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Why I’m Voting Yes

30 May, 2012 3 comments

Tomorrow morning, I will vote Yes in the Referendum.

This is for two main reasons, that the fiscal limits make sense for countries to adopt in the context of a single currency, and that we almost certainly will need funding from an international fund, and that the European Stability Mechanism provides the best opportunity for this.

With a transnational currency, there have to be certain constraints on government deficits to prevent contagion from one country to another. These constraints do not mandate further austerity.

In the short term, we are in a program managed by the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They are lending us money to fund our government’s current inability to borrow on international markets. The restrictions on the government’s spending, mandating a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, are from the Troika, rather than any requirements of our euro membership. As things are, the state spends much more than it takes in, a gap that will have to be filled, but in a managed way in the hope of ensuring stability.

Balanced budgets in the long run are not the same thing as austerity. A balanced budget, or rather a deficit limit in this case, is about limiting the difference between the state’s income and expenditure. These concepts are explained in this video, produced two nights ago by friends of mine.

Governments can maintain both balanced budgets and relatively high levels of public spending, if they make that political choice. The Nordic countries have for years maintained both.

This Treaty was not designed with the Irish case in particular in mind. It was more focused on the case of Greece, which did overspend. So I accept the case of those who say that it would not have prevented the excessive spending here in the 2000s. That is not a reason to vote No. We need a currency that’s viable, and that means ensuring that a country like Greece could not put others at risk through its spending decisions.

I would like to see rules put in place to prevent governments within the euro area insuring debtors, rather than just depositors. What happened in September 2008 should not have happened, and the banks should not have been allowed to expect for that to have been on the table. But justified anger at this decision, and at the manner in which the European Central Bank is slow to reduce the amount to be repaid is not a good enough reason to reject this treaty.

We have no reason to expect that there would be a better deal on banking debt on offer before the end of the year on offer if we vote No. The very fact that it can come into force with 12 countries means that it was set up in a manner which allowed countries to opt out.

We will probably need funding. The best way to be sure of that is to vote for the Treaty. There is no way it could be easier or cheaper to get funding, whether from the IMF or if in some manner by a late entry to the ESM, than by passing this Treaty now. To quote from the preamble to the Stability Treaty,

STRESSING the importance of the Treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism as an element of the global strategy to strengthen the economic and monetary union and POINTING OUT that the granting of financial assistance in the framework of new programmes under the European Stability Mechanism will be conditional, as of 1 March 2013, on the ratification of this Treaty by the Contracting Party concerned…

A post yesterday I read yesterday outlined the options we’d have for funding were we to vote No. None of them are appealing.

Even if we don’t need a second bail-out, to reject the mechanism by which we could receive one would send a signal of uncertainty to the markets. It is for these reasons that a survey of economists by Indecon showed that 90% believe that it is on balance in Ireland’s best interest to vote Yes. Similarly, in a survey by Dublin Chamber, 86% of business people are voting Yes.

I do not believe that we could vote No without risking social and political unrest. I read today sincere articles written by those I know from left-wing and from libertarian perspectives who would argue a No vote is needed to force fundamental restructuring. Perhaps they’re right. But as I look across the political situation in various European countries, I don’t want to see what might happen politically if an immediate adjustment to our budget had to take place.

So I am voting Yes as a small element in managing a recovery, and hopefully a new way of politics both domestically and in Europe.

We must campaign against the democratic deficit and waste of taxpayers’ money in European institutions. We must push against crony capitalism, and reassess how government should spend its money.

But we can do this and support the Treaty. So I will be voting Yes.

Letter to the Editor: Preparing for European treaty vote

Published in The Irish Times, 29 May 2012

A chara, – Seán L’Estrange (May 28th) voices concern about the wording of the amendment. He will be reassured to know that the wording is no different to the form that has routinely been used to allow the State to ratify European treaties. In 1972, we voted to insert a new Article 29.4.3°, “The State may become a member of the European Coal and Steel Community (established by Treaty signed at Paris on the 18th day of April, 1951), the European Economic Community (established by Treaty signed at Rome on the 25th day of March, 1957) and the European Atomic Energy Community (established by Treaty signed at Rome on the 25th day of March, 1957). No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the Communities, or institutions thereof, from having the force of law in the State.”

