Sunday, 27 February 2011

Irish General Election 2011: Some early thoughts

The first day of counting is over (Ireland uses the PR-STV system in its general elections), and at the time of writing the results for the 166 Dáil seats stand at: Fine Gael 68; Labour 35; Fianna Fáil 17; Sinn Féin 13; ULA 4; Others 13, so 147/166 seats have been filled. The election will have a big Irish political impact and an uncertain European impact, and it's unclear how this will work out.

In Irish Politics.

It looks pretty certain that the next government will be a Fine Gael-Labour coalition (in continental terms a Grand Coalition). It will be Labour's best result because they will now be the second biggest party in the Dáil after having been the third party for their entire history. There were concerns that their manifestos are too different on major economic issues to work together effectively, but I'm sure there are well established personal links between them and there will be large sections of the aging Labour front bench who will be eager to get into government at last.

For Fianna Fáil it's a complete disaster: only around 20 seats is an unthinkable result for the natural party of government. Their support base is aging and they have become "transfer toxic", so that they rarely won the last seat in any constituency, and there are few constituencies with more than one FF TD. It is a low support base to build form, and they will have trouble trying to distinguish themselves ideologically as they were always a broad-based, Gaulist-type movement whose main ideological componant was Irish Republicanism. In this regard Sinn Féin will be a threat since it can claim its ground on Republicanism and organises in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. FF may have recognised this threat and might be aiming to counter it by organising in Northern Ireland itself. It will be hard for FF to regain the Republican image after their government saw the IMF-EU bail-out deal, however.

A big boost to Fianna Fáil would be leading the opposition, which will give them a chance to feed on the anger of the electorate at the incoming government as it detoxifies. They could face challenges on this on two fronts.

Sinn Féin has done really well, and the party has a strong tradition for good constituency work that translates into votes, and they have more than doubled their representation this time around - a clear sign that all their base-building in the Republic is paying off. They wouldn't get as many seats as FF, but there is a danger for FF that they will try to form a technical group in the Dáil with the ULA and perhaps other left-wing independents to become the biggest opposition party. So it could be SF that robs FF of the "oxygen of publicity". SF will be aiming next time around to eat into Labour's support as the biggest left-wing opposition party. Though SF has become more transfer-friendly, if the economy does pick up I wonder if the rhetoric of opposition - and SF's plans seem quite unrealistic to me - will be able to attract even more votes, or if SF will need to moderate and broad its appeal? If they become more moderate the ULA (United Left Alliance) will be breathing down their neck to fill the protest vote gap.

There are some right-wing independents in the Dáil, most notably Shane Ross, who is reported to be trying to form a like-minded technical group of 8 TDs who could support a FG government and keep Labour out of power. FG is unlikely to take this option as ideological independents would be high maintenance, but it would be tempting in order to retain cabinet posts. In any case it will lessen Labour's bargaining hand.

FG's big election win means that it will be hard for Labour to influence government policy. The question is, should it try to influence it to benefit low and middle income families (its target voters), or become the leaders of the opposition and make Irish politics truly left-right? It sounds like Labour wants to be in government (a lot of rhetoric on government stability and a broad based government to deal with the crisis), but it has to be questioned whether it can influence government enough for it to be worth it. Labour is strong in Leinster and Munster, but very weak in the rest of the country, where SF has won seats. They would need to be wary of letting SF grow while it is in government, or it could fail to break out of the role of "the other party" of Irish politics. Both the alternative opposition allignments are threats to FF.

In European Politics.

There will have to be a renegotiation of the bail-out agreement, as Ireland simply cannot bear the burden of all the private debt in the system. Much of this private debt is made up of loans from German and British and other European banks, which raises the question of why the pain of dealing with bad lending should be concentrated in Ireland. Despite the moral arguments, any action has to be European-wide to be credible: we need money to fund the state and public services, and washing the debt back into the European system would restart the debt crisis which would be bad for the recovering Irish export industry without solving our own public funding crisis.

The problem is that strong negotiations need to be tempered by a clear vision and arguments for the compromises and changes that Irish, German, Dutch, etc, etc, people will have to make. For Eurobonds and bondholder burdening, we would be asking other people to take up the pain and burdens we have, and we need to sell that to them. Internally, we need to sell the pooling of sovereignty involved in Eurobonds and other forms of fiscal harmonisation - after all, we might be called on in the future to bail out other countries in the Eurozone, and we would want to make that as unlikely to happen as possible.

