During the months of August and September, I was working on the Ireland for Europe campaign to secure the passage of the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It was a privilege to be part of this effort, and I got on very well with those I was working with.
One of the areas in which I worked on was as a contributor to the blog. Now that I’ve finished there, I think I’ve into the habit. I’ve long posted items on Facebook, using it in ways as a blog between friends, but posting a public blog makes a connexion with the wider internet. I’ll see what I can make of this anyway.
My main interests are political, between Irish, American and elsewhere. Ideologically, I’d class myself as a liberal, in the way The Economist uses the word.
As previously noted here, a recent Indecon survey reported that 90.8% of economists asked said that Ireland’s overall economic interests were likely to be best secured by a Yes vote.
These were economists from the seven Irish universities, from the ESRI and from Indecon itself. Economists working for the media, banks, government departments or agencies, or with employer or trade union organisations were not included.
In light of this, we held a seminar earlier today titled Economists for Europe, chaired by Dr Alan Ahearne, Special Advisor for the Minister for Finance, and with presentations from Dr Alan Gray of Indecon, Prof. Antoin Murphy of Trinity College, David Croughan of IBEC and Paul Sweeney of ICTU (so, of course, only Gray and Murphy contributed to the Indecon survey).
In his opening remarks, Dr Ahearne reported that the American Chamber of Commerce have said that they provide 300,000 reasons to vote Yes. He emphasised the benefit our EU membership gives us as a traditionally export-based economy, which is to be the case again after the brief period earlier this decade when we were demand-based. 62% of our exports go to other EU countries. Given this emphasis in our economy, he said that it was important for us that the globalised world functioned well.
Alan Gray, Managing Director of Indecon International Consultancy Group, prefaced his remarks by stating that both he and other economists tended to stay away from political commentary, but felt it important to intervene on this occasion. He said that the fundamental question was about confidence, something which can have a major impact, even if not easily quantifiable in models. He said that the economic question is not about the Treaty per se, but about the vote. If there were no vote on Lisbon, we would not feel its absence, but the vote itself would send out a particular message which would be difficult to explain to potential investors. He also made the point that investors would generally give very little attention to Ireland, so this could have a serious impact on perception.
Prof. Antoin Murphy, of the Department of Economics in Trinity College, Dublin, highlighted the help we received from the European Central Bank in two periods: the initial stage of multinational growth from the late 1980s, and in the past year when we needed an injection of liquidity. He also refuted claims that bond prices have already taken our rejection into account, as the trend downwards, rather than upwards as would be expected in such a case.
Paul Sweeney, economic advisor to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, referred to The Charter Group, a pro-Treaty lobby group. He also admitted that there were concerns about workers’ rights in the EU, but that these had nothing to do with Lisbon. He appealed to the right of collective bargaining in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the benefits of FDI which we have from being less Eurosceptic than Britain. He termed Cóir’s poster on the danger of a €1.84 minimum wage as a disgusting lie.
David Croughan, chief economist of the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation, talked of how business was overwhelmed by the benefits of the internal market and the single currency. In terms of specific changes Lisbon would introduce, he outlined the benefits of the Protocol on Eurogroup in terms of closer coordination and dialogue between finance ministers. He said that business never really thought there was a problem threat to our direct taxation last time, and that despite what we might have heard, he felt that our international reputation was damaged last year.
In conclusion, Dr Alan Ahearne recalled the old joke that if you have five economists in a room, they’d have six opinions between them. On this occasion, however, they were all of one mind, that a Yes vote was a crucial component of our route to economic recovery.
Last year’s referendum in June 2008 took place under very different economic circumstances. While Bear Stearns had collapsed in March, and it was clear that the credit crunch had arrived, few realised what the true extent of the crisis would entail. The rise of unemployment in July of 19,000 was the highest ever monthly increase, and from then there seemed to be little good news. As unemployment grew, the pressure on the state’s social welfare budget grew while the tax intake shrank. The government found itself in a considerable deficit which two budgets and public sector pay renegotiation has failed to fully address. After guaranteeing the banks’ debt in September 2008, both the state and public found borrowing more costly as the major credit-rating agencies Moody’s and Standard and Poors downgraded Irish banks and Ireland’s credit sovereign rating.