On Thursday, we are being asked to ratify only the treaty agreed on March 2nd of this year. Any further changes which would conflict with our Constitution would have to be put to the people, as was done seven times between 1972 and this year’s referendum, on each occasion with a similar form of words. – Is mise,

WILLIAM QUILL

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Would the Treaty be inserted in our Constitution?

18 May, 2012 1 comment

No.

This is a claim we’ve heard from the No side. What we are doing is allowing the state to ratify the Treaty, in the same manner as every previous Treaty. It was only last night when discussing this socially that the significance of their claim, and how it diverges from the actual amendment, became clear to me.

Let’s take Article 29.4 as it stands:

The executive power of the State in or in connection with its external relations shall in accordance with Article 28 of this Constitution be exercised by or on the authority of the Government.
For the purpose of the exercise of any executive function of the State in or in connection with its external relations, the Government may to such extent and subject to such conditions, if any, as may be determined by law, avail of or adopt any organ, instrument, or method of procedure used or adopted for the like purpose by the members of any group or league of nations with which the State is or becomes associated for the purpose of international co-operation in matters of common concern.
The State may become a member of the European Atomic Energy Community (established by Treaty signed at Rome on the 25th day of March, 1957).
Ireland affirms its commitment to the European Union within which the member states of that Union work together to promote peace, shared values and the well-being of their peoples.
The State may ratify the Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed at Lisbon on the 13th day of December 2007 (“Treaty of Lisbon”), and may be a member of the European Union established by virtue of that Treaty.
No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State, before, on or after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 5° of this section or of the European Atomic Energy Community, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by—

  1. the said European Union or the European Atomic Energy Community, or institutions thereof,
  2. the European Communities or European Union existing immediately before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, or institutions thereof, or
  3. bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section,

from having the force of law in the State.

The State may exercise the options or discretions—

  1. to which Article 20 of the Treaty on European relating to enhanced cooperation applies,
  2. under Protocol No. 19 on the Schengen acquis integrated into the framework of the European Union annexed to that treaty and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (formerly known as the Treaty establishing the European Community), and
  3. under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, so annexed, including the option that the said Protocol No. 21 shall, in whole or in part, cease to apply to the State, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The State may agree to the decisions, regulations or other acts—

  1. under the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union authorising the Council of the European Union to act other than by unanimity,
  2. under those treaties authorising the adoption of the ordinary legislative procedure, and
  3. under subparagraph (d) of Article 82.2, the third subparagraph of Article 83.1 and paragraphs 1 and 4 of Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, relating to the area of freedom, security and justice,

but the agreement to any such decision, regulation or act shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State

A Yes vote would add a new subsection 10°:

10° The State may ratify the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union done at Brussels on the 2nd day of March 2012. No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of the State under that Treaty or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by bodies competent under that Treaty from having the force of law in the State.

This follows the pattern of previous amendments allowing the state to ratify European Treaties (previous amendments allowed the state to ratify the Treaties of Paris, Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and the Single European Act were superseded by the Lisbon Treaty). The Treaty itself does not become part of the Constitution of Ireland; neither do its specific terms about budgetary constraints.

Take the Lisbon Treaty for example. In 2009, after the referendum, the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act became law. This brought Article 29.4 to where it stands above. But had the government done nothing else, we would not be bound by the Lisbon Treaty. It was only when the European Union Act 2009 was subsequently passed that the Lisbon Treaty became part of Irish law.

It will very much be in a similar manner if the amendment passes the referendum on 31st May.

When should politicians lie?