Compromise will be the other of the day, so the Irish government and the rest of the European Council needs to be exceptional in delivering a workable solution to the debt crisis, including economic governance, and at the same time sell it to the people - because all of this will need Treaty change.

If there is an agreement on the future shape of the Eurozone, then there will be a referendum in Ireland. What compromise would be realistic and acceptable to Ireland, and the other Eurozone members?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Irish Election Day Round-up 2011

It’s polling day! This is what the last few weeks have been all about, so good luck to all the candidates, but most of all good luck to the electorate!

NewsWhip,ie has an article on the Paper Protest against the lack of votes for those living abroad. The protest is designed to send a message without spoiling the ballot papers. They also report on a poll on Irish attitudes to gay marriage, which may be a sign of the cultural shift in the country over the last few years.

On banking, there has been successful bidding by two Irish banks for the loan deposit books of two state-owned banks, which has not received a warm welcome everywhere.

Maman Poulet reveals the message of Bertie Ahern to his old constituency. And given the talk of taxes and cutting, The Cedar Lounge Revolution has an article on the Tobin tax, and how it might be introduced at an EU level.

Stephen Spillane has been predicting the election on the airwaves, and The European Citizen also has a few thoughts on the election.

If you have any tips on election blogs or posts, you can contact myself or Stephen on Twitter via @EuropeanCitizen and @Spiller2.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

A few thoughts on the Irish Election 2011

Tomorrow is the big day, where the next Dáil will be elected in Ireland. I had hoped to write more about the actual campaign, but sadly real life got in the way. So instead, here's the election boiled down to one badly-written post:

Trends and Strategy

Fine Gael, the centre-right party, looks set to win almost 40% of the vote, which could get them a single-party majority in the Dáil - something which hasn't happened in Ireland for decades. They'd a good campaign, deciding to hide their leader, famous for his poor media performance, while presenting a good team to fight the election battle on the airwaves. There were 4 leadership debates (and Enda Kenny only took part in three of them, which caused a bit of a fuss), where Enda simply had to not say anything incredibly daft and Fine Gael wouldn't be harmed.

Labour had a terrible campaign. The popularity of their leader, Eamon Gilmore, tempted them to run a presidential campaign with the slogan "Gilmore for Taoiseach" (Labour have never led a government in Ireland before). Given that Labour is the third party of Irish politics, it would have been hard to conduct a cabinet election since they had a more limited gene pool to draw on from their last Dáil cohort, which might explain the lack of a Plan B when the presidential campaign failed. Their finance spokesperson, Joan Burton, was disappointing on TV - the now famous outburst on Tonight with Vincent Browne damaged her image, and the strategy of selling a vision meant that in debates with her competitors she rarely got around to the detail (time limits and impatient presenters made sure of that): not a good position in a generally policy-dominated election. The "vision" point goes for all Labour performances: the party seemed more concerned about its brand than the policy. This changed after the first week and a half, with Gilmore doing well in the debates and trying to insert more substance, and Labour's poll ratings consolidated, but I wonder how much it will add anything to Labour's vote.

It should be said that Labour haven't had a good campaign in the light of their ambitions, but they will increase their vote and their seats. With a different strategy they could have done better yet.

Fianna Fáil probably had as good an election as they could have. In the last leadership debate, Micheál Martin was on the attack, and probably turned people off by talking over the other leaders, but it made clear that FF needs to consolidate its core vote. It seems to be around the 14-16% mark, which means that it's disasterous, but there was little that could be done about that after its record in government.

Sinn Féin and the ULA seemed to have done well for themselves with their messages of withdrawing from the IMF-EU bailout and insistuting a socialist economy with nationalised banks respectively. They will still be small parties, but it shows a fragmentation of the left, and it probably attracted support away from Labour.

The Greens look like they might be wiped out. I agree with Jason O'Mahony that this would be a pity, since they actually tried to achieve - and did achieve - some of their manifesto promises. that's not to say that they don't deserve punishment, but a wipe-out is a bit disproportionate in my opinion.

There are a record number of independents running this year, and around 17 could get elected (how votes split and transfer may decide this). There are still very localist independent who only care about constituency matters, but there are a new breed of independents who are campaigning on national issues, either from the left or the right. The phrase most often uttered by these independents is: "I will work with like-minded independents", to which my brain can't help muttering "what, you mean like in a party?". One of the tensions in democracy is between having independent-minded representatives, and the need to build broad coalitions to enact change. the party system has many faults, but I'm not convinced that independents will improve things much.

