We are Europeans now, they tell us, ‘they’ being the Irish political class, including the entire national broadcast and print media. No explanation, it seems, is necessary, just that bald statement – ‘we are Europeans’.
Were we Europeans when a genocidal famine was inflicted on our ancestors by the British establishment, without any worthwhile intervention by any of the the states that collectively made up the European continent? Were we Europeans when the same British establishment waged a war of terror against the people of Ireland from 1919-1921, or when this small island was partitioned under threat of terrible war unless the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 were signed off on by the Irish delegation? Were we Europeans when economic war was waged against the quasi-independent Irish state by Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, or when the Irish economy was kept in a state of undevelopment right up to the 1960s and beyond through the malign interventions of British legislators, industrialists and financiers using the tools of tariffs, taxes, quotas, licences, undercutting, restriction of money supply and so on? Were we Europeans when war was waged against Northern nationalists who had the temerity to ask for fair treatment and justice in the British administered Six Counties, and were we Europeans while that war was sustained for almost 30 years, even after we had become members of the European Economic Community, later the European Union?
The answer is, of course, that we were not Europeans. We were not considered to be, nor did we consider ourselves to be. We were Irish. While the political class embarked on their project of achieving membership of the EEC we never described ourselves as ‘European’. Europe was ‘over there’, beyond two seas and an often politically unfriendly British island. Europe was a place rarely visited, other than by members of the political class and by pilgrimages of disabled and unwell Irish citizens to Lourdes and other Roman Catholic centres of pilgrimage. Even when mass tourism started to appear in the 1960s, the Irish were, when visiting Spanish resorts, going abroad, heading for an ‘exotic’ and ‘foreign’ place, travelling without any notion of being European but certain of being Irish. After we joined the EEC in 1973, and right through to the creation of the European Union through the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, nobody other than those europhiles in the political class for whom the EU project represented some sort of Nirvana referred to us as ‘Europeans’.
We are, under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, ‘European citizens’, although most of us would probably describe ourselves as Irish citizens – citizens of an Irish state that is part of a European Union that is itself neither a nation or a federation of states in a political union like the United States of America. And while the Maastricht Treaty describes us as European citizens, it is how we see ourselves, and describe ourselves, that is indicative of our personal connection or lack of connection with the concept of ‘being’ European.
Now that the Euro is in crisis through the grotesque mishandling of the currency itself and the crisis that has ensued, and an outrageous lack of regulation of private banking and other financial institutions within the European Union which is a substantial part of the cause of that crisis, it is not enough that we just be Europeans. No, to comply with EU diktats on the repayment of private bank debt by Irish citizens regardless of culpability for those debts, we must be ‘good’ Europeans. In other words we should shut up and pay up so as to protect private banks in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and elsewhere, including in the USA. And if our people are beggared in the process, so be it, and let the Irish people take on the moral hazard that properly belongs to the money-lenders of Europe, and do it with good grace – as good Europeans.
Three years in, the crisis has been used to create a wave of ‘austerity’, particularly in the peripheral nations – Ireland, Greece and Portugal – but also in Italy and Spain. Adopting the neo-liberal approach to economics and society, the EU has placed the burden of correcting budget deficits on the shoulders of the most hard-pressed citizens of these countries while the wealthiest have got wealthier. The EU has taken down two democratically elected governments and replaced them with unelected technocrats.
That other mantra of the Irish political class, ‘we are all in this together’ is patently an outright lie. The most recent budget has illustrated how the hands-off-the-wealthy policy of the current right-wing government mirrors the same policy of the previous right-wing government.
The demand for a fast track approach to balanced budgets is destroying the Irish economy, depressing any prospect of growth, and spiralling the nation’s finances towards bankruptcy. It is not that there is no-one shouting ‘Stop!”. Both national and international economists of some repute have berated the policy-makers for their stupidity, but they might as well be shouting into the wind. The virus of ‘austerity’ has entered the minds of the political class whose members it least affects, and they have lost any reason they may have had, although given the handling of the nation’s affairs over many decades any claim for the existence of rational thought among the political class is a precarious one. In truth, right-wing ideological prejudice is a more likely phenomenon among members of that class.
The latest episode in EU mishandling of the Euro crisis, a rush to create a fiscal union by fair means or foul, points to an end-game that was predicted by opponents of Ireland’s accession to membership of the European Economic Community almost four decades ago and warned against consistently through treaty referendum after treaty referendum ever since. That end-game is the creation of a much-expanded federal United States of Europe controlled by the strongest states, all of them imperialist nations. Far from being a union of states weighted so as to strengthen the smaller and weaker states, the dominance of the Franco-German alliance in driving all policy regarding a solution to the crisis, without evidence of a meaningful involvement by the rest of the EU states, demonstrates an arrogant autocratic approach which must be resisted, but won’t be. It is not as if the Franco-German alliance has shown that it is capable of providing a workable solution. Far from it, the Merkozy approach has been bound up in French and German ideological positions and internal national political expediencies, and as a consequence is incapable of creating a coherent and sustainable solution to the crisis.
And still, with all of this obvious to the average citizen, our right-wing government which includes a discredited Labour Party, together with the main opposition party – also right-wing – bends the knee in supplication to their masters in Europe, hoping that some crumbs will fall from the table, without any discernible evidence to support that hope. Words like ‘solidarity’ and ‘cohesion’ and ‘partners’ still flung about by our home-grown europhiles have lost their meaning in neo-liberal Europe. It is to be survival of the fittest and the relegation of the weakest to some yet to be defined second-class status, and still our political class wants in.
It is time to stop fooling ourselves, or to be more precise allowing ourselves to be fooled, with the notion that we are Europeans over and above being Irish. It is our duty, and the duty of those entrusted with power in the government and the administration, to assert ourselves and to reject policies that will destroy our economy and with it our society, to resist any further attempts to undermine our independence, and to insist that private gambling debts owned by European banks and bond-holders be carried by those institutions and individuals. If any bailing out of European banks is to be carried out, let it be by the nations in which those institutions reside, or as part of a package which includes Irish banks, by the European Central Bank. Any attempt to create a fiscal union which takes away the sovereign right of our nation to determine its budgetary policy must be decisively rejected, as must any attempt to arrive at that position without recourse to the people through a referendum.
It is by no means certain that the cack-handed approach to resolving the Euro crisis will succeed. Should there be a collapse of the monetary system, then contingency plans need to be in place. It is difficult to have any confidence in the Irish government and administration in this regard, so married are they to the notion of being ‘European’. These are dangerous times for a people whose state has been recklessly weakened by a succession of bad governments whose members preferred to strut the European stage than to take care of domestic politics – their primary duty. But there is no doubt that in changed circumstances, however difficult they would be, that the Irish people are capable, by genuinely being ‘all in this together’, can recover. For an example of success in that regard we should look, not to the European continent, but to another small Atlantic island, Iceland.
We must set our faces against surrendering to yet more domination by imperialists and expansionists. Our freedom and independence were too hard won to be given away. It is time to pit ourselves against a venal political class, and to win. Let any of them who want to be European take their chances. The rest of us should opt to be the Atlantean Irish and to set our gaze on the rest of the world and on a viable future in that world, free and sovereign.