We need a referendum on the austerity treaty

Grassroots - An inside look at local politics – from the pens of the politicians themselves

“I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians,” the former French president Charles De Gaulle once said. Indeed he would have been within his rights to substitute the word ‘dangerous’ for ‘serious’.

What we are seeing now, amidst the European economic crisis is politics being left to politicians, without recourse to the voters who elected them and the citizens they claim to represent.

Do not forget, this is the Europe wide political class that revelled in and fetishised the neo-liberal, aggressive, unregulated, free-market, laissez-faire capitalism, the implosion of which has plunged Ireland, and the EU, into the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s.

In order to deal with that mess European politicians (and do not forget European also includes our politicians. Europe is here, not some place ‘over there’ ) have imposed austerity, harsh cuts and by extension unemployment and near penury on EU citizens.

And why? Because it suits German economic thinking at this time and the EU is nothing less than German led.

Now Insider is an unapologetic Germanophile, who is fascinated by the philosophy, writing, and imagination of Friedrich Nietzsche; the visionary experimental rock of bands such as NEU!, Can, Kraftwerk, and Amon Düül II; the art of the Bauhaus, Die Brüke, and Der Blaue Reiter movements, and the country’s long history of great cinema.

This however does not mean that Insider is prevented from criticising that nation’s stance on the economic crisis and how it is affecting small states like Ireland. Likewise it is also legitimate to criticise the EU for its handling of this situation.

In the past, criticising the EU in Ireland was treated as the act of a dangerous lunatic and led people to be condemned as ‘Eurosceptic’ - a convenient way of lumping them in with right and left-wing extremists so as not to have to deal with their point of view.

Insider is a harsh and unapologetic critic of our own Government, yet nobody would accuse of him of being ‘against Irish independence’ and wishing that the British army would return to take the Dáil off us and make us a colony again.

Why then is it not acceptable to offer reasonable criticisms of the EU and have them taken seriously for debate? A state or institution with an inability to laugh at itself or accept criticism is one that is immature.

We should be concerned about this treaty

So what are Insider’s concerns about the EU/German leadership and the ideology it is imposing on us? The concerns crystallise around the Merkel inspired austerity treaty, or to give it its official title, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, and whether or not Ireland, and indeed other EU states, should be allowed a referendum.

That the EU leadership does not want a referendum is obvious since they know it would meet furious opposition from EU citizens sick and tired of being punished for a decade of economic incompetence by political and financial institutions.

Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said any such referendum could turn on “extraneous issues, such as septic tanks, bond-holders, banking crisis, or decisions being made by the Government, such as cut-backs”.

Yet bond-holders and the banking crisis are the fruit of the economic collapse and are of major concern to EU leaders. It is a reason why the EU/IMF/ECB Troika is imposing austerity measures and a factor leading to the creation of the treaty. Septic tank charges and cut-backs stem from the need to raise money to pay the Troika back.

As such, the austerity treaty and national economic issues are inextricably linked and it is disengenuous of Minister Vradkar to argue otherwise.

Furthermore, the fact that people have criticisms to make of national and EU financial policy is no reason to withhold the right of EU citizens from having a role in determining the future direction of, not just our individual nations, but of our continent. To repeat De Gaulle again, “politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians”.

The issue of whether the treaty should be put to the people is currently being considered by the Attorney General Marie Whelan (a Kinvara native ) and she is expected to give her verdict by the end of the month.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there will be a referendum if it is legally necessary and has denied that it was drafted in a manner that will avoid a public vote. However Insider understands that EU officials have acknowledged that “we drafted the text for the treaty so that [Enda Kenny] has a chance to avoid a referendum”.

EU citizens are likely then to be denied a voice. This is a cause for concern and highlights the democratic defect that lies, untreated, at the heart of the EU.

The treaty is due to come into force next January, with loans from the new ESM being conditional on enactment by no later than March 1 2013.

This would see the Republic of Ireland’s budgets requiring permanent EU/German supervision and impose a financial straitjacket on euro-zone members.

The treaty also demands a structural deficit limit of 0.5 per cent and, as demanded by the Stability and Growth Pact which came into force in 1997, an annual budget deficit target of no higher than three per cent and a national debt lower than 60 per cent of GDP or approaching that.

During the boom years Ireland satisfied the SGP GDP criteria on only one occasion. Other healthy economies of the noughties such as France and Austria never satisfied it. How are EU member states expected to achieve it now during a recession?

Another worrying factor is that despite the treaty’s pledge to provide stimulants for job creation, the over-riding obsession is with austerity and making everything subordinate to it.

This is worrying because it is impossible to generate growth, employment, consumer confidence, and economic stimulus by taking money out of the economy, thereby discouraging people from spending.

The multiplier theory of economics demonstrates that the more money spent in an economy (particularly the more spent on local and nationally produced products ) the more money stays in that economy and is generated for that economy. This is the idea that lay behind the Buy Irish campaign of the 1980s and lies behind the Galway Advertiser’s Shop Local campaign.

Measures which will stimulate economic growth, investment, and market and concumer confidence are what is needed to haul the euro-zone out of the mess it is in. The austerity treaty gives only lip-service to such ideas as the German political leadership’s economic view is fixated on austerity.

This point of concern leads to another. No one country should hold such economic or ideological sway over the entire EU. To underline the point, all EU states, with the notable exception of Germany, will have to impose deeper austerity measures if they are to meet the targets demanded by the treaty.

President Higgins to the rescue?

Even if the Attorney General were to advise the Government on a referendum, there is no guarantee it will heed her. So what options are there for democratic accountability and giving voice to the people who will have to live with this treaty long after the politicians have gone?

The recent Sunday Business Post REDC poll showed 72 per cent want a referendum, with only 21 per cent opposed, so this is not the demand of a crank few, and should not be dismissed.

It is open to any citizen to mount a legal action, while under article 27 of the Constitution 55 TDs and a majority of Seanad members can sign a petition requesting the President not to sign a bill into law before it is approved by a referendum.

Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins has the power to refer the treaty to the Supreme Court if he feels it conflicts with the Constitution and to test whether a referendum is required.

Though only five months in office, this could be his greatest contribution since the lifting of Section 31. On that occasion he struck a blow for free speech. Should he refer the treaty to the Supreme Court, he would be striking a blow for the rights of Irish (and potentially European ) citizens to play a role, alongside the politicians, of where they wish to see their country and continent go; encourage debate and thought on the direction and future of the EU; and articulate the need for the EU to become more of a community of nations, rather than an elite progressing to the exclusion of citizens.

Enda Kenny told the Dáil last week that it was “in the national interest” to see this “new treaty adopted”. Insider would say it is in the national and continental interest to see it opposed.

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