Bruce Arnold

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

It's time to steer a course away from euro chaos

The following is a deliberate simplification of the options facing this country, putting them into three categories that should be readily understood by all men and women concerned about Ireland's sovereignty, Ireland's future and Ireland's relationship with Europe.

The whole country accepts that it is in our best interest to remain part of Europe. All Irish people respect the value of the European Union now and in the future, and the huge benefit membership has been to us in the past.

We also hope the potential of that will once again be strong, though not exclusively so in the future. This needs to be said at the outset, since the fragmentation of the European Union is threatened anyway, the disintegrating force increasingly becoming the obsession with the main currency.

We are being governed from Brussels and Frankfurt for the sake of the currency, not the people. This is the first option because it is the existing option. It has many forms of acceptance, the most natural and fundamental of them being fear of the unknown and a lack of courage or initiative to look for alternatives.

We, in common with other PIIGS countries, together with the non-euro countries, can have little to say about the frantic, panic-stricken speed with which the EU thinks up new schemes and initiatives every time the market plunges. In the implementation of whatever new thought comes into the heads of the disparate group of commissioners and politicians at the heart of decision-making, we have to face the fact that we are increasingly dictated to by the Franco-German axis together with fiscally strong states such as Austria, Finland and Holland. This axis will operate in ever-increasingly dictatorial ways, and our say in that will be minimal.

Whether we like it or not we face the ready-made ingredients of a totalitarian way of governing Europe, in the form of treaties, of virtually unilateral decisions by the country that matters most in the salvation of Europe -- Germany -- and we have the growing spectre of German uncertainty over its own power.

This form of international government wavers, before our very eyes, between a rigorous, authoritarian solution involving stricter treaty controls to which countries submit or get out, and the alternative to this, which is the printing of money by the ECB, a deeply frightening prospect that goes to the heart and soul of Germany.

Lucinda Creighton, writing at the weekend, dismissed nationalism as a dangerous, worrying force, "a luxury for a different time". Unfortunately, the most powerful country in Europe is the Germany she thinks should understand Ireland better.

And the only reason to think that way is that Germany is increasingly operating from a nationalist standpoint, one that is based on saving the currency without encouraging inflation and forcing the weak countries, ourselves included, into obeying stricter rules enforced by Germany in preference to the ECB printing money.

It is an irony that Ms Creighton, who has exhausted us all with her emotional passion for the EU, shares a constituency with Eoghan Murphy, one from the smaller group within Fine Gael who think differently. These people in Fine Gael favour the second of my three options.

This is to leave the euro, wrest back our sovereignty and make a fresh and more intelligent start on a true economic recovery.

Mr Murphy did not underestimate the scale of the problems and of the decision. But he did recognise that, in our present situation, we are being artificially propped up and this is inhibiting our growth, productivity and initiative.

It would mean linking up with Britain. In the present climate, when considering the positions of Britain and Europe, many would say that the looser linkages between the UK and the EU, which do not diminish British rights as part of the EU but give the country more trade freedom, would be better-suited to Ireland as well.

Short-term, the difficulties and problems would be considerable. But it would free us and restore independence of action and better access to competitiveness.

Staying in has a very grey and short-term appearance to it, just at present. Germany is at the heart of what happens and Germany will be a cruel task-master. None of our special relationship will remain and our tax regime will be reduced to common ground with the rest of the eurozone countries.

The third option is the one we dismissed so fearfully in 2009 when we changed our Lisbon Treaty vote having already wrecked our banking system and brought down massive debt. We abandoned in that treaty any possibility of restoring democracy to Europe. It has been further stripped from us by the arbitrary and casual way in which Europe has been run ever since, with an accelerating cascade of short-term solutions to the market disrespect for the euro, none of which have worked.

Declan Ganley described this embarrassing performance by commissioners and politicians, nominally led by that master of invention, Jose Manuel Barroso, as "a mini-series of failed European summitry, the uninspiring posturing of Europe's 'leaders', the short-term political risk aversion, leading to chronic errors and splits with potentially dangerous long-term consequences."

It was "petty politicking" of a hugely damaging kind. And there was only one reason for it: the chronic lack of democracy, accountability and transparency, "rupturing the heart of the European project".

From 2008 to 2010 we deliberately, knowingly, stubbornly and fearfully, let the chance of defining our own future in democratic terms be taken from us, and instead bent the neck to a mixture of lies and threats about how Europe in the Lisbon Treaty form was the only way forward.

Of the three options, the democratising of the whole of Europe is the only long-term solution. It won't come from the top and at present the top is in the hands of an anti-democratic conspiracy. And that conspiracy is likely to be harder on Ireland in the immediate future than it has been up to now, despite Ms Creighton's enthusiasm for all of us in the euro acting together.

We will act together but at Germany's commanding word, not our own.

We are where we are as a result of our own dim stupidity. Because of it the present Government will go along with whatever Germany wants.

We will embrace whatever eurozone fiscal integration is ordered for us and this will be outlined at the next EU summit next month. We will back EU treaty changes as and when they are demanded, though we will avoid a referendum at all costs.

As part of our policy of being the 'good boy' among the PIIGS we have avoided the solidarity and comfort of co-operation with them. Even this will cease to be an option, since we cannot sustain the currency unless we do so through strict supranational controls -- as we have now -- on our national budgets, like Greece, Spain, Portugal, eventually Italy and who else? A German-imposed austerity regime will tighten its clamps on us for years to come. And those are our choices.