A European election?

Europe was a big issue in this election, but only in the limited sense of discussing what could be won from a renegotiation. There was no proper debate about what would need to be done about the entire Eurozone, though there was a brief mention (I counted 1 time during the campaign!) of Eurobonds being a good thing for Ireland. The level of tax harmonisation or budgetary convergence that might be negotiable in return for this and renegotiation of the bail out deal wasn't discussed, except to restate over and over that the coporation tax would not be for sale. In many ways it's natural that parties don't want to give away their negotiating position beforehand. However, these changes will require a referendum in Ireland, and perhaps in other Member States - we need to start speaking in a language of what is just for everyone in the Eurozone, and not simply "if it's good for us, it's good for everyone, because then we can pay some of the money back". The shape of the Eurozone will stay with us after we recover (however that happens, and however long it takes), so there should have been a more open discussion about this.

The Next Dáil

It's pretty clear from the poll trends that FG will near a majority on its own, and could form a government with the support of some independents. I'd like to see Labour stay out of government and lead the opposition. That would be a massive change in Irish politics as it would help solidify an opening left-right divide and end the old civil war political divide. Being in opposition and having that bigger gene pool (because Labour has done well in the election in that it will increase its seats, just not reach the huge ambitions it set itself in leading the next government) to construct a better alternative/shadow cabinet government. It could have big consequences for FF, who might not recover to lead a government in the forseeable future, and become the third party of Irish politics. Irish politics will be fluid in the future, so much depends on Labour's position over whether or not the civil war divide returns...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Irish Election Blog Round-up #14

We’re nearing the finishing line, and the polls seem quite steady at the moment, though there are still undecideds out there and the question of the transfers from independent candidates.

The blogosphere has been musing on the nature of elections in Ireland. Stephen Spillane has written about the election broadcasting moratorium that will kick in on Thursday, and looks at the Irish political culture and localism – as does Slugger O’Toole.

Irish Election discusses the possibilities for the next government and Fine Gael, and Maman Poulet looks at the independents in this election.

The banks are an ever present concern, so The Cedar Lounge Revolution examines the comments by Alan Dukes on the sector. Also in the spotlight is the idea of job creation over at

Despite the innovations of Twitter, Facebook and blogging in this election, posters will always be with us at election time – but that doesn’t mean that they all have to be serious...

If you have any tips on election blogs or posts, you can contact myself or Stephen on Twitter via @EuropeanCitizen and @Spiller2.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Irish Election Blog Round-Up #12

We’re just a week from the big day when the votes for the crucial poll is cast, and it seems that we’re still in single-party government territory, which has drawn an interesting analysis from The Cedar Lounge on what this might mean for the Labour Party, and an eye-catching reaction from the Green Party.

Labour’s Eamon Gimore, it seems, has a personalised message for you. How has the Labour Party handled the internet campaign? A good move? Too manufactured? Or does it make any difference?

Political reform is the order of the day, so it’s good to see the blogosphere investigating the claims of the parties. examines the competing versions of proposed citizen’s assemblies.

And what do you think of the calibre of TDs in the Dáil? O’Keefe thinks that there are too many intellectuals! I wouldn’t have thought that brains to be the most maligned characteristic in Leinster House...

If you have any tips on election blogs or posts, you can contact myself or Stephen on Twitter via @EuropeanCitizen and @Spiller2.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Irish Election Blog Round-Up #10

Or at least I think it's #10 - it's hard to keep track!

Another day, another debate, but the first debate between the big 3 – as Gaelige – will broadcast later, so we’ll have to wait for the next rash of post-debate analysis. Meanwhile, there are plenty of competing viewpoints in the blogosphere, particularly between those who believe we have the political clout for renegotiation, and those who a rapidly concluding that the parties won’t be in any position to renegotiate.

Social questions are getting more of an airing online than in the debates so far. Maman Poulet takes a look at how the parties’ manifestos deal with LGBT issues and Jason O’Mahony asks the question: what will Fine Gael’s social values be in a single-party government?

With Labour not doing as well as they expected in the polls, Eoin O’Malley tries to answer the conundrum: What’s gone wrong for Labour? Fianna Fáil may have dropped historically low in the polls, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t attracting a new electoral base...

