January 31, 2011
European Commission President weighs into Irish election by helping EPP pals
Barroso’s meeting with Irish opposition leader Enda Kenny adds weight to Kenny’s efforts to portray himself as a political heavyweight. But is it right for the Commission President to offer such publicity to Kenny in the midst of a general election campaign?
Certainly, the Irish TV news on Friday night portrayed Kenny as a statesman with access to the corridors of power. Would Barroso have extended the same courtesy to other would-be prime ministers – or is this a privilege reserved for members of the European People’s Party (EPP), of which Barroso and Kenny are both members?
Kenny needs a little help from his friends
Barring a monumental upset, Irish opposition leader Enda Kenny will lead the next Irish government. The incumbents (Fianna Fail) are hugely unpopular and Kenny’s Fine Gael portray themselves as the most credible alternative, not least beacause they are not Fianna Fail.
But Kenny himself is an electoral drag. He is a great organiser and has a strong record in local and European elections (and a decent record in the last general election) but lacks charisma.
His personal ratings lag those of his party and he has been eclipsed time and again by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore who performs better in parliament and media appearances. Labour may well be the junior coalition partner in Kenny’s government so the ratio of seats each holds will decide the shape Ireland’s political future.
Meanwhile, the discredited Fianna Fail party which has been in power since 1997, has a new leader – and even he is more popular than Kenny, despite being central to the decisions that brought Ireland to the brink of bankruptcy.
Barroso does Kenny a favour
Barroso’s favour for Enda Kenny might seem inconsequential for others in Europe. Who cares about a general election in one of the EU’s smaller member states?
Well, the topic of conversation (we’re told) was Ireland’s debt burden. Where previous Irish elections were a competition to see who could promise to cut taxes the most while spending more – auction politics of the basest kind – this one will be about who is most willing to unpick the EU/IMF bailout deal.
The deal is seen as unfair and unstustainable. Politicians are promising everything from renegotiating the terms of the deal to outright unilateral default on banking debt (currently guaranteed by the state).
For those in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington on whom Ireland now relies for funding, the upcoming general election is of keen interest.
March Summit will suit new Irish government
Reports suggest moves are afoot to help Greece and Ireland radically change the terms of their debt, for fear that one or both will simply have to default. But this cannot be done in time for Friday’s EU summit in Brussels – at which outgoing Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen will bid the Council farewell.
It will come, it seems, at a March summit, by which time Enda Kenny may well be the new Irish leader. This could prove most serendipitous for Kenny who will spend the next four weeks promising the electrorate a better deal, only to return from Brussels in March with exactly that.
A deal by France and Germany, for France and Germany
In reality, this deal will be hatched with minimal input from Dublin and Athens. It’s a deal done by the Berlin/Paris/Brussels/Frankfurt axis in the interests of France and Germany.
Germany and France had taken the view that austerity measures by indebted countries would solve the problem and that debts must be repaid in full. Those debts are, largely, to French/German/British/Belgian and other banks – hence the importance of protecting bondholders.
But since it has become clear that, for example, Greece has to cut its military spending – thus cancelling contracts with French and German arms firms – it dawned on Sarkozy and Merkel that their economies will be hurt by the economic disease afflicting the periphery anyway.
Better to make German/French banks take a little pain than to let arms (and other) companies lose out. And better to do this in a coordinated way than to see Greece or Ireland do a solo run and refuse to repay some of those who lent them money in the past.
Barroso is an unelected President interfering in democratic national election
The point is (a) Barroso is interfering in the Irish election to help a political ally and (b) there’s a lot at stake for all of Europe when Ireland votes next month so the President should tread carefully.
Barroso’s best response to that charge might be that Enda Kenny is the most pro-European and moderate of those offering solutions to Irish voters so helping him might help Europe.
But even that raises the question of whether the Commission has a role in endorsing candidates before voters have had their say.Author : Gary Finnegan