Beyond Grexit & Brexit, Advocating an Irish and a British role in solving Europe’s mid-life crisis

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RobertSchumanTimeRobert Schuman was a former Vichy bureaucrat who became finance minister in post-war reunified France. He later became French foreign minister, then president of the European Movement, now official historians of European integration call him an “architect of the European Integration Project”. EU Public Relations officials celebrate Schuman’s declaration (made on the 9th of May 1950) as Europe’s birthday with photos of cupcake with a single European candle[sic.]. The European Parliament awarded Schuman the title: “Father of Europe”. Two years later he died, in 1963.

Europe, according to Schuman “will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity […] to secure in the shortest time the supply of coal and steel […] which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war”.  The 1951 Treaty of Paris formed the European Steel and Coal Community (ECSC) introducing an open market for military raw materials. The ECSC morphed into the Common Market, the Economic Community (EEC/EC) and now the European Union (EU) while adding the regional currency, The Euro; a currency managed in Frankfurt but spent in Dublin and Athens. When the global financial crisis hit Europe, again EU Federalism was mooted as a cure. Where is the debate in Ireland and in the UK on a federal EU? Are we really that insular?

Fast forward to 2016, almost a decade into the EU crisis, and the Anglo-Saxon press in Europe frames its “Europe” debate between two goalposts (‘Brexit’ and ‘Grexit’), as coined in the Financial Times by German journalist, Wolfgang Munchau.

Brexit is one possible result of Britain’s June 23rd referendum on a UK exit from the EU. The Brexit referendum follows mild-mannered arguments by UK Prime Minister on legislative flexibility (mainly financial safeguards for the City of London). David Cameron’s suggestions for sovereignty loopholes for the UK absenting them from EU financial controls rubbed the other European leaders up the wrong way. Perhaps this is not surprising as EU nations, the UK and Ireland included, are desperately trying to navigate the financial and political fallout of the European phase of the Great Recession.

Grexit revisits Summer 2015, when SYRIZA leaders capitulated to further austerity (and more Sovereign debt) while remaining in the Eurozone countermanding their own referendum decision to reject the third EU offer. Even the IMF recognizes this as a third phase of Extend and Pretend in Greece, kicking the stone down the road till 2016 (afterBrexit).

Globally, European integration, an open EU market, and the survival of the Euro, is debated in the Bank For International Settlements (BIS) and the G20 and the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR). Barack Obama conveyed his opinions to European leaders in his recent springtime visit. Neither Brexit nor Grexit are income neutral for hedge funds. Vulture funds would do well should Schaüble have his way forcing Greece out of the Euro and Brexit offers lucrative fluctuations in Sterling Foreign Exchange futures.

In the German Bundestag and in the other seats of EU power mum’s the word. Brussels and Frankfurt feign business as usual.

UK and Irish newspapers debate European Integration using national balance-sheet arguments on EU contributions and the taxation that pays for this. Taxation without representation is certainly an important issue, but this masks a deeper debate on supranationalism and European federalism. In Dublin’s Fleet Street, border controls and national corporate tax rates form part of a cautious debate on sustainable growth under conditions of high debt. Lucky for Ireland the term Irexit doesn’t quite roll off the tongue: “Ireland is not Greece” after all.

Instead of debating Federalism in Ireland a parochial debate focuses predominantly on national interests particularly its low corporate tax rates and the choice by US multinationals to offshore their EU headquarters locally. Ireland is English speaking; its trade and cultural ties are North Atlantic, a reflection of its history and its ongoing emigration; locally rebranded ‘diaspora’. None of this bodes well if Brexit passes. Ireland’s eastward facing Euroports export to Britain; there is significant cross-border trade with Northern Ireland. The governing coalition fears geographical isolation between Washington D.C. and (a possibly non-EU) Westminster.