Finally, more talk about tax, with Fine Gael proposing a tax on “content” instead of a TV licence.

If you have any tips on election blogs or posts, you can contact myself or Stephen on Twitter via @EuropeanCitizen and @Spiller2.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Withdrawing from the ECHR: a European "Civil Death"?

Increasingly there are calls for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which has recently been brought to public attention because the of the Hirst v UK (No. 2) case, in which the Court ruled that the UK breached the rights of prisoners by having the loss of the right to vote as an automatic consequence of imprisonment. It should be noted that the Court of Human Rights is not connected to the EU, which is a different organisation - a mistake that people who should know better continuously make.

[Though the Convention has influenced the rulings of the court of Justice of the European Union, this was historically mostly because the EU Court wants to avoid confrontation with national courts like the Bundesverfassingsgericht over respecting rights, rather than some assumed desire to subordinate themselves to another court. Now the ECJ has to take into account Convention law under the Treaties, but this only applies to EU law - and why it's a bad thing that the ECJ should respect the ECHR has yet to be explained to me.]

The Court noted the state of the law in the 47 Council of Europe countries:

"Law and practice in Contracting States

33. According to the Government’s survey based on information obtained from its diplomatic representation, eighteen countries allowed prisoners to vote without restriction (Albania, Azerbaijan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine), in thirteen countries all prisoners were barred from voting or unable to vote (Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey and the United Kingdom), while in twelve countries prisoners’ right to vote could be limited in some other way (Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania and Spain).

34. Other material before the Court indicates that in Romania prisoners may be debarred from voting if the principal sentence exceeds two years, while in Latvia prisoners serving a sentence in penitentiaries are not entitled to vote; nor are prisoners in Liechtenstein."

The Court ruled that an indiscriminate restriction of the right to vote was contrary to the Convention. This doesn't mean that prisoners' right to vote cannot be restricted, but it has to be proportionate to the offence and not automatically applied to all prisoners regardless of the crime committed. I have heard few arguments against this per se, except that of the medieval concept of the civil death, where a prisoner looses all his or her civil rights upon conviction. The problem with this line of argument is that it hasn't been made in a very coherent way. The medieval concept entailed the loss of all rights - even that of the right to life, so that murdering such a person was not against the law (just like killing an animal isn't murder). Nobody is advocating that, but then that means that we distinguish between different types of punishment all the time. Some crimes result in a prison sentence, some do not. Much of the anger has been directed against the idea that murderers and rapists would get the vote - but this is not what the judgment is about, and the people in prisons are not solely murderers and rapists. Should I take it that serious violent crime is the sole criteria that people think would merit disenfranchisement, or are there other grounds?

Sadly, it has not been a subject of public debate to decide which crimes are worthy of disenfranchisement. It is a sad loss to the public debate, but it was raised by David Rennie of The Economist - the only place in the mainstream media I have read such an argument about the quality of this debate.

Jon Worth has looked at the international dimension to the idea of withdrawal from the Convention. Mutual responsibilities are important, and it's odd the way some people are eager to reject the argument that withdrawal would encourage other countries with worse human rights records to ignore the Convention or withdrawal as not the UK's concern (is it not in everyone's interest that their remains a culture of human rights and democracy in Europe? Like a garden, these things need to be maintained, and it's foolish to pretend that history is simply progressive and that things won't decline). The political culture in Europe and other European countries tends to spill over and become an argument in other countries, for good and bad. The argument that other countries should withdraw and take responsibility for these matters themselves - well, I don't find that convincing at all. I doubt that France's outburst over being called on the Roma expulsions was down to being part of a system of international law, but rather due to a feeling of entitlement, as if it should be allowed to do whatever it wants.

Similarly the attitudes of exceptionalism do not make good arguments for withdrawal. The idea that there is something unique about the UK that it will always deal with these matters well is not very reasuring. Likewise, I wouldn't believe France would be great at the job simply because it can claim that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen as part of its historical legacy. The UK's recent anti-terrorism laws have been a cause for concern for the UK courts, but some of these issues (unrestrained stop-and-search) had to reach the ECHR.

