Belfast Telegraph

No ifs, or buts, cuts must happen and it's not Europe's fault

By Brendan Keenan

I am not usually stuck for words, I think I can safely say, but I was caught out by a German TV reporter just before the bailout, when she asked why there was so much hostility towards Germany?

At that stage, I wasn't aware that there was, particularly. But she, being German, had got it in the neck doing her interviews around town. Now, of course, I know that she was right.

Our old ally, the French, seem to attract less hostility. Yet, according to reports, it was president Nicolas Sarkozy who gave Enda Kenny the most grief during the last EU summit (I prefer council meeting, since it is quite clear these occasions are an integral part of our political process, not just special gatherings of heads of government).

The version of this stormy session picked up by the UK's Channel 4 was intriguing. It went along the lines that Mr Kenny waved his electoral mandate at the assembled leaders as a reason for giving him a lower interest rate.

Mr Sarkozy, and perhaps German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, it was said, took umbrage at his lack of acknowledgement that it was their money keeping his country afloat.

You may