Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

President stresses parliament role

President Michael D Higgins says economic decisions taken by the European Union could pose a threat to democracy

Economic decisions in the European Union could threaten democracy, President Michael D Higgins has warned.

Just weeks after last coming under fire for criticising the EU and its austerity measures, the outspoken president said he was concerned that elected parliaments are often overruled by the markets.

"Speculative markets, even rating agencies, appear at times to be more frequently quoted as the source of ultimate, even enforced decision-making as to economic options for the future, rather than the elected parliaments," Mr Higgins said.

"It is to parliaments citizens look for the expression of the debate and the articulation of the choice of options which might be made available in public policy. It is something that must give us all cause for concern as leaders."

The president made his remarks during a state visit to Croatia, which will become an official member of the EU on July 1. His trip coincided with that of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who travelled to Lithuania and Latvia representing Ireland as current president of the Council of the EU - a post Lithuania will take up next month.

As Ireland's six-month presidency draws to an end, Mr Higgins warned the union must be aware of the social effects of its economic decisions. He was forced to defend himself last month following accusations that he had gone beyond the constitutional remit of his office by criticising austerity imposed by Europe.

The president, who is not supposed to interfere with politics, claimed there had to be a radical rethink of the EU and how its members handle the ongoing economic crisis. At the time, Mr Higgins said he would never interfere with matters of legislation and that he takes seriously the oath he took when he entered office in 2011.

Speaking at the University of Zagreb on Thursday, the president said Europe must show solidarity with the most vulnerable, and focus on sustainable growth and job creation.

He said: "We cannot allow a crisis in one paradigm of economics to lead to a crisis of political legitimacy. We must believe in our intellectual capacities to bring into being a suite of proposals, macro and micro in their economic scope that will serve as effective instruments for our political and social purposes.

"We need a pluralism of policies based on all of our disciplines in the inherited tradition and the imaginative capacity of all our Europeans."

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