15 May, 2012 1 comment

I was quite sceptical of Barack Obama from the time he announced his candidacy for the presidency in early 2007. I supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries, tho did support Obama against John McCain. I was never quite convinced by his rhetoric, and his inability to manage expectations played a part in subsequent disillusionment with his presidency. For example, making a commitment just after taking office that he would close Guantanamo Bay within a year, something that has yet to happen, was an odd political move. I would have liked to have seen a very different, market-based to health care reform, which could have tackled long care costs better than the Affordable Care Act, and to be clearly constitutional to boot. He also exhibits brazen self-regard, more so than we usually see from politicians. So I’m a natural cynic when it comes to Obama.

But tho I began my post here on Thursday welcoming President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality by referencing his changing positions since 1996, as of now, I don’t see that it makes sense to critical of him. Let’s assume that Obama’s position since 1996 has been favourable towards allowing gay couples to marry, and “to fight all efforts by those who would stop this”. If to be the president who would during his first term in office endorse same-sex marriage, maybe he had to be a candidate who opposed it. His official process of evolution on the question mirrored the evolving views of the median American voter.

Some have been critical of Obama for not going further, and stating clearly that he would work to see change on a federal level. On KCRW’s Left, Right and Center this weekend, I heard Robert Scheer present the case that his failure of courage undermined the case he was making; to be consistent he should insist on immediate action. But that would be getting ahead of himself in a way that would be counter-productive. He has already ordered his department of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purpose as only that between a man and a woman; he has given his support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would conversely recognise at a federal level any marriage legitimately performed at a state level.

While we expect political leaders to be ahead, the leadership on moral rights cannot all come from the head of the executive. We can expect them to play their part, but they lose their effectiveness if they are too many steps ahead, even if they are right.

The same panel on Left, Right and Center included David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, who welcomed the move, and hoped the Republicans would see reason on this question sooner rather than later, but feared a decision at a federal level would lead to decades-long division as in Roe v. Wade. The pace of the demographic shift makes that seem unlikely to me, and I would welcome a Supreme Court decision that affirmed equal protection to gay and lesbian couples under the Fourteenth Amendment. But it is fair that President Obama wait to see how that judicial process is to proceed before publicly intervening again.

Consider that ten years, it was still criminal in 2002 for two men to have sex (and in practice, as Dale Carpenter recounts, simply to live together as a couple); to borrow a phrase used in the New Yorker Political Scene podcast, imagine trying to convince someone that year that President Barack Hussein Obama had announced that he supported gay marriage, and political analysts were not sure if it would benefit, hurt him, or make no difference. It would seem like something out of a Stephen Fry alternate history novel.

While writing this piece, I came across an historical analogy for Obama’s evolution on gay rights, that of President Abraham Lincoln on slavery. Steve Chapman on Reason.com makes reference to the great Frederick Douglass,

The former slave and black leader Frederick Douglass might have understood. What he said of Lincoln’s approach to slavery could also be said of Obama on same-sex marriage: ‘Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent. But measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.’

With Chapman, I think Barack Obama is taking the right approach, and he will be deserve to be remembered in years to come as the first president to take a stand on what would later be assumed so obviously to be right. And he could not have achieved this without being coy about his true feelings on the matter.

<b>Edit:</b> I was asked on Twitter to clarify exactly when I think politicians should lie. It is specific to a time of cultural change on a within a country where the president would hurt the momentum of their own cause on a question. I’m not talking about Barack Obama pretending to be a sceptic about international trade during the 2008 Democratic primaries, or about Enda Kenny and James Reilly pretending to be committed to Roscommon hospital in the last general election.

The honest No voices on our chances of funding

14 May, 2012 2 comments

This morning, Denis Donovan, a former Deputy Director at the IMF, clearly stated his view that without signing up to the agreements outlined under the Stability Treaty, the IMF would not fund us if we needed more money:

The IMF has made it pretty clear throughout this euro debt crisis that they only go in in partnership with Europe. That’s because they don’t want to put their money at risk…The IMF is very worried about getting repaid, it’s a big concern. If the Europeans are not willing to take the risk to lend to Ireland, there’s no way, in my view, that the IMF will be able to do it.

