Bruce Arnold

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

We must reject calls to accept more EU control of our budgets

With Garret Fitz-Gerald's death, Ireland lost its greatest Euro-phile. He shaped the country's view of itself in Europe. He encouraged closer ties with Europe. This paved the way for the euro and Ireland's entry into the mechanism, the worst mistake in our economic history.

He was responsible for later generations of dedicated Irish Europeans, 'Yes' voters in the first Lisbon referendum. They lost that and Europhiles have been losing the plot ever since.

Garret was furious about Lisbon I and so were his most able disciples, Peter Sutherland and Pat Cox. With Garret's death, Sutherland became the most impressive Europhile we have, an apostle for even closer integration, not mincing his words in preaching the old gospel, as he demonstrated last week at the Irish Exporters' Association meeting at which he was given a gold medal -- perhaps it was made of Fool's Gold? -- as a 'Trade Facilitation Award'. Well done, Peter.

What he had to say was not so well done. He urged Ireland to submit "to more control over the country's fiscal and budgetary policy as part of any efforts to save the European Union".

Sutherland said it was in Ireland's "vital national interest" to remain a supporter of European integration.

He then used a familiar university lecturer's trick: the "If -- Then" theory of action. This works on the basis of putting forward an idea sounding like the truth, then dictating how to answer.

Here we go, then: "If the dilemma that Europe is facing ... is either to integrate or disintegrate, then we must firmly stand on the side of integration." Then comes the tricky bit: "Even though that demands greater ceding of sovereignty in terms of control of fiscal and budgetary policy."

The dilemma Europe is facing is not that at all. That dilemma is the one faced by the eurozone, quite a different article. Europe is already divided by the eurozone and we are on the wrong side of that divide.

We are under total fiscal and budgetary control by the European Central Bank. It is hard to see how much more "integration" we can take. The bank is supported by the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The ECB mouthpiece is Patrick Honohan, Central Bank governor. More powerful than the Irish Government, he tells it what to do. His primary obligation is to the ECB, although he is appointed governor of the Irish Central Bank by the State and paid by the taxpayer.

It is difficult to know how much more of our fiscal and budgetary policy can be ceded. Given the past dishonesty and deviousness of Irish politicians in respect of fiscal and budgetary affairs, a way out of the shackles will have to be found. But Sutherland won't help.

All his sentiments need challenging. If FitzGerald was a convinced Europhile, then Sutherland is bringing whips and scorpions to induct us into a federalist Europe that can only make our plight harsher. Doing this has been at the centre of the EU summit, just concluded, its deliberations including a punishment regime for backsliders, as Ireland, at present, cannot help but be.

As to his second point, that Ireland's "vital national interest" is to remain a supporter of European integration, that raises serious doubts; but it helps us understand why he made the speech. He is rattled. All Europhiles are. His approach -- the one used, in my view dishonestly, in both Lisbon Treaty campaigns -- is to confuse the issues, winning debating points but deploying fear to change the public's mind. Regrettably, it succeeded then, after which everything fell apart.

The main challenge facing us is the confusion between the two Europes. The Europhiles' Europe is really the eurozone, with non-euro states tagged on as "the other Europe". Many of these states are happy and successfully. We should be with them.

What of the "If -- Then" trick? Is the dilemma that Europe faces to integrate or disintegrate? Surely not. The question is about the eurozone. If we are concerned with the fate of the euro then we should integrate. Sutherland is concerned overwhelmingly with eurozone survival. His worries are European/ eurozone ones, not about Ireland. We are mere vassals at his European court.

We have become frightened by the inappropriate dominance of the currency. A mistake to get into, it has cost us dearly. It will go on costing us, inhibiting our desire to be more competitive and putting us under the burden of an ECB fiscal control we cannot manage or sustain.

The dilemma of Europe is the survival of the euro. The method for achieving this is a covert integrationist policy. A two-tier European "empire" will emerge, engaged in forcing countries like Ireland to play a disproportionate part in saving a currency we should never have adopted. We will pay for the lack of sound eurozone governance that landed us in the fiscal and economic mess of 2007-2010.

Sutherland's desire to see us "stand firmly on the side of integration" is euphemistic. He means stand for the euro even as it cripples us. It isn't integration. It is slavery.

What was puzzling about Sutherland, the greatest living Irish Europhile, is that he did not address the main issues talked about in respect of our economy, our fiscal dilemma, our trade -- he was after all, at a meeting of the Irish Exporters' Association -- and the growing EU crisis that Ireland is so painfully involved in. Engaging in the debate this week, Sutherland looked and sounded isolated, even in a minority position. The summit will sustain him and others like him, but only for a time.

We have gone back again to the 2008 debate on Europe's Lisbon Treaty creating jobs for us. This view was wrongly advocated by Sutherland and other Europhiles. We now know Europe will not create our jobs. We can ourselves, if we regain some freedom. We now know that our continued presence inside the eurozone is mistaken. We don't know what Sutherland means when he asks us to "save the European Union". That is not what intelligent sceptics are thinking and saying.

The dilemma facing Europe -- described by Sutherland as "integrate or disintegrate" -- is something quite different when applied to our own country and our lost sovereignty, so casually thrown away by the governor of the Central Bank. Ireland is an imprisoned victim, working to save the euro and not being paid for it, carrying a huge European debt and not seeing Europe shouldering its proper share of our burden.

Sutherland had the good grace to admit that the response of European institutions to our problems had been "incoherent, inadequate and damaging and unfair". But then he added: "Whatever the rights or wrongs of debt default, we can't do it unless we're allowed to do it."

His reason was that of the Europhile -- not that it would hurt us but that it "would risk contagion" and damage his first love, the EU, and its favoured handmaiden, the euro. So Peter came and gave us the message. We should reject it.