Archive | Merkel RSS feed for this section

@sluggerotoole: Derek Mooney on @FiannaFáilparty’s long road to recovery #ep14ie #le14 #ee14 ##ep2014

19 May

This is an analysis piece I penned for the Slugger O’Toole website

———————————————————————————————–

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil

While there are worse jobs in the world: the worst job in politics is certainly leader of the opposition.

If he didn’t already know this, it is certain that Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheal Martin will know this in just over a week.

The 2014 European and Local Election campaigns for which he and his HQ team have prepared and planned for over 18 months are proving themselves to be a source of unalloyed joy. It is hard to believe that these are the campaigns they wanted.

The latest round of opinion poll findings only confirm this. They suggest that

  • His Dublin Euro candidate will fail to take the seat
  • His Midlands North West duo may struggle to win a seat
  • While his Ireland South candidates have the best part of two quotas between but are so imbalanced as to render a second seat impossible.

If the ballots cast on Friday confirm these poll findings, then it will be hard to make any of this sound like an achievement.

Add to this a series of resignations and protests over local election candidate selections, including the Blackrock Hanafiasco that has seen my one time political rival Mary Hanafin returned as a non authorised/unrecognised Fianna Fáil candidate and you can see that the weeks ahead will be difficult ones for those at the top of the party.

The frustration of this for Martin and his supporters is that they have, on one level, a fairly decent tale to tell. If the most recent polls, which are not exactly joyous for the soldiers of destiny, are correct, then the gap between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has closed by between 13.5% and 15.5%.

polls tableThe problem is that Fianna Fáil is not the biggest beneficiary of the decline. Fine Gael looks set to lose almost a third of the support it won in February 2011, but Fianna Fáil looks, at best, like convincing less than half of those disenchanted voters to look to it.

Where Fianna Fáil has made gains it has been among those groups it has least let down (definitely a relative term): younger and older voters. The group it has and will find hardest to convince are the middle ground – those struggling to pay mortgages and cope with massive negative equity.

Martin’s twin challenge upon becoming leader was first: to halt the decline and then to try win to win back as many of those people who voted for it in 2002 and 2007, but who chose Fine Gael in 2011.

That he has succeeded in the first task is clear but, his scorecard on the second may not be as impressive. Many of those who voted Fine Gael in February are deeply disenchanted by their performance in Government.

The party that promised new politics and a major break with the way things had been done by the previous crowd, has delivered neither. Instead; it merrily implements the broad policy approaches of the last Fianna Fáil led administration without their protections for those most hurt by the recession.

Despite this, the majority of these voters are prepared to either stick with Fine Gael or look to Independents or others. While these voters are prepared to engage with Fianna Fáil candidates at the doors, particularly newer, younger candidates – they remain largely unconvinced.

Meanwhile, for a huge swathe of voters unhappy with the government, Fianna Fáil is effectively as much a part of the “government” as either Fine Gael or Labour. Right now voting Fianna Fail is most certainly not the way to go if your aim is to register protest at what the government is doing.

Martin’s Fianna Fáil still has a lot of work to do to convince them, it has yet to offer a clear and comprehensive statement of either what it stands for in a post-recession Ireland or how it plans to secure and expand the recovery to benefit everyone.

While the biggest job of work it faces is on the policy side, the last few weeks and months have also exposed some serious organisational issues. The party’s structures are still centred on its elected reps and candidates. Offend a candidate and you lose their organisation.

Worse still: select a bright candidate with great ideas but poor organisational abilities and you have neither the capacity nor the available expertise to help them get elected. This helps, in part, explain some of the party’s problems with its MEP campaigns.

Fianna Fáil’s problem with being seen as the “same as the government” is also reflected in the European Elections. While middle ground voters have not turned Eurosceptic, they are certainly euro critical. They are looking for MEPs who will go to Brussels to bang the table and tell them what for. This may explain Sinn Féin’s strong European showings, plus Ming Flanagan’s apparent lead over fellow Independent and long standing MEP, Marian Harkin.

