Micheal Martin: Where does Ireland stand in the debate on the future of Europe?

Micheal Martin’s speech in the Dail yesterday on the wash up after last week’s meeting of the European Council meeting are well worth highlighting:

By any objective measure last week’s summit was a mess. At a time when the citizens of Europe are demanding a plan to reform and renew the European Union the Heads of State and Government did little more than argue about jobs for themselves. The debate was about personalities with vague platitudes being offered on substance.

With much of Europe threatened with deflation and already experiencing a weak or non-existent recovery, leaders discussed nothing which would change the direction of policy. Incredibly, a new President of the Commission has been nominated without any discussion of what he proposes to do in the job. Jean-Claude Junker has a well-earned reputation for being able to get deals done.

In his years in the Council he repeatedly helped to offer ways of nudging disputes towards a resolution. That is important for one aspect of the Commission President’s role; what it is not, is a qualification for the job.

The Commission President is supposed to be a leader with a clear vision of the future, and with a deep commitment to making the Union work for its citizens, not just for the political elite. As I said last week, Mr Junker was an active enforcer of failed policies which did Ireland real harm when he was chairperson of the Eurogroup.

The orthodox policies which he supported are directly linked to the scale of the bank debts being carried by Ireland – large parts of which were converted into sovereign bonds last year by the Government.

This is the interesting bit, for it’s criticism of what passes for (any) Irish government’s position on Europe…

the Government has consistently refused to lay out any European policy. When something is agreed the Taoiseach tells us why it was a great decision but he has never set out what we want from Europe or what reforms we are looking for. This has now become critical because of the scheduled British referendum.

It has always been the case that British Euros-cepticism has been based on slogans and prejudice rather than a fair response to the European Union’s activities. It is a simple fact that the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, launched a campaign for renegotiating membership without deciding what he wanted to renegotiate.

Some 18 months ago he launched a review of competencies to study the facts of membership of the European Union and to set out areas where competencies should be repatriated to member states.  So far this review is behind time because in area after area the facts are proving to be stubborn barriers to the grand renegotiation the Tory Party has announced.

Following public consultations and detailed studies, the bulk of the review has said that the British economy and society are benefitting from membership and would suffer if every country were to do their own thing.

I understand the difficulties that were faced last week in finding a face-saving formula after the Prime Minister’s grandstanding on the presidency of the Commission failed but it would be completely unacceptable if the European Council were to actually agree to the Tory Party agenda. Its vision of a simple free-trade zone is absolutely against our interests.

It would destroy the basis for large numbers of basic social protections and threaten real market access for our companies. Everyone is in favour of reducing bureaucracy and removing unnecessary regulations.  However, if the intention is now to begin the full-scale rollback of core protections, and this is unequivocally the Tory Party agenda, there will be massive public resistance.

And then he broadens the focus…

It is one of the great failures of the European Union that it has allowed a false choice to develop that claims that a person can either be a sceptic or a federalist.  This is a superficial and damaging choice that misses the fact that the significant majority of people, even during this crisis, want the European Union to work better.

Over two thirds of citizens voted for broadly pro-European Union parties in the recent elections, here and throughout Europe. At a time of unprecedented crisis, of a challenge to the European Union’s basic principles and the resurgence of extreme ideologies Ireland has to stop standing on the sidelines waiting for everyone else to sort things out.

Where does Ireland stand in the debate on the future of Europe? What are our plans if Britain votes to leave the Union in three years’ time? What are we going to do about the glaring holes in the response to the euro crisis? At a very minimum it is long past time for a formal statement of Ireland’s European policy.  The last time this was done was before the Lisbon Treaty was ratified and events have changed radically since then.

For my money, he goes a little light on the genuine problem of democratic deficit, no less genuine for Ireland as one of the more vulnerable members of the Eurozone. It is ironic too that such a bearish statement emerges from the Fianna Fail leader after rather than before the recent European elections.

Nevertheless, there are some key questions which thus far, outside the careful deliberations engaged individual journalists like Paul Gillespie, have had far too little consideration in the mainstream…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty