As the Greek tragedy rumbles on France has said it will keep up efforts to reach a deal. France has also maintained that the biggest critics of Greece are the other smaller countries. This brings Ireland into the spotlight. Has the government really been politically clever in how it has handled the Greek crisis?
Ireland has a strong reputation in Europe. At several junctures in the history of the EU it is Ireland that has helped to bring people around the table and do deals. Bertie Ahern even made something of a reputation for himself out of it. The fact is that Ireland always held a unique position. Larger countries always saw us as something of an EU success story and were willing to trust us. At the same time we are a smaller country and know and understand the problems such nations have in dealing with the EU.
In the current crisis Ireland was perfectly positioned. We have come through an EU/IMF bailout programme. We did all that was asked of us. Germany and the ECB know that Ireland is not chancing their arm. On the other hand we know the issues with unsustainable debt. We know the problems austerity brings. We have sought solutions for historical debt and been rebuffed. We have on numerous occasions pointed out where the EU and ECB could have been fairer to Ireland.
If a deal was reached with Greece not only could it solve the current crisis but it could also help nations like Ireland. The Irish Government knows that Greece cannot possibly get all it wants but there are some key elements that Ireland would not mind having on the table either. The opportunity was there to be taken. Ireland could and should have been the honest broker. The deal maker. Enda Kenny should have been the man sitting down with both sides working through proposals, visiting other European Leaders, especially in small countries and building support for a deal. This was a moment of leadership that Ireland should have grasped with both hands.
If it failed nobody would blame Ireland for trying. If it succeeded then the government would be hailed as dealmakers. It would have played well with voters at home who would see the government as trying to help rather than just tagging along. In one instant Enda Kenny would have defined himself as a leader and a negotiator.
Germany does not need small countries throwing out platitudes of support. It does nothing for them. Germany needs valuable friends. Friends that can be of use and actually do something. Greece cannot be lectured by Germany; they needed someone who could see a bigger picture beyond the immediate loan repayment. All it required was for the Irish government to be a little less eager to jump. For once they should have played cards close to their chest and spoke evenly and fairly about the needs of both sides. They didn’t have to criticise or make demands of anyone just keep it balanced. Keep out of the media lectures and for once do your talking inside the room rather than over the airwaves. Instead they chose to follow the central line and tell Greece what it had to do. In that moment the chance of having an honest broker respected by both sides was gone.
Maybe the days of Ireland’s influence are over in the EU. Maybe we just don’t have anyone with the courage to seize upon a risk and create an opportunity. Maybe we just want to keep our heads down and follow. Whatever the case, a chance to really do something valuable for both sides in the Greek debate was lost.