The irony is that Fianna Fáil belongs to a group, ALDE, whose nominee for the Commission Presidency Guy Verhofstadt: recently reflected precisely these euro critical views in a debate with his rivals saying that the “current Commission leadership always phones Berlin & Paris before making a decision. That is the main problem”
But have you heard any of Fianna Fáil’s European candidates say this forcefully in recent weeks?

The German narrative of the eurocrisis – which is also the EPP, Merkel, Sarkozy, and Barosso narrative – needs be challenged. It is something I have written about several times since mid-2011. See this one from April 2013

Perhaps some of them will do this during the final day’s debates – I sincerely hope they do.

We should be critical of Europe for precisely the reasons Verhofstadt outlined. No one knows this better than the members of the last government.

Yes, we did need Europe to help us bail out the banjaxed banks, but that help came at a massive price. Sarkozy and Merkel contrived to defend the Euro on the cheap on Irish soil… failed… then insisted that we pay the bill for the whole escapade.

It is this part of the narrative of the past six/seven years that Fianna Fáil has failed to develop, perhaps thanks to the understandable fear that no one really wants to hear its side of the story.

Before concluding I should admit a vested interest.

Though I have referred to Fianna Fáil in the third party throughout this piece; I am no impartial observer. I am a Fianna Fáil-er and have been involved at a senior level for decades. I am involved in several local election campaigns in Dublin. I backed a candidate other than Mary Fitzpatrick for the Dublin nomination. I was mooted as a possible Director of Communications for the Dublin euro-campaign, though the idea was binned. I ran against Mary Hanafin twice… but came out the wrong side of the encounter.

That said, I think Micheal Martin has done a decent job. He has done well on phase one: halting the decline, but not so well on phase two – making Fianna Fáil a party capable of governing.

The parallels with the party’s biggest political achievement of recent decades: The Good Friday Agreement, are significant.

While reaching that Agreement was a mammoth task that sometimes seemed impossible, looking back this part of the process was as nothing when compared to the difficulties in implementing it and making those institutions work.

So it is with phase two of Fianna Fáil’s recovery.

There is still a long way to go – and the leadership needs to look far beyond its own limited circle for the skills and energy to see it through.

ENDS.

 

This piece can be downloaded in Pdf format:   FF and the long road to recovery

High Stakes and possible troubles Irn-Bru-ing as #ep2014 approach

31 Jan

Here is my article from this week’s BEERG Newsletter looking at mounting tensions in the race to take the EU Commission Presidency

ib_cansYou call tell that there’s an election approaching by how targeted, populist and political the press releases from MEPs become. Take the Scottish Nationalist (SNP) MEP Alyn Smith, who has suggested that Scotland consider banning Canadian-born singers Justin Bieber and Celine Dion in retaliation for Canadian authorities prohibiting several Canadian stores from selling the popular Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru. Smith justified his call, albeit tongue in cheek, by saying that between them, Bieber and Dion have produced “more sugary schmaltz” than Irn-Bru ever has.

While Smith’s demand has the virtue of humour and creativity, the same cannot be said for the political attack made by the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) on German Socialist MEP, Martin Schulz (photo) on Wednesday as reported by the EurActiv website http://www.euractiv.com.

Schulz is the outgoing President European Parliament and the likely Socialist candidate to be President of the next EU Commission

The attack centres on allegations made by the EPP that a €60,000 European Parliament contract was awarded to the wife of Sergei Stanishev, the president of the PES: Party of European Socialists. The €60,000 contract was for an information project promoting the European elections in Bulgaria.

Leading the attack for the EPP, German MEP Ingeborg Grässle claims the situation has alarm bells ringing over an “obvious” conflict of interest involving some of the most prominent figures in the European socialist family, saying “European Parliament staff under the direction of Socialist President Martin Schulz handing out a contract worth €60,000 to the wife of the European Socialist Party President – this smacks of political favours… Is Mr. Schulz using parliament funds to help his political friends?”

EurActiv reports that its sources say that Schulz is concentrating on his campaign to succeed to José Manuel Barroso as Commission President and shudders at any piece of news which could upset his plan.

