Belfast Telegraph

Politicians urged to reclaim power

President Michael D Higgins has called on European parliaments to reclaim the power to make economic decisions.

In an address to the Council of Europe, Mr Higgins hit out at the role of the major brokers in the international money markets, including ratings agencies, in national finances.

"Parliaments, both at national and European level, must urgently claim back competence and legitimacy on economic and fiscal matters," he said.

The President said one threat to European democracy comes from "largely unquestioned leeching of power and authority from parliaments to the apostles of a narrow version of fiscal orthodoxy - an orthodoxy that seems predicated on a de-peopled economy."

Mr Higgins said global financial markets and unaccountable bodies such as rating agencies, occupy a far greater space in contemporary media and discourse than parliaments debating the fears and welfare of citizens.

The President questioned how organisations which are not bound by democracy have gained such influence on the lives and prospects of our citizens.

"Parliaments matter. Centuries of effort have been invested by European citizens in securing the vote," Mr Higgins told European parliamentarians.

"It is to their elected representatives that citizens look for accountability; for opening up new collective possibilities lodged in policy options; and for connecting them to wider horizons through their work in international fora such as this Assembly. Can we let go these hard-won advances? Have we considered the consequences?"

Mr Higgins was addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The council was founded in 1949 and now has 47 member countries bound by the European Convention of Human Rights.

The President used his lengthy speech to raise concerns about extremism and political violence in the wake of the terror attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

He called on governments to do more to understand and address why young people are drawn to radicalisation.

"The task of responding to the root causes of such threats is of immense complexity," the President said.

Mr Higgins warned about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine - one of the member states of the Council of Europe - which he said was having "catastrophic repercussions for its citizens".

Mr Higgins also hit out at criticisms of the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention.

"I wish to express my disquiet at those endeavours under way in some quarters, that risk undermining the very legitimacy of both the court and the convention on human rights," he said.

"Some of those criticisms addressed to the Court pertain to a wider political argument about Europe, and given Ireland's particular historical, economic, political, institutional and territorial set up, the terms of this debate about Europe constitute, for us Irish, a very serious matter for concern."

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