A claim that is also being made is that British judges can protect the rights of citizens better than the European Court. First of all, this ignores the fact that due to the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty, British judges cannot overturn breaches of human rights enacted by Parliament (say, if it legalised torture or restricted the franchise). Second, though it has been pointed out that some US states don't permit prisoners to vote, it's not a clear "continental European v the Commonwealth" dividing line, as Canada and South Africa have produced similar judgments. The question then becomes would the people who argue that the British judiciary should be able to protect rights accept it if the Supreme Court made the same judgment? Or is it more of an argument that it should be for the legislature rather than the judiciary (in which case it becomes a question of should the state be able to do what it wants - for no matter how democratic the decision is, it ultimately uses state power against the individual)? I'm afraid I've never been convinced by the argument that politicians should have absolute power.

Indeed, in a system where rights in general are conferred and may be taken away without reference to the rule of law it is hard to speak of rights as such. Surely the correct term for rights that are bestowed and may be taken away by an unchecked sovereign authority is "privileges"?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Irish Election Blog Round-Up #8

As we come to the end of another week of election campaigning, there seems to be a divide between the blogosphere and the media on the quality of the election. While many in the mainstream media seem to find the campaign interesting – at least when it came to the debate earlier this week – the blogosphere’s not so impressed. Over at Irish Question they ask if Ireland is a “political zombie” because of the lack of ideology.

Meanwhile Stephen Spillane has a few notes on canvassing, and Jason Mahony asks about Labour: if not now, when?

Maman Poulet takes a look at the manifesto promises so far on disability, and News Whip challenges us on political reform, asking: is the car broken, or the driver just drunk?

Finally, as the election seems to be focused on who we will send to Europe to negotiate on our behalf, it’s worth noting that we’ve chosen “Jedward” to send to the next Eurovision. What that says about the prospects of electing a competent government, I’ll leave for you to decide...

If you have any tips on election blogs or posts, you can contact myself or Stephen on Twitter via @EuropeanCitizen and @Spiller2.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Irish Election Blog Round-Up #6

Yet another day on the election campaign trail in the Blogosphere, and no doubt you have been saturated with debate analysis. The big election show on Tuesday is a common trend in the blogs, but there are a few other stories cropping up as well.

Slugger O'Toole has noticed that Sinn Féin have mixed up the nationality of the road signs on their election literature.

Irish Election is questioning Brian Lenihan's decision to delay drawing on the Stability Mechanism until the new government enters office: is it allowed under the deal? Also, for those who are interested in polling statistics, Irish Election spells out just how bad the polls are for Fianna Fáil, while the Cedar Lounge Revolution is stunned by the stability of the polls.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the vague Franco-German plan doesn't seem to have rallied many to it. How will the debate on the Eurozone change as this election progresses?

And Pass Level Politics gives some insight into the art of canvassing.

If you have any tips on election blogs or posts, you can contact myself or Stephen on Twitter via @EuropeanCitizen and @Spiller2.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Eurozone and the Europarties: ELDR

Given that there's a lot of discussion on how to reform the Eurozone, I thought I'd send some quick questions by email to some of the Europarties on what there positions are on Eurozone reform, and what role they play in the debate.

The first to reply was the European Liberal Demoract and Reform Party, and I've included the questions and ELDR's answers below. I've included some of my own notes to explain what the links included contain, but read the links in full to get the full sense of the proposals. Thanks to ELDR for replying.

As a further note, ELDR now has Associate Membership (hat-tip Stephen Spillane). I wonder how this might start to change the party, if at all. Will the addition of the ELDR's "own" members (as separate from the membership of its constituent parties) start to have influence its positions in the European Parliament?

1. So far the high-profile discussions on economic governance have been at the level of Heads of State and Government during European Council summit meetings. What do you see the role of Europarties in this debate to be, and what role is ELDR trying to play?

ELDR has for many years already been organizing liberal Prime Minister summits preceding the European Council meeting. By those meetings, ELDR assumes a coordination function among the member parties to bring together the positions of liberal governments.

See here the links to the two past liberal summits.

2. Is the European Financial Stability Mechanism a good method of combating the debt crisis in the Eurozone? Are you satisfied with how it works in ensuring lending to certain countries, or should it be changed, and why?

