Finnegan's Take

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.

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  1. Hi Gary,
    Does it really matter, in Ireland, if a Brussels heavyweight supports a local candidate?
    In my country Bulgaria there have been in the past attempts precisely from EPP to throw weigh on local candidates.
    But the result was pathetic.
    Kind regards,

  2. Hi Georgi,

    Yes, you have a point. On the one hand it can make a candidate look well connected, but maybe being well connected to Brussels isn’t always seen as positive!


  3. I think that both authors are right to be interested and wary of this issue at the same time.

    The existing Party in power in the Dail failed to deliver a number of promises that were obviously going to be discussed time and time. The shame of these issues was that they were over-shadowed by the financial crisis that was deceptively hidden by the Government from the People – even though many of them realsed that the pace of growth and expenditure following the Celtic Tiger issue was always a myth. The inordinate expenditure required to follow through the irresponsible and massive incineration projects in Dublin and Cork are but two of these unexplained items which my friends in both cities cannot understand why they have not been curtailed under the current new era of financial prudence (they cannot be afforded) on the back of the environmental anxieties they have aroused in the Country. There is a far better option here – converting the residual waste to the biofuel ethanol – that would barely cost a third of the current budget of €350+ million indicated that the Tax Payers in Ireland would be required to invest in this one project for Dublin and yet for some reason the Government continues to move forwards with this folly – despite the facts that it is a potential white elephant and a mill-stone around the Tax Payers’ necks.

    THe massive subsidies that have been made available to those that wanted to set themselves up as businesses in Ireland have also been a bane of contention. The warnings were given before-hand to both the Government and the EU that these businesses saw Ireland as a place to reap these rewards for the short term (10 years) keeping the benefits of subsidies from the Government (or EU) for themselves and as soon as things looked like they were changing or had been amortised (wrong word) they would seek better pastures. The evidence of this has been the exit of notable manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies over the past few years some of whom have moved to the post 2004 countries where they will be doing the same in 5 to 8 years time.

    Now with the raising of Corporatio Tax in Ireland some of my friends’ companies that would have set up Photo-Voltaic Wind Turbine Sea Turbine and other ‘innovative’ green programmes are now going to the Mediterranean Countries to do the same.

    Mr E Kenny is indeed a non-image person but he may very well surprise us all. However with the electoral system in Ireland not necessarily being easy to read some of the other Parties – Labour, Sinn Fein and [dare we say] Greens may still have a say. It is inevitable that the Party of tradition will not survive this Election un-scathed and some serious heads will roll – including the Finance minister and even the Foreign Minister (leader in waiting) and that is good news. The mess they have wreaked on the Country over the past four years needs admonishing severely.

  4. You are quite right — it is also against the law of the treaties. The Commission by law has to be independent and seen to be independent. It is also politically unethical for a president of a Commission or a member of a Commission to give any favour to any political party, any politician, any State or any commercial, labour or consumer interest.

    The treaties say that the Commission should be above all these interests — the word of the treaties is supranational. A Commissioner should act in the same way as a judge should refrain from speaking privately and obviously with favour to one of the litigants in a court case. The place for the Commission President to have discussion with political leaders is where every politician is equal. It both in public and before witnesses. It is called the European Parliament.

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