Ireland: “No, but...” to the fiscal compact
30 May 2012
The Irish Times
In the midst of an economic crisis still in constant flux, it would be pointless for the Irish to vote Yes on the May 31st referendum on the fiscal compact, which for the moment is but a collections of penalties for misbehaving signatories. Come back later, argues Fintan O’Toole.
You get a call from a solicitor – let’s call her Angela. She summons you to her office. She shows you the penalty clause of a contract, the one that specifies the punishments you’ll face if you break the terms. She tells you to sign it right now or you’ll be in big trouble. “But,” you ask, “where’s the rest of the contract?” “We’re still working on it. It’s none of your business. Just sign here.” This is a pretty good analogy for the absurd situation we’re in with the fiscal treaty. The treaty, as practically everyone now acknowledges, is not the new political contract that will get the European Union out of a potentially terminal crisis. It is just the penalty clause. It makes no sense unless and until we know what the deal itself will be. Asking us to sign it before we know what the rest of the contract contains is an act of utter contempt. In the face of such contempt, the only rational course for the Irish people is to fall back on their considerable resources of evasion, equivocation and circumvention. The hour for our artful dodgery has come at last. In 1066 And All That, WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman remark that whenever the English thought they had an answer to the Irish question, the Irish would change the question. In the context of Anglo-Irish relations, the joke is rather facetious. But when it comes to Europe, changing the question is actually well-established Irish practice. We’ve done it twice, with the Nice treaty in 2001-2002 and with the Lisbon treaty in 2008-2009. Given the choice between Yes and No, we’ve voted “No but yeah”: go away, come back to us, ask a somewhat different question, and we’ll say Yes.