This mechanism has been conceived as a temporary mechanism and should orderly phase-out in 2013. Permanent crisis mechanisms such as the EFSM risk moral hazard behavior of EU member states as they provide for the wrong incentives concerning budget policies. Only a comprehensive package of measures can prevent future debt crisis as called for by the ELDR in 2010.*

* Own Note: As an extract:

"[ELDR] Calls for:

Strict budget discipline in all member states of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). As laid down in the treaties, member states ought to aim for balanced budgets, with a three percent budget deficit being the maximum allowed under extraordinary conditions. Stronger emphasis should also be laid on staying below the maximum debt level of 60% of GDP as defined in the second criterion of the SGP, and on surveillance of both public and private debt;

A stronger enforcement of the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact by creating gradual and automatic sanctions in the preventive and corrective arms of the Stability and Growth Pact which are not only financial, but also political, and calls for a new Stability and Growth Pact that would allow for temporary suspensions of payments from the cohesion and structural funds to countries that repeatedly violate the SGP. However, this does not exempt the Member States from fulfilling their obligations toward their citizens and businesses;

The depoliticisation of the power to enforce the Stability and Growth Pact, by moving the decision from the ECOFIN council to an independently enforced mechanism executed by the European Commission;

The orderly phase-out of the EFSF on 30 June 2013, as planned and promised at the time of its creation;

The introduction of European standards for EMU member states’ financial accounts, including clear and enforceable reporting standards that are cross-checked by EUROSTAT"

3. More fiscal integration is often mentioned as a key part of economic governance: what does this mean to ELDR? How far should integration go in this area (for example, should there be Eurobonds?): what should the EU do on one hand, and the Member States on the other?

Europe needs the Euro but a common currency also demands greater fiscal and economic coordination. The key is a stricter budget discipline of member states and stronger enforcement of the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact as adopted by the ELDR Party in Helsinki in October 2010.

European Liberals are at the forefront of discussing proposals how to go about Eurobonds. Among them former ELDR Vice President and chair of the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee Sharon Bowles** or the liberal group leader in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt.*** In this respect it is equally clear for Liberals that the EU must not become a monetary transfer union or falling into the trap of member state to run down the same fatal spiral huge budget deficits.

** [Own Note: this proposal is for the bailed out countries to be refunded some of the high interest that they have paid when all debts have been paid off].

*** [Own Note: proposal for Eurobonds].

4. In the budget discussions at the end of last year, the European Parliament thought it was important to leave the question of own resources, including the idea of taxation (e.g. financial/environmental taxes), open for future budget discussions. Where do the European Liberal Democrats stand on EU taxation? Is this an important part of economic governance, or a separate issue?

Taxation (be it national or European) is obviously an important part of economic policies, particularly for liberals. The ELDR Party is about to launch its focus year 2011 ( on the next multi-annual framework of the EU budget. The question of EU taxation will be an essential part of the discussion and the ELDR Party is expected to adopt a theme resolution on those issues at the party congress in November. The possibility of levying EU taxes has always to be reviewed in the context of national austerity measures and national taxation. Europe cannot afford to generally burden citizens with more dues.

5. Financial regulation is a big issue and the EU has tried to tackle this on a macroeconomic level and in hedge fund regulation last year. Has the EU done enough in this area? What, if anything, should be done differently and why?

At the beginning of the financial crisis there was a substantial failure in governmental supervision as well as in the financial institutions themselves. Even though everyone loves to blame hedge funds, they were certainly not the cause for the crisis.

In its resolution on a new prosperity from November 2009, ELDR has spelled out that existing regulation needs to be reviewed but that more intervention will not lead to economic recovery.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Irish Election Blog Round-Up #3

It's only the first week of the election, but already some are drawing a few lessons. Enda Kenny may want to prove himself capable of being a fast learner, as the Blogosphere has been quite critical of him over the last few hours. Kenny has stated that he doesn't want to appear on a TV3 debate run by Vincent Browne due to a joke he made during the Fine Gael leadership challenge last year. Called an act of cowardice by some, and simply ridiculed by others, unfortunately his comments on Gemma Hussey's questioning of his leadership on RTÉ haven't gone down well either.

Fianna Fáil's first video of the campaign is doing the rounds, and it features Micheál Martin playing some hurling - is this the Irish version of Tony Blair playing tennis?

It is impossible to escape the issue of the banks in this election, and NewsWhip brings us some more news on AIB bank bonuses.

There will be few constituencies as interesting as Dun Laoghaire in this campaign, so over at The Cedar Lounge Revolution they've been musing about what way the vote is likely to go.

It may be one of the most serious elections that has faced the state, but there's plenty of election humour around. Here's some courtesy of Lucy's Drowning and the Oireachtas Retort.

