Bruce Arnold

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

We need to strengthen UK ties before EU strangles us

Ireland has closer connections with Britain than with any other European country. We do more trade with Britain. We speak the same language. We have, or had, the same democratic standards, our own emerging, with independence, from the British model. The same applies to our laws and a good deal of our legislation.

There are few men and women of even moderate means who do not rely on the British financial markets and hold investments. These are quoted on the London Stock Exchange, the affairs of which are closely followed. Share prices, comment on the market and practical advice are all part of the reporting in the main Irish daily and Sunday newspapers.

Investment, and other involvements, by no means end there. Despite the growth in second homes in other parts of Europe, it is probable that English property owned or invested in by Irish people is on a larger scale than it is with any other country.

A significant number of Irish people, some not aware that it is entirely legal, hold sterling bank accounts, and in the last two years it is undoubtedly the case that relatively huge sums, in euros, have been transferred out of the euro currency held by private citizens in Ireland and moved into British bank accounts or other financial depositories for savings.

It is therefore a matter to be questioned why our Government seems anxious to maintain, at all costs, the link with the euro, still under threat despite the best efforts of the euro states, backed by the balance of non-euro states, leaving our closest neighbour -- in every sense of the word -- isolated.

Not alone does the Government persist in this view -- supported it would seem by a significant part of the electorate -- but it refuses to have any debate about the matter or misrepresents what is at stake. We do not examine the technical and fiscal problems of making a change, nor discuss it with our nearest overseas neighbour, nor, most importantly of all, consider collectively with the people of Northern Ireland what we all, as a people fighting to survive, should do.

In addition, the Irish Government seems to be frightened out of its collective wits by the idea of a referendum. All of this is entirely nonsensical, its irrelevance emphasised by the fact that, instead of such inverted hysteria driving us into panic and alarm, it is looked upon urbanely, something that will right itself in due course.

This is where the danger lies. We could be taken short by the private interest forces to which all of us are vulnerable, the banks and the markets. But that is now overshadowed by the darker figures of Angela Merkel protecting German interests, Sarkozy protecting French interests, and doing so with greater skill and duplicity than we have seen before. David Cameron has seen what this would do to British interests and backed away. We should do the same.

The banks put us into huge debt because of the modern economic fallacy that they should not be allowed to fail, backed up by the greed factor, which was that huge Irish bank debts had been created within the much wider international banking system. So we were made to take on that debt and to be controlled from outside this country, not for our own benefit, but to bear an unfair share of the burden that the irresponsible and unregulated European banking system had placed on us with the connivance of the EU. Nothing that we have seen up to now will compare with the strict controls that lie ahead if we complete the inter-governmental agreement.

Shamefully, we played our part. We were led into absurd levels of prodigality, unregulated by the State and virtually ignored by an equally irresponsible Europe. We are being led now into absurd levels of restraint that will cripple us.

The markets were not and are not taken in by this completely undemocratic sleight-of-hand. They know fiscal instability since they profit by it throughout their working lives and profit from the misjudgments of bureaucrats. Their naked desire for power distorts their judgment on the more ferocious desire for profit within the markets.

Roughly 14 times in as many months Brussels has got it wrong. The markets have been briefly persuaded but have then lost confidence again. The threat has grown, creating panic, and though new solutions were promised, they were not new but the same.

The latest development of a firewall protection by means of a new international treaty, described as 'inter-governmental', is a different approach altogether. Not surprisingly, it ran into immediate trouble with the United Kingdom, isolating Mr Cameron, who has since been the recipient of an unwarranted hysteria throughout Europe and in this country.

This firewall approach and the 'inter-governmental treaty', which we have already signed up to in all but name, brings us to the present, and brings us to the biggest crisis of all. The supposed referendum is a red herring. It will not be needed to complete the EU takeover of all our economic and fiscal discretion, making us a slave nation to European power. That was achieved last week. It was urgently needed because neither the markets nor the banks, nor the EU nor the ECB, nor Mr Sarkozy and Ms Merkel, can wait for a EU Treaty.

Instead, Ms Merkel, backed by Mr Sarkozy, have their own inter-governmental mechanism. Referendums are history.

This is a deal that requires the surrender theoretically of all eurozone member states of their powers to run their own national budgets -- in practice, of the 11 weak states to be governed by the seven strong ones, led by France and Germany, operating through Brussels.

That is what 'intergovernmental' means. And if that puzzles anyone, then the meaning is what Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy say it is.

Moreover, they will direct the process. The EU Treaty may follow. Who cares? What's a referendum more or less? It won't mean anything. The deed has been done.

This will almost certainly threaten to diminish the UK financial market. It will also lead to the equalising of EU taxes. We could well find ourselves on the wrong side of controls between the eurozone and non-euro countries, notably the UK.

Full fiscal union as defined by Germany will mark the final days of any of the safeguards through veto or simply through non-approval that we trusted in as the EU was built up with our participation. Apart from appearing in photographs, attending at dinners, signing papers and saying yes, and smiling all the time, our leaders will have turned into wooden puppets, their noses growing longer and longer as they tell their own people more and more lies.