A decision between fear and rage

Why today’s Irish European Fiscal Pact referendum should be carefully observed

During the past weeks, we have seen two important signals which European citizens have given to their governments: in France, Hollande’s victory  is a clear sign of the will of change that strongly spread throughout the country, asking for more social justice and a stronger welfare state.

In Greece, the rising of the parties who declared themselves against the fiscal pact wanted by Germany made the creation of a new government unfeasible. These two political occurrences have been correctly interpreted as a wind of change that begun to blow on the European political scenario: the citizens demand a new approach towards the crisis, different from the one that both Chancellor Merkel and former French President Sarkozy presented as the only possible way out.

Today (31st May 2012), another important decision has to be taken: Ireland will decide whether to ratify the European Fiscal Compact or not. Irish government, following advice from the Attorney General, has decided to hold a referendum on this point, and it is a only case in Europe. In these hours, Irish citizens are taking a decision which appears to be fundamental for the future economic and political balance inside the Union. An agreement on the Compact would mean a strong comeback of Ireland’s will to remain a permanent member of the Union, after the decision not to ratify the Lisbon pact in 2008. Moreover, it would be a little help for Merkel’s austerity plan, which has been weakened by the the results in Greece and France.

Avoiding to draw dangerous comparisons, we should nevertheless notice how the Irish economic situation is close to the one that occurred in Greece some months ago. The country can survive thanks to the 85 billion Euro bailout loans, allocated by the European Stability Fund after the main banks went bankrupt. According to the Irish observers, these similarity will bring the “Yes” supporters to victory. Hugo Brady, Irland-Expert of the Centre for European Reform, has stated that the referendum is “a decision between fear and rage”. This means that, even though a considerable amount of Irish citizens is angry towards the new fiscal measures that the austerity plan will imply, the fear of being involved in a downward spiral similar to the one that brought Greece on the verge of ruin is even stronger.

According to the latest polls, the 39% of the citizens is going to vote “Yes”, the 30% “No”, the 22% is still undecided. We know that in these times the voters’ mood can be highly fickle: that’s why it is not possible to hazard a prevision. My personal opinion is that Irish citizen will decide to ratify the Fiscal Compact, and fear will defeat rage. The main reason is that a possible “No” would not be seen as a request for a different way out of the crisis, like in Greece and France, but as a motion of no confidence towards the Irish future in Europe: but right now Irish people know how much they need the European support in order to survive.

Riccardo Motti

Update 03/06/2012: the “Yes” has won with a wide margin

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