If you have any tips on election blogs or posts, you can contact myself or Stephen on Twitter via @EuropeanCitizen and @Spiller2.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Plan Outside: Going it alone Ireland

Today the Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, was having fun down in Limerick aping the Rubberbandits by telling potential voters: "Feck the bailout, we've a plan outside". Labour's position has hardened over the past few days, perhaps due to seeing the dregs of the plunging Fianna Fáil support trickle off to Sinn Féin, rather than give a boost to the traditional third party. Labour may be polling in the early 20s - a good place to be for it historically - but when Labour is pushing Gilmore as Taoiseach, they would want to make greater headway over the next few weeks.

So Labour revealed its plan earlier this week, and it's more ambitious in its bailout renegotiation aims. Instead of the deficit-reducing plan (reducing it to 3% of GDP) lasting until 2015, as currently agreed, it should be pushed back to 2016; instead of a €9 billion adjustment, it should be €7 billion. Labour is hoping that if they reach their aims, there will be another billion for it to invest in the economy.

This isn't as unilateralist as Sinn Féin, who really would tell the IMF to take their money and go home. In the meantime, Sinn Féin hopes to raid the pension fund to invest in the economy, while raising taxes to cover the gap between tax receipts and state spending for the next year. Sinn Féin's leader, Gerry Adams, is not known for his economic competence, and has been questioned over SF's version of past events, and whether there is simply enough money to be raised to cover the whole state bill without cutting public services. (Here's a 20 minute radio interview with him on RTÉ) Sinn Féin hopes that by shutting down and amalgamating banks so private debt is separated from the public, the bond market will be kind after only a year.

While Labour may be talking unilateralist, yet standing on a renegotiating platform, there seems to be little discussion about what a real unilateralist stance may do to Ireland and the wider Eurozone economy. The original rationale for Ireland accepting the bailout was that Portugal - and perhaps even Spain - may need to be bailed out if Ireland refused, and that it was unlikely for Ireland's situation to have sufficiently improved after 6 months, if it chose to rely on its pension fund. Portugal may have survived its first borrowing test, but, if the Greece-Ireland pattern is anything to go by, it won't be long until the European Financial Stability Mechanism will need to be called on again. With France and Germany launching their own plan today, it’s clear that there's a general consensus that things in the Eurozone need to change. How would unilaterally pulling out of the EFSM affect the Eurozone and Britain, at a time when it's the export sector that is one of the few areas of the economy that we can feel good about? Surely the core of the Eurozone would be damaged financially, as they have to borrow more to bail out banks and other countries, or, conversely, they let them fail (either one or the other or both), in which case there will be a lot of economic turbulence.

Would Ireland have enough money, or be able to raise enough, in such an economic climate to sufficiently invest in and revive the domestic economy before we need to go back to the bond markets? Of course, I could be way, way, off in many of my assumptions here: I know little of economics. However, shouldn't these issues, and how the Eurozone is going to be run in the future, be debated more?

What shine there was on austerity has now definitely come off, and despite the resignation to fixing the deficit, parties of all colours are now talking about investment to some degree. The consensus is that Ireland will eventually have to default and cannot continue to pay of the private debt it has accumulated. If unilateralism doesn't work, then negotiation will have to. So there's the fundamental question of how each of the parties are seeking to influence opinion and shape the debate: through the Europarties; contacts with other governments; shaping plans for how the Eurozone should be run?

I've heard very little of this from any of the parties here. "We must save our corporate tax rate", is the line in the sand we draw, but a simple "it's good for Ireland", is unlikely to be an endearing stance. There is very little argument about why tax competition is a good way to run a currency union - and surely this is the best way of attracting allies and forming a coherent vision of the Eurozone. It's sad to see that the response to other countries debating our taxes, and Eurozone taxes in general, is mostly "they should mind their own business". We also contributed to the Greek bailout, and were at the table when the conditions were drawn up, so we have to give aid as well as receive it: shouldn't we focus on the Eurozone as something we have an equal right to have an opinion on and argue about, rather than sulking that other people dare discuss our corner?