This corroborates and goes even further than the view of Karl Whelan, an economist from UCD, and a favourite of Sinn Féin, who when considering the possibility of emergency funding from the IMF only, wrote “What is clear, however, is that any programme approved would provide Ireland with far less funds than a second EU-IMF programme.  This will mean more austerity not less”.

So there we have it. If we opt out of this Treaty, and if we need emergency funding, our chances of getting IMF are between non-existent or one that’s much harsher than what we’re currently experiencing.

And as to Gerry Adams’s suggestion on The Week in Politics last night that we could avail of funding from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) without signing up to this Treaty. If we were Johnny-come-latelys to this the Stability Mechanism, they would equally be in no humour to be generous about terms. There’s nothing in this Treaty in terms of budgetary constraints that could be avoided if we needed emergency funding after this.

The only honest view on funding on the No side that I’ve encountered is that of Cormac Lucey. Writing in Business and Finance, he bases his argument on the very basis that voting No will mean that we will not have access to the ESM, “Allowing Ireland access to the ESM cookie jar from 2014 onwards would only give the public sector another excuse to delay its long-overdue adjustment to reality.” A fiscal hawk like Lucey would like us to get a harsh budgetary adjustment over and done with in one foul sweep, without any loans from outside to ease the process.

This is what those ton the left have to answer. If it is austerity they are campaigning against, why are they advocating a position that will make austerity much more likely?

Great News: President Barack Obama openly supports equal marriage for gay couples

It is great news that President Barack Obama again holds the position he held in 1996, saying, “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” (with video here). Having publicly opposed equality in the intervening years, it is a major statement that he joins Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on the side of equality. Whether or not this was prompted by Vice President Joe Biden’s comments on Sunday, he is stating what most presume he believed, but it makes a difference that he sees it politically possible to do so.

 

With national opinion polls showing majorities in favour of equal marriage, there was no reason left for him to pretend not be on the right side of history on this question. Most imagined that a year or two into his second term, that he would announce that his position had finally evolved to support equality for gay and lesbian families. But he could reasonably have been accused of political cowardice; this way, he enters his second term clear on this policy.

Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post has analysed the political implications, predicting that there will be some downside for him on this. I’d broadly disagree. I think most Americans for whom opposition to equality in marriage is a salient issue would already be voting against Obama. He has made a commitment to equality for gay people part of his first term, from not defending the Defense of Marriage Act to his part in the end of Don’t Act Don’t Tell in the military. Some may point to polls against equality in swing states; what matters though, is for how many wing voters in these states is this a swing issue. Ultimately, no one should have been in any fundamental doubt about where he was on the spectrum.

For politically cynical among the Democrats, this will help his funding, bring out some voters, and stop others from who voted for him in 2008 casting votes instead for the Libertarian, Green or Justice Party candidates. But it will also force Mitt Romney to talk about this issue, which he really doesn’t want to do, but has signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge to support a Federal Marriage Amendment, banning same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I think the advantage in this regard would have been greater still had Obama announced this during the primaries, while Rick Santorum would have been there do highlight the religious fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party. On the whole, I think the political implications of this are marginal, though Obama may lose North Carolina.

Someone remarked to me yesterday evening that Obama in 2008 will presumably be the last time a Democratic candidate for president to be publicly opposed to allowing gay couples to marry. Could we see 2016 as the equivalent election for Republicans? Given the strong trend which is only gathering momentum, it wouldn’t surprise me, though I would certainly say so in the case of 2020.

Again, back to Barack Obama last night, this is indeed great news. This is not just about the electoral cycle. It is about every gay person in the United States, particularly those in difficult situations because of their sexuality, who knows that the president is a clear ally, finally the fierce advocate he promised he would be. And this will change minds. There are people till yesterday who could say to themselves that domestic/civil unions/partnerships must be all right, as it was the position of even Barack Obama. Now they will have to think again. This will change culture, which is just as important as changes in the law, the one complementing the other. The United States is a good few steps away now from achieving proper equality for all its gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender citizens. But with POTUS on board, it has moved a major step in that direction.

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