The Northern Irish border and corporate tax rates are sensitive topics in Dublin’s Foreign office particularly on the 100th commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. A recent wikileak[1] from an IMF teleconference on Greece showed that the IMF wanted to insist on Greek debt restructuring. Since then Frankfurt and Brussels begged to differ. The IMF backed down. The ECB seems to have adapted the SAS policy of Big boy’s games, big boy’s rules. Are big boy’s rules compatible with a European democracy? The SAS policy (promoting Union at all costs) was itself a deadly failure.

What is the rôle of the citizens of Ireland and the UK. What fora are available to EU citizens to redesign the EU? How can Irish and UK residents benefit from a broader debate? Will Ireland and the UK allow a piecemeal breakup of the Eurozone beginning with Grexit? What would this mean for Ireland with its massive Euro-denominated sovereign debt? Isn’t it time for an honest debate framed in social, national and regional terms?

Can we not go beyond Brexit or Grexit? Where is the debate on the EU we want. Let’s promote Irish and UK rôles in solving the EU’s institutional crises, the financial crisis, and, most importantly, the EU crisis of legitimacy. Let’s focus on deeper issues like the EU democratic deficit in the Commission and the ECB? Should we fix the moribund currency rather than shelving the whole project or is it already too late? What about European Federalism as an idea? Is it even viable with the EU’s current institutions? Would this lead to a dystopic corporate super-state or could we Europeans redesign the EU to meet our social needs? Are there other options for a Federal Europe beyond the models mooted by Jaques Delors and the Spinelli Group[2]? Can we not open a space for modern alternatives before we panic at the return to ultra-nationalism or the growing possibility of war?

An encouraging example has come from the formation of DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), which promotes EU direct democracy and transparency. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis describes a counter threat of a divided Europe of ultra-right wing fascism, nationalism and closed borders against immigration. There is no mention of goods and services. DiEM25 claims that “The EU will be democratized. Or it will disintegrate.”

Tough words indeed; but only two of many possibilities.

It is time to put up or shut up. Let’s send out a posse to search for Schuman’s “de-facto solidarity”? The citizens of the UK and Ireland must ask the hard questions about the EU we want. We need to formulate some answers before the decisions are made for us.



Tony Phillips is a heterodox economist with two decades of Global experience in the Corporate sector and another decade in alternative economics. A dual national of Ireland and Argentina, he divides his life between Dublin and Buenos Aires. A Scientist and mathematician he later studied comparative supranational cooperation focusing on tensions with nationalism. Recent relevant publications include “Europe on the Brink; Debt, Crisis and Dissent in the European Periphery” published in three languages between 2015 and 2016, and “What if Ireland Defaults” published in Dublin in 2012.


One Response

  1. Jim Monaghan

    July 19, 2016 7:57 pm

    You said “Robert Schuman was a former Vichy bureaucrat who became finance minister in post-war reunified France. ” His wiki entry says “World War II[edit]
    In 1940, because of his expertise on Germany, Schuman was called to become a member of Paul Reynaud’s wartime government, in charge of the refugees. He kept that charge during the first Pétain government. On July 10, he voted to give full power to Hitler’s ally Marshal Pétain, but refused to continue to be in the government. Later that year, on September 14, he was arrested for acts of resistance and protest against Nazi methods. He was interrogated by the Gestapo but thanks to the intervention of a German lawyer, he was saved from being sent to Dachau. Transferred as a personal prisoner of Gauleiter Joseph Buerckel, he escaped in 1942 and re-joined the French Resistance.[citation needed] He addressed large conferences in the Free Zone explaining why the defeat of Germany was inevitable.[citation needed] This was at a time when Nazi Germany was at the peak of its power. The Germans then invaded the Free Zone. Although his life was still at risk, he spoke to friends about a Franco-German and European reconciliation that must take place after the end of hostilities, as he had already done in 1939–40.[citation needed]”
    A bit more nuanced and a different take. Given that many Brexiters and their ilk brand the EU as just the Fourth Reich, this is important.