Fine Gael has tried to show that they have strong European connections - and imply that they're best placed to renegotiate the deal - when Enda Kenny met Barroso last month:

The hyped-up music - a mix between The Incredibles and Mission Impossible - may detract from the credibility (you can skip to 1.16), but at least it shows an awareness that negotiation means convincing others, not just ourselves.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Ireland 2011 Blog Round-up #1

The moment everyone had been waiting for has gone and passed: Cowen went to Áras an Uachtaráin to receive the President's signature on the dissolution of the Dáil, and we finally have a firm election date - 25th February. It's one of the most important elections in the state's history, and there will no doubt be a few political musings of different colours on the web over the next few weeks, and perhaps even a few questions over the partys' online campaigning. So this is the first in a series of Irish election blog round-ups that I'm doing over the campaign with Stephen Spillane.*

Over at the Cedar Lounge Revolution, there have been a few thoughts on the latest polls.

The health system may turn out to be an important election issue, and Andy Pollak at Slugger O'Toole has been comparing the health systems North and South.

Veronica at Irish Election asks if the Labour Party are going to U-Turn and reject the IMF-EU bail-out deal outright.

Pete Barker at Slugger O'Toole picks up on an interview with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams (who seems to be increasely staddled with the nickname "the Baron"), focusing on the SF bank guarantee narrative.

At the moment Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore appear to be the two most likely rivals for the post of Taoiseach. Jason Mahony asks how a rough election campaign may affect a coalition government.

Suggestions for other blogs covering the election to keep an eye on are welcome!

*UPDATE: Our round-ups will be cross-posted on, and if you want to send Stephen ideas, you can mail him at

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

"We have a democratic calling"

Catherine Ashton, the High Representative, has just spoken to the European Parliament in Brussels on Tunisia and Egypt.

On Tunisia, Ashton was able to describe what action is being taken. She will submit a proposal to the Foreign Affairs Council on restrictive measures to freeze the assets of Tunisian figures suspected of embezzling public Tunisian funds. A EU mission to support the legal framework of elections in Tunisia has been sent, and Ashton will visit Tunisia in two weeks. Ashton also pointed out to parliamentarians that the newly appointed Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Brussels as his first official visit, and spoke with her.

Regarding Egypt, Ashton had some praise for the demonstrations, saying that "the great strength of this movement is that it is happening across Egypt", and called for peaceful protesters who had been arrested to be released, and the restrictions on online media to be ended. Recently violence has broken out, with at least 500 people injured in the violence according to Euronews (which has taken to showing a continuous stream of fighting on Egyptian streets), and it seems that the clashes are caused by the police and pro-Mubarak demonstrators trying to dislodge the anti-government protestors, with the army standing aside, as if waiting to see which side will be more determined. Ashton called for calm on all sides, and described the EU as willing to help with reform and change in the region, saying, "we are a Union of democracies, we have a democratic calling".

Guy Verhofstadt described the only proper European response to the Egyptian crisis to be the Turkish one, which called for Mubarak to listen to the demands of the people, and demanded that Ashton state that the EU is fully behind the Egyptian people and their demands. I agree that that is the correct, principled, stance that we can take, though I understand that Ashton - indeed, any High Representative - isn't in the position to make strong statements off her own bat. I also have some sympathy for the High Representative: these situations are hard to react to, particularly when you have to co-ordinate 27 different foreign policies. However, there is clearly a popular movement in Egypt, and we should be consistent in our calls for democracy and human rights. Ashton's weakness here is probably her inexperience - I do not know what her personal reaction to the situation is, and I feel that she probably recognises what the circumstances in Egypt mean, but any High Representative has to have a clear vision and strategy, backed up with facts and strong arguments when faced with such a rapidly changing situation. This inexperience probably means that any response she wants to formulate is done relatively slowly, and she is unable to deal with national policy variations well enough to co-ordinate quickly.

There was a lot of talk by MEPs about how the EU should take a stand and acted together, which I agree with, but we need to recognise that we can only have a limited impact on events within other countries undergoing popular protests at the best of times. The Iraq invasion has discredited the idea of intervening, and any action we take has to be principled, but always allowing for the change to be a domestic affair. If we say we shouldn't intervene in other countries to change their regimes, then we have to accept that that means that we have to deal with other countries as we find them, and that international politics are complicated by more competition from powers that aren't that interested in democracy (though obviously our own record on this internationally isn't the cleanest).

Firm, principled political stances, and being able to offer assistance to ensure peaceful and stable reform (it is hard to foster democracy in a revolutionary atmosphere, given that compromise and trust is at the heart of the democratic system), are probably the limit of what we could do, but they are important nonetheless in encouraging a peaceful transfer of power. In the future it may be wise to have a plan in the European External Action Service that mandates the high Representative to deal with similar principled and supportive way, with the speed and coherence that are required.