Fiscal Compact: Ireland calls surprise referendum
29 February 2012
The Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Irish Independent
In a move that has sent shockwaves across Europe, the Irish government announced on February 28 that it plans to hold a referendum on the new European fiscal compact. In spite of a context of deep recession, high unemployment and growing resentment against the EU, the Irish press believes that there is no alternative but to vote Yes.
Ireland is on course to be the first and only country in the eurozone to give a democratic verdict on the European fiscal compact. Agreed in January, the German-backed treaty which enshrines a “balanced budget” rule in national legislation and grants the European Court of Justice the right to impose sanctions against non-compliant states, is to be formally signed in Brussels by 25 EU states (the UK and Czech Republic have opted out) on Friday March 2. Following advice from Ireland’s Attorney General that a referendum would be needed for the ratification of the 10 page legal text, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) announced to the Irish parliament that “the Irish people will be asked for their authorisation” -
I strongly believe that it is very much in Ireland’s national interest that this treaty be approved, as doing so will build on the steady progress the country has made in the past year.
Mindful that Ireland has rejected EU treaties in the past, first the Nice and Lisbon treaties in 2001 and 2008, then approved in 2002 and 2009 respectively, the Irish Times argues that in referendums “the people are wont to answer not the question put before them, but any other one preoccupying them at the time.” However, it applauds the Taoiseach for his “enthusiastic conviction that the people … will do the right thing.” Strongly pro-EU, the Dublin daily argues that -
…rejection would mean opening an appalling vista for this country. Because the treaty does not require all participating states to ratify it before coming into operation, an Irish No would leave this state behind as the rest of the euro zone moved ahead with closer integration. Ireland might remain formally a euro member, but, critically, outside the central decisionmaking core that has in effect already become the EU’s advance guard. Most importantly, a No would deprive Ireland of further access to the bailout mechanisms and cash, the protective shield which is crucial to our standing in the markets and our recovery.
For the Irish Examiner the nation must understand “the consequences of their vote and what their decision means for us and for our children.”
Those who would oppose it, rather than just reject it because they are justifiably angry about so many of the ugly, inequitable consequences of losing economic independence, must present a viable, alternative way of financing this bankrupt state. That must be the litmus test of any proposal other than ratification. This is a dilemma of absolutes — we’re either in or out no matter how unpalatable that limiting reality might be. It is hard to imagine that our European colleagues, so besieged by so many fronts, might demur and make special arrangements for a small member state so utterly dependent on EU financing no matter how draconian the terms attached to those loans.
Predicting that that the government will argue that a “No” vote will lead to a “terrifying outcome”, the Irish Independent notes that -
One small consolation is that the issue is easier to understand than the content and implications of the Maastricht or Lisbon treaties. Governments dishonestly claimed that these treaties did not matter very much. The feeling that the wool was being pulled over the electorate's eyes must have contributed to their defeat -- at least first time around. With a little effort, one can actually understand the fiscal compact. One can make an informed guess as to what might happen if the compact is rejected. […] The other great irony is that there is little in the fiscal compact which is not already in Irish law under last year's tightening of the eurozone rules, except, perhaps, the extra constitutional status.