According to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, he put his case firmly on the table when he went into the recent EU summit in Brussels.
To judge from the contents of the Fiscal Compact agreed by 26 out of the 27 heads of government, that apparently is where his case remained for the duration of the meeting: unopened and firmly stuck to the table. For all we know, it may still be there, with his banana sandwiches and milk carton inside.
The agreement reached in Brussels was a bad one. Not because of what it contains — though that is flawed enough — but more because of the decisions and choices it disastrously failed to make.
There is no secure firewall. The flaws in the euro have not been fixed. There is no plan for growth. To make things worse, these failures have been linked with a deeply damaging political split, which developed in the name of an agenda that does absolutely nothing about the real problem: Europe’s failed banking system and the resulting debt crisis.
The Taoiseach is by no means to blame for the fiscal compact being a mess; he was merely a passenger on a train driven by President Nicolas Sarkozy along tracks laid by Chancellor Angela Merkel. But nor did he or any of the other 23 leaders attempt to pull the cord and shout “Stop!”
Sadly, Kenny and his team went to the summit ill prepared and without a strategy. Not only did he arrive without preparing the ground with other leaders, he failed to press Ireland’s case for easing the burden. The result is that we have nothing to show for his attendance and it now looks likely that Ireland’s corporation tax rate is back on the agenda.
Page three of the summit’s communique explicitly says that the leaders discussed the co-ordination of tax policies and how tax policy can support economic policy co-ordination.
Kenny and his European minister can protest as much as they want that our corporation tax rates or the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) are not on the agenda — but they are effectively in the communique.
And just what is the Government’s message to the people following the summit? It is that it will take until March to say whether we will need to have a referendum or not.
If anything neatly sums up the confused, befuddled and essentially passive nature of this Government’s approach to this summit, it is this. Yes, there will have to be a thorough legalistic examination of the final texts, but the decision to hold a referendum is as much political as it is legal.
Kenny and his European minister may be prepared to wait three months until someone can tell them what they think, but at least Finance Minister Michael Noonan seems to have grasped the political realities, even if he does make it seem more like a threat than an achievement.
It is possible that we may never get to put the agreement to a vote. Events could quickly overtake the EU’s leaders as they waste another three months on discussions that will only serve to erode what little confidence is left in the European Union and the euro.
The deal is already unravelling across the EU capitals. The person who, according to the polls, is most likely to be president of France next May, Francois Hollande, has said he will renegotiate the Brussels accord. He has rightly criticised the deal for putting too much stress on austerity and not enough on economic growth. He also slammed the deal, just as Micheal Martin did during the week, for not giving the ECB a bigger role and stronger mandate.
If the deal does survive, however, and the Attorney-General tells the Taoiseach that he needs to hold a referendum, Kenny could do worse than appoint European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton as the campaign manager.
She has a track record of turning things around politically. After all, just look at her relationship with Kenny — only 18 months ago she was in the vanguard of those who were looking to get rid of him, yet today she is his greatest champion and European handmaiden.
Anyone who can reverse their position that fast should find this campaign a walk in the park.