decisive “no” vote in Ireland’s referendum on the union’s Lisbon reform treaty.
The study shows that those who voted against did so because of; a lack of knowledge of the treaty; a desire to protect Irish identity and safeguard neutrality; a lack of trust in politicians; the potential loss of a permanent commissioner in Brussels and to protect the tax system. Read more