Ireland’s Celtic Tiger dazed by the Ritalin King – World Politics Review


The tale could begin, “During the short reign of the Ritalin King cameth the downturn. . . .”

During his six-month EU presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy laced into any number of challenges with a typically hyperactive gusto and self-importance. The spirit of the Sun King may have been whispering in Sarko’s ear, as he put his own stamp on Louis XIV’s famous motto…”L’Europe, c’est moi.”

When time came to pass the EU crown to Prague, the Frenchman threatened to boycott the handover, after unsuccessfully pushing for self-serving alternatives to existing EU mechanisms. The Coulisses de Bruxelles blog quoted an aide to Sarkozy saying, “France is leaving a roadmap on the financial markets, the economic relaunch, immigration, defense, energy, climate change. If [Czech Prime Minister and current EU President] Mirek Topolanek does nothing, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has brought France back to the center of the game, will take the initiative.”

In a globalized world, foreign policy and macroeconomic challenges come thick and fast, and Sarkozy’s mile-a-minute style won plaudits, even if the mix of unilateral gambits alongside rhetorical “EU-nity” was contradictory. Remember last September, when Angela Merkel stood beside Sarkozy as he talked up France’s response to the global downturn, implying that Germany and the rest of Europe lagged behind?

One of Sarkozy’s challenges remains unmet — Ireland, which in June 2008 stunned EU political élites by rejecting the Union’s Lisbon Treaty. Sarkozy managed to make some headway with a Dec. 12, EU Summit pledge by Ireland to re-stage the vote. Irish concerns on abortion, tax policy, and representation on the EU Commission will apparently be met, but no decision has been taken on exactly what mechanisms will or can be used to address this round of the “The Irish Question,” to rework another historical analogy.

The game-breaker could be the economy, which has capsized, going from roaring Celtic Tiger boom to sedated-pussycat bust. EU bigwigs are making ominous comparisons between Ireland and Iceland, casting Ireland’s EU membership as the buoy keeping Good Ship Hibernia afloat. But Irish celebrity economist David McWilliams expressed doubts on Eurozone membership, saying monetary union prevents Ireland from taking vital devaluation and interest rate decisions.

On Jan. 19, Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen used the 90th anniversary of the state’s founding to assert that independence leaders would have wanted Ireland at Europe’s heart, denouncing Lisbon opponents such as Declan Ganley, whose Libertas group helped defeat Lisbon in Ireland.

Ganley aspires to a pan-EU leadership role, and Libertas hopes to place candidates in European Parliament elections this summer, before Ireland’s referendum rerun. Ganley describes himself as “pro-European,” promoting a streamlined 25-page treaty over Lisbon’s incomprehensible blather.

Some issues are lost in the debate however. Ganley proposes an alternative to the EU’s heaving bureaucracy and institutional self-aggrandizement. Nobody knows how that would work. But it underlines how pro-Lisbon advocates’ use of the EU as a synonym for Europe — reducing the continent’s cultures, histories and identities to no more than the gambits proposed from the Union’s wonk and mandarin haven in Brussels.

Beyond specific Irish concerns, others see a creeping, even insidious intolerance of dissent within the EU. In December, “Eurosceptic” Czech President Vaclav Klaus was on the receiving end of a dismissive hectoring from Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a spectacle topped off only by Irish MEP Brian Crowley telling Klaus that despite the “No” vote, the Irish actually wanted the Lisbon Treaty.

Opinion polls published recently seem to back Crowley’s view, with some of them showing that the referendum, if restaged now, would pass — though polls held this time last year showed the same.

Many Irish voters may wonder why they should vote again on an already rejected treaty, which itself is a rehash of the constitution dismissed in France and Holland in 2005? Topolanek told the European Parliament in January that a Czech referendum would fail. Ireland’s own EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy — perhaps semi-estranged from Cowen’s Fianna Fáil party, where he served as Ireland’s finance minister during the headiest boom years — was quoted Dec. 4 saying he opposed a Lisbon rerun.

The Ritalin King did his level best to ensure the Irish will vote again on Lisbon. How that will pan out remains uncertain, given the dizzying political and economic permutations that this global economic downturn entails. But as the day of the Ritalin King fades into night, the “No Means Yes” brigade may have to find a better sales pitch to make sure that they get their way.

Perhaps an undiscovered Rohypnol King awaits crowning, one who will administer a knee-bending dose of economic scare tactics to ensure eventual submission.

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