“Ireland has tended to punch well above her weight in terms of presidency programs and delivery,” ALDE Vice President Dick Roche, Ireland’s former EU affairs minister optimistically opened the first Liberal Breakfast of the year. A comparative advantage for smaller states such as Ireland, he continued, is that “smaller member states, probably because they are smaller, tend to be less delusional about their centrality in European affairs and tend as a consequence to be better consensus builders.”
The top priority of the Irish presidency, which stands under the motto “stability, jobs and growth”, is to contribute to the stability of the Eurozone in this time of crisis. He conceded that this may be a very ambitious goal, but also that with a bit of Irish Luck, “Ireland could introduce some useful insights” on the matter.
Among the fundamental weaknesses in the union’s monetary architecture, which the presidency programme addresses, Roche discussed “the manner in which the ECB was established, the narrow focus that was set for the bank and the fact that it lacks the full range of instruments typically available to central bankers”. He criticized that the “architects of the Eurozone failed to anticipate the consequences the huge expansion of credit in peripheral economies, failed to anticipate the consequences of a banking system so interconnected that when things start to unravel nobody can say stop and really never anticipated anything like the collapse of Lehman Bros. […] Pushing for the earliest possible agreement on the Banking Union proposals,” however, “is the Presidency’s answer to the design flaws in the monetary union, Roche emphasized. “In economic analysis there may be little space for compassion but in the world of political leadership a little compassion and solidarity goes a long way,” he reminded the audience.
Roche also addressed UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech of 23 January. He cautioned that it “will hang like a sword of Damocles over discussions on all big-ticket issues during this and the next eight or ten Presidencies. The Union is now in uncharted waters with no clear idea of a destination.” He warned of the domino-effect the British referendum might have on other Member States: “Pandora ’s Box will be well and truly open […] if the UK does manage to negotiate a substantial package, [s.a. revising the membership obligations in the Union], it could trigger referenda in other countries.”
For his final point, Roche addressed the colossal task to restore confidence in the European Project, which has been fundamentally shaken. Agreements have not been upheld, promises not been honored, “The public were told that the Lisbon Treaty would be the last for a decade, Mr Cameron’s initiative has launched us down the road of renegotiation again.” He thus concluded with the proposition to “have a long and hard look at the way the Union communicates with Europe. The Commission and the Council has failed in this matter so far – maybe the Parliament, which is after all the People’s institution, should now be vested with the task.”
The full speech is available here