Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Our new place in Europe must be closer to Britain

The real headache facing the Government, as ministers like Leo Varadkar have indicated, is not the Budget. Other ministers are less sure of themselves about what will happen at the forthcoming EU summit and whether or not we can screw our courage to the sticking point as the euro crisis deepens. But the summit is very much our crisis as much as everyone else's and recognising this as well as knowing what to do about it overshadows our lives as nothing before has done.

Moreover, we are as much part of the solution as Germany is, and whereas Germany represents herself as being on a special level, enjoying the solitary splendour of supremacy and dictating the non-democratic terms of its fiscal empire, we are representative of a majority of the other nations.

Prodigal, ill-governed, foolish, greedy, blind and above all fearful, we are the norm. We should be standing together, with the majority, both of Mediterranean member states and of central European and Atlantic states. But we are not. Our foolish espousal of one failed attempt after another to create a safe market economy capable of sustaining that market's currency is likely to lead us into a parallel error in the immediate future. And this will be reinforced by our small and humble contribution to the debate. The broad terms have been foreshadowed and the contradictions in them are not reassuring. It is hard to see how we will get any fast-tracking to boost growth and job creation.

A central problem, against which we should be fighting tooth and nail, is the unhappy marriage between the so-called 'leaders' of the EU, and the member countries they so insolently rule. We have had more than a dozen failed policies, all more or less designed to cut down the spending of the debtor nations.

How this will transform into the 'fast-tracking' Enda Kenny hopes for is bewildering. We are acutely familiar with this problem of failed policies, due to the bovine political stupidity that a) failed to regulate the banks, b) then led us into equally stupid failure to understand how to manage the banks, then c) the granting of an open-ended guarantee, and finally, d) giving in to the bailout.

A year on, we are still behoven to this sequence, still in thrall to our grubby little troika of bureaucrats, and still of a humour to welcome the next instalment of restrictive measures totally ill-suited to Ireland's needs. We must change this -- firstly by blocking treaty change if we can. Secondly, by insisting on an expansionist course. We have every justification for this. Largely without our involvement we have witnessed one after another of the EU 'solutions', all of them based on the strategy of reducing spending and controlling borrowing.

Is there a small businessman in Ireland, an unemployed person, a shopkeeper, a restaurant-owner, a farmer or smallholder, a taxi driver or service worker, who does not grasp easily and succinctly the devastating impact this Brussels strategy has had on us and on the majority of EU nations?

This baleful and increasingly restrictive basic policy has an iron hand of austerity behind it: reduce spending, control borrowing, make countries take on collective EU debts that have derived from bank indiscipline and live within our means. We cannot do that and the result of this -- despite the good effort by the present Government here -- is universally recognised.

It took a clutch of central banks around the world to restore a small measure of confidence into the markets in terms that had the drama of third-rate public relations behind it. It helped shares, it offered lifelines of a sort to banks, it did not change people's convictions about the fact that Europe is heading for recession and the euro is still under pressure. It was all done under the policy umbrella of restrictions on spending, the cornerstone of Angela Merkel's own strategy.

As the 'New York Times' columnist, Paul Krugman, wrote on Friday last, "Although Europe's leaders continue to insist that the problem is too much spending in debtor nations, the real problem is too little spending in Europe as a whole. And their efforts to fix matters by demanding ever harsher austerity have played a major role in making the situation worse".

Part of what the EU is doing is to cover up its own flagrant abuse of power up to the 2008 crisis. This was also attempted by Fianna Fail. Corrupted over economic controls, expenditure controls, mortgage conditions, a devilish pact with developers -- whom they later crucified -- they led us into the abyss. And they were led to do it by the EU. We compounded this by helping the EU to create, under the Lisbon Treaty, a form of government that contained no democratic answerability. And we reaped an EU vengeance we did not deserve.

We need the kneejerk set of restrictions on credit and spending lifted. Our trading partners and customers need it as well. And if we do not get it, or something approaching it, there is no realistic place left for us within the eurozone.

There is, of course, a place in Europe. But it should be closer to Britain. It is interesting that last week's intervention by Jacques Delors -- who shares with Garret FitzGerald some of the burden of blame for thinking up and introducing the euro in the first place -- made the point that the British quite properly believed from the start that a single European central bank, together with a currency, but without a single democratic European state responsible for it, was inherently unstable.

Britain, not being in the euro -- enviably for us -- is not 'sharing the burden'. But it is hurting them and poses a threat.

The alternative course for Ireland, still seen as unrealistic by a significant majority, is to join Britain and the other non-euro members of the EU. The debate on this is led by Constantin Gurdgiev. His fundamental views favour a rethink of Europe's economy before it faces oblivion, and also, he insists, before we get any more ritualistic and ponderous plans to deal with the crisis. What passes for leadership, he believes, is currently boring us with meaningless statements of the obvious, followed by vacuous summits.

We face one now. There are no signs that the Government either recognises the gravity of the crisis that could engulf us or has thought through and debated the central issue.

I can do no better than use Mr Gurdgiev's words: "Europe requires a radical rethink of the way we approach economic growth, a model for social development and a political system with democratic accountability. Barring that, it's the proverbial dustbin of history for the Grand Project."