Standing up for Ireland doesn’t make us anti-Europe

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LISTENING to Michael Noonan praising the positive tax-return figures for the first few months of the year is like hearing a rooster taking the credit for the sun rising. The difference in this case is that the rooster didn’t spend all of January and February telling everyone that those sunrises were merely illusions and that all was really darkness.

Ireland’s EU Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn was equally surprising during the week as she spoke to journalists in Brussels.

Our Commissioner took particular exception to what she perceived to be anti- European commentaries in Irish newspapers over Easter.

This comment is bizarre as she then went on to say that the European Commission was a friend to Ireland and that it “was among the first to back a cut in the interest rate on bailout loans — but that was in the gift of other member states.”

This is certainly my understanding of the situation, so why is Ms Geoghegan-Quinn so sensitive to criticisms of the French and German governments’ approach made by people here, including me?

I fear that she has been away too long and is misreading legitimate criticism of Merkel and Sarkozy as being an extension of the ‘No to Europe’ attitude evidenced at past EU referenda. Years of debates and votes on the Lisbon, Nice, Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties have made the Irish electorate better informed than most when it comes to how the EU institutions work.

It is possible to criticise the policies of individual EU partners without being anti-European.

Indeed, to dismiss the criticisms of the two main powers for seeking to treat us more as suppliants than as partners is to totally miss the point of what EU partnership is all about.

It is also to think that we cannot differentiate between political and institutional antagonisms. We can grasp that our problems on reducing the interest rates on our loans come from Berlin and Paris — not Brussels.

We can also grasp that the threat to our 12.5 per cent corporation tax rates hails mainly from Paris and Berlin — not Brussels.

We know that we have friends in Brussels and across the EU. The support for Ireland from the Dutch finance minister is a good example.

President McAleese’s State visit to the Netherlands yielded better results for Ireland than Enda’s pre-election dash to see Chancellor Merkel.

But the confusion comes when we see our friends in the Commission in Brussels

advocating a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB), which they — and we — know is the prelude to undermining our corporation tax regime.

I have met the EU Commission president and hosted him in Limerick a few years ago. When he arrived, he commented on the number of rainbow flags on lamp-posts and asked if the anti-war movement was big in Limerick. I had to tell him that it was the Limerick gay-pride parade.

He is a witty and charming man. I have no doubt that as as a former Portuguese politician he understands the pressures and difficulties we face.

I suspect his sympathies lie with the smaller EU countries, rather than the big Franco-German power bloc.

Justifiable criticism of the French and German governments’ double standards is not anti-European. Far from it.

If we are truly equal partners, then we have a right to speak out when we see the bigger countries placing their own domestic interests above the EU’s interests.

Indeed, we have an obligation to do so. To do otherwise is to do the antithesis of what the EU’s founders had wanted.

If our commissioner cannot grasp this fact and reflect it to her colleagues in the Commission, and more importantly around the Council of Ministers, she risks encouraging the very anti-European sentiment she wants to quell.

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