Economic (Ireland’s or anyone else’s) sovereignty has not existed since Bretton Woods

Eamonn has a whole range if great writers guesting at his blog these days. Among them Maurice Hayes, who makes some fundamental points about Irish politics and the strange relationship that exists between the legislature and the sovereign voice (aka, those bloody referendums):

It is not being less democratic than advocates for a referendum to argue that the essence of democratic decision, accountability and transparence, can, on occasion, be better achieved by elected representatives properly informed and mandated than by popular, even populist vote.

Neither is it entirely derogatory of democratic values to point out the difficulty of deciding complex and highly technical issues of fiscal policy, economic governance and constitutional propriety by a simple “Yes” or “No”.  Even the title –The Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union is enough to turn off most voters and to provoke an almost reflexive expression of rejection.

A common feature of referendums in Ireland has been a loss of focus, of the substantive issue being lost in a welter of domestic gripes, the occasion being treated like a bye-election, an opportunity to cane the government for its performance or lack of action.  The vote is more likely to be about unemployment and recession, about septic tanks and hospital closures than the great issues of sovereignty and national survival.

Indeed. But he also makes another excellent point, which sort of strikes in the opposite direction, towards core inadequacy of the legislature itself:

The fact is too that Irish political parties are not very good at managing referendum campaigns, where the battle is to sell ideas rather selling candidates.  It is one thing knocking on doors and asking for a No1 or No2, quite another to have to be faced with a request to explain the intricacies of the balanced budget rule and the penalties for non-compliance.

In conclusion:

Referendum or not, what is needed is a broad based public debate on Ireland’s relations with Europe and the Euro.  There is no need to be frightened by the idea of a more federal Europe.  Sean Lemass, fifty years ago recognised that joining Europe was the beginning of a journey towards a closer political entity.  The logic of a common currency requires some element of economic and fiscal governance.  If that means a more federal Europe, it would be a better subject for debate than the arid technicalities of a financial treaty.

But it needs an open debate, not propaganda or proselytism, with all sides of the argument allowed their say and the issues, pro and con, teased out as dispassionately as possible.  The Irish people deserve no less than to be treated as adults, to have the issues explained to them, the options and the alternatives costed and argued, and their views and concerns taken into account.

Proselytism is a good term for what often passes for public debate on Irish policy, for that is what these treaties are. Dr Hayes deserves more than a fair hearing in Dublin. But each time someone calls for such a debate, it seems to fall on deaf ears. It’s as though the country doesn’t possess the ‘public software’ to perform such a service.

Read the whole thing

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  • Brian Walker

    Since Bretton Woods, Maurice?

    Since King Sitric in the 11th century, more like.

  • Alias

    “Neither is it entirely derogatory of democratic values to point out the difficulty of deciding complex and highly technical issues of fiscal policy, economic governance and constitutional propriety by a simple “Yes” or “No”.”

    This is bog-standard anti-democratic EU propaganda that says that treaties are too complex for people to decide and, therefore, they should not decide them. In reality, a treaty is no more complex than a party manifesto. If the people cannot be trusted to decide on a treaty, then they cannot be trusted to decide on a government either.

    The more insidious propaganda at work here is to conflate the act of the people deciding a particular policy in their common interest with the act of declaring that they should no longer decide policies in their common interest. They are not being asked to determine policy in an EU referendum: they are being asked to agree that they will no longer determine policy at all but that it be determined by those to who they derogate that sovereignty in latter’s interests.

    “Neither is there much point in getting excited about fiscal independence, which has not existed since Bretton Woods, or economic sovereignty, a figment of the imagination for a small open economy depending on exports in an interdependent and cruel world.”

    That statement is false. The Bretton Woods system ended more than 40 years ago. It didn’t involve any loss of sovereignty whatsoever. Propaganda such as that is designed undermine the defence of some principle by claiming it is already conceded or was never actually held.

    The second piece of EU-issued propaganda in the sentence is to claim that interdependence cancels independence. It is only the EU that makes forfeiting of sovereignty a precondition of free trade between the member states. The rest of the world’s 197 states go not ‘pool’ their sovereignty in order to trade freely with each other.

    “There is no need to be frightened by the idea of a more federal Europe.”

    There is every need to be alarmed by a future of being locked into a backward region of the world that is in fatal economic decline. A couple of months back, former British prime minister Gordon Brown gave a no-frills assessment of what the future is for the egregiously governed EU:

    “Meanwhile, Europe is mired in intractably low growth even before the full impact of the rising pensioner population, which threatens to cut growth further. Unemployment is stuck at around 10 percent, with average youth unemployment at 20 percent. (The youth of Spain face levels of 40 percent.) The near-zero growth cannot be written off as just a cyclical hangover from the global recession. Stagnant growth is exposing the huge structural shift in Europe’s place in the world. Its share of world output has sunk steadily from a peak of about 40 percent to less than 20. In the next two decades it will halve again as China, India, and others rise. Indeed, by 2020, according to Credit Suisse, Asia will account for as much as 40 percent of world consumer spending, while Germany will have only 4 percent, with France, Britain, and Italy all at 3 percent each. There is no “sit and wait” policy in an economic cycle that will fix this.

    Yet Europe’s leaders have failed to produce a credible plan for dealing with its long-term growth issues. Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden will for now continue to sell their products abroad. But the continent as a whole is struggling to find vital niches in the export markets of the future. Only 2 percent of Europe’s exports go to China, 1 percent reach India, and just under 1 percent go to fast-expanding Brazil. In total, just 7.5 percent of Europe’s exports go to the countries that will account for 70 percent of the world’s growth.”

    As Gordon Brown points out, the EU’s share of global GDP has collapsed by half. The EU’s own projections show that it is continuing on a steep downward trajectory with no possibility of arrest. Would even the dumbest of rats be so eager to jump onto a sinking ship?

    The more economic sovereignty Ireland concedes to the EU, the greater the disaster. The Maastricht treaty has been an unmitigated economic disaster for Ireland with its exports having declined to less than half of what they were 10 years ago and its external debt having expanded from a mere 11 billion punts as a sovereign currency to a peak of 1.84 trillion euro during the same period. As bad as EU has been, it is not going to get any better. As Germany continues to boom the pressure of the ECB to raise interest rates will increase. This inevitable increase will have devastating consequence for borrowers and, by nationalised banks (at the EU’s demand), for taxpayers.

    The more we listen to these eurogombeens regurgitating their EU-issued propaganda in various missives, the worse off we become. At some point we’re going to have to stop being taken in by this crap and to start acting in our national interest.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, Gordon Brown gave another reason why we should be diengaging from a bankrupt EU not aiming for deeper integration:

    “The extent of the banking problem simmering in Europe continues to be largely denied. It is rarely mentioned that Germany’s overleveraged banks have liabilities 32 times their capital base, and French banks 26 times. The comparable U.S. figure is 10 times. Europe’s banks owe €40 trillion in liabilities, dwarfing any American, Chinese, or Japanese bank debts. A long process of deleveraging is on its way. In simple terms that means a spate of liquidations. Thousands of European businesses will lose financing and go bust. Last week the new head of the global financial-stability board said that European bank-asset sales could rise to an astonishing €1.4 trillion and may even go as high as €2.5 trillion.”