The fact that the attack was led by a German MEP is significant as Grässle and Schulz’s own parties the CDU and SPD are now in a grand coalition partnership government in Germany. Expect to see and hear more political skulduggery as the May parliamentary elections approach. The stakes are high with more than just the political balance in the European Parliament to consider. As the BEERG Newsletter has reported reforms made under the EU’s Lisbon Treaty means that heads of government must take the results of the European elections “into account” when selecting the next EU Commission President.

With polls suggesting a swing to the Socialists in the May election, possible sufficient to make it the largest single group in Parliament, Schulz is well placed to become the next Commission President, however the centre right EPP group is not likely to allow this prized post slip from its grasp.

12 of the 28 heads of Government are members of the EPP, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and Poland’s Donald Tusk. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory Party quit the EPP in 2009.

The EPP is planning to select its candidate for the EU Commission Presidency at its Congress in Dublin on March 6th & 7th. There are four possible contenders: the Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, the Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the current commissioner for the internal market Michel Barnier and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker.

The PES, whose European Parliamentary group is called the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will hold it pre-election congress in Rome on 1 March.

ENDS

#Merkel & #EU need to learn the lessons of Germany’s own economic renewal

12 Apr
adenauer

1957 Adenauer Election Poster: No Experiments

Yesterday (Thurs April 11th) the Irish Times ran a story saying that the German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing mounting political pressure at home to demand fiscal concessions from Ireland in exchange for granting extra time to repay crisis loans.

It seems that once again Germany is insisting that it not merely have an input into EU talks and discussion, but that it have a veto on the outcome. It is the ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ school of political thought.  While the approach is not unfamiliar in politics, it flies totally in the face of democratic process and accountability. But even more than that, in this instance, it contradicts the history of Germany’s own economic revival and the important role played by one of Ms Merkel’s most illustrious predecessors: Konrad Adenauer.

Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder – the economic miracle of the 1950s – was based in large measure on a generous programme of debt forgiveness given to Germany by its 33 debtor countries (including Ireland). The 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts, effectively wrote off half of Germany’s total mountain of debt and gave it additional time to repay the monies it owed. These debts included war reparations from both first and second world wars, plus the massive German 1930’s debt default, which was just as significant as the 2008 European financial crisis.

The West German CDU Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer realised that there would be no growth or revival of the West German economy for as long as it had to make huge annual payment to the Allied and other powers. These hefty payments, many of which Germany was even failing to make, were draining the West German economy of the ability to rebuild itself.  He recognised that the only way to achieve growth was to get some relief from this debt burden, hence the London conference on German external debts.

Adenauer managed to convince the others sitting around the table that the only way that Germany could recover and rebuild was for them to ease the burden on it – he managed to convince them to stop doing to Germany what Germany is now doing to Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Easing the burden of West Germany’s debt did not make the country lazy and profligate, quite the opposite. The Agreement, along with the Marshall Plan very quickly enabled the West German government and industry to use the resources freed up by the easing of the debt burden to generate domestic economic activity and growth.

Not only did the London Agreement write off 50% of Germany’s debt it removed the requirement that interest be paid, though did say that this proviso would be revisited in the event of German reunification. The collapse of the Wall in late 1989 triggered that proviso but it was never implemented due to Chancellor’s Kohl’s protestations that demanding such interest payments would make it almost impossible for Germany to meet the considerable costs of re-unification. So, once again, Germany’s partners allowed it to walk away from its financial commitments in the greater good.

Kenny MerkelAs we know, both Enda Kenny and the Fine Gael party is deeply proud of its strong association with the CDU and Ms Merkel via their shared membership of the centre right European grouping: The European People’s Party EPP. Indeed, they regard the linkage as so important and significant that Mr Kenny manged to include a quick visit to Berlin and photocall with the Chancellor in the first week of the February 2011 general election campaign.

Perhaps the next time An Taoiseach meets up with the Chancellor in either Dublin, Brussels or Berlin he might gently remind her that her countries economic resurgence and dominance is due, in no small part, to the fact that 33 other countries, including Ireland, had allowede Germany to ease its burdens when it mattered and that it may now be time for Germany to allow others the facility they once extended to it.