Irish vote is about the new fiscal pact, which tightens controls on the economies of the eurozone
Oh no, not another Irish referendum on Europe?
I’m afraid so, although strictly speaking it’s not about Europe, but about the new fiscal pact, which tightens controls on the economies of the eurozone countries.
Doesn’t Ireland have a history of saying no to Brussels?
Yes – it said no to the Nice and Lisbon Treaties, causing eurocrats sleepless nights and premature hair loss (the men, mostly), but then the Irish said yes at the second time of asking on each occasion.
So is that going to happen again?
No, or maybe yes – but most likely no. The Irish people look set this time to endorse – albeit reluctantly – the measures the European commission is imposing to restore financial discipline to eurozone economies.
But if it’s a no vote, is the fiscal pact blocked?
No, which is why this referendum is being observed calmly from Brussels and other EU capitals. In a cunning move, the fiscal pact’s creators decreed that it only needs approval from 12 of the 17 eurozone countries to come into force. That’s a pretty easy target to hit, and three countries have already ratified it through their parliaments.
So why the Irish vote?
Because of Irish government fears it would be unconstitutional to introduce an EU treaty change in Ireland without putting the matter to the people.
But it isn’t a treaty, is it?
Now you’re getting technical, but you’re right: the fiscal pact is not a treaty and there are legal brains in Brussels who say a referendum is completely unnecessary.
Let me get this right: a no vote in Ireland counts for nothing?
Well, it wouldn’t stop the fiscal pact coming into operation, with its binding rules on maximum permitted national debt and deficit levels for eurozone economies. But in public relations terms a “no” would send a very negative signal about the state of the EU and reinforce anti-EU feeling in a country that has benefited more than most from EU membership.
So EU boffins are watching the Irish poll with some concern?
Some concern, but not that much: frankly, most attention is on the forthcoming Greek election on 17 June, in comparison with which the Irish vote is an irritating flea bite.
The commission has actually been praising Ireland, hasn’t it?
Yes, on the eve of the referendum a commission report said Ireland had met all the economic conditions imposed on the country in return for its €85bn bailout package. It met its fiscal deficit target last year, has beaten its fiscal deficit target and returned to “modest” growth.
Is that a cynical ploy to encourage a yes vote?
You are the cynical one! It is pure coincidence: the commission is just saying that Ireland has bitten the austerity bullet and is benefiting from the first signs of growth. And that should be a lesson to all those resisting the austerity package.
So everything is fine?
No, but it’s a lot better in Ireland than in some other parts of the eurozone. And, apart from that, there is one other good reason for Ireland voting yes.
What is that?
The small matter of Ireland not qualifying for more emergency bailout money if they need it unless the country agrees to carry on the belt-tightening regime imposed by the fiscal pact.
These eurocrats have got every angle covered, haven’t they?
Every angle except harnessing the popular vote. if they could just crack that one, everything would be rosy.