We face this referendum then with a widely different economic situation. Both employers and unions realize how important it is to maintain a strong relation with Europe so that Irish bonds do not fall further in their standing in international markets. A vote that could be interpreted as eurosceptic would add uncertainty to our standing of our banks. Leading international firms, Intel, Ryanair, and Microsoft, have clearly stated their support for the implementation of the Treaty, taking active roles in calling for a Yes vote. Equally, ICTU General Secretary David Begg is a Patron of Ireland for Europe and, speaking on Tuesday, he stated that rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, allied to the return to power of the Conservative Party in Britain, could see Ireland “boxed in an Anglo-Saxon, Eurosceptic, northwestern corner of Europe” and could seriously hit Irish jobs.
These are the people who deal day-in, day-out with Irish employment, and they have clearly committed themselves to a Yes vote.
Those on our side of this debate have been criticized for linking the Lisbon Treaty with jobs or recovery. It is, of course, not as simple as a claim that there will be jobs that will be created or maintained directly because of the vote on the Treaty, but it is part of the process. It is because of the reality that we attracted multinationals to this country for many reasons, such as our low tax rates and our well-educated English-speaking population, but also because we provided a link to a European Union which now has a population of 500 million.
If we were to vote No, the appetite for reform among other European countries would not be diminished. But with the likely election of the highly Eurosceptic David Cameron as Prime Minister, the United Kingdom could well decide to opt out of that process. After a second No vote, European leaders could justly assume that we had made our decision clear that we did not wish to be part of that process either. While the United Kingdom could afford to go it alone if they wished, we should not consider this an option for us.
It is true that we will remain members of the European Union no matter what way we vote on 2 October. But a No vote will mean that we will not be a part of core decision-making processes. Particularly for those who have had concerns about EU policies in the past, such as on agriculture and fisheries, it is crucial that Irish voices are heard at all levels of the EU.
This might seem like a biased analysis coming from this organization. It is backed up, however, by those who have no interest beyond creating and securing jobs, and by independent economic analysts. Those working at all levels, whether small firms, medium enterprises or multinationals, have emphasised the importance to job-creation and maintenance in this country of a strong commitment to Europe.
A recent survey by IBEC found that 86% of employers polled believed the passing the Lisbon Treaty was important or very important to Ireland’s recovery. In its statement, IBEC Director of EU and International Affairs Brendan Butler said: “Ireland has been very successful in attracting major investment from abroad, which in turn has led to the creation of many jobs. Being fully engaged with Europe is vital to ensure this continues. A yes vote will send a positive signal to foreign investors that Ireland is committed to being a key player in the world’s most successful economic union.”
Most significant is perhaps the judgement of academic economists in the Indecon report, which surveyed the views of the 66 non-government economists in all Irish universities and the ESRI. The report concluded that our vote would have a significant effect on the cost of borrowing. Alan Gray, one of the authors of the report, wrote that “a No vote would result in additional concerns about Ireland’s precise role in Europe at a time when we cannot afford any self-imposed additions to our economic problems.” Equally, many economists have spoken out in their own capacity, such as Prof. Alan Matthews writing for Irish Economy yesterday.
It is vital not to create this uncertainty about Ireland’s place within the European Union at this time given the state of our public finances, the cost of borrowing and our rate of unemployment. Over the remaining nine days, we will be maintaining a focus on this aspect of the referendum and the implications of our vote.
In an earlier post, I looked at the support that prominent Catholics have given to the European project. Of particular note in recent weeks have been a few Jesuits, making their voice heard first in their objection to Cóir’s misuse of Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ.
In this video, Fr Edmond Grace, SJ, answers the question why we should be voting on the Lisbon Treaty again, given last year’s rejection.
Also worth checking, is a blog by Fr Fergus O’Donoghue, SJ, who has posted a few items recently on the Lisbon Treaty.
The ‘No’ pamphlet also showed a picture of a large hypodermic with the caption: “Will we get EUthanasia?” Well, that kind of disgusting and disingenuous question is what we repeatedly got during the infamous divorce referendum debate in the 1980s. And my answer is that if we do get EUthanasia, the very first people we should EUthanase are the fine fellows who went in for EUthanasia scare tactics before the referendum.
A comparable piece of mischief was at work with the pamphlet’s sly and grubby query: “Do you wish to split up the family farm?” Ah, that one again.
At least, the ‘No’ pamphlet spares us any wheedling insinuations about conscription and neutrality — perhaps because the authors know that, aside from the fir-bolg Left, as characterised by the Rossport potties, most people know that our neutrality is dead. We are Europeans. Our soldiers must be part of the European Reaction Force, and have already served in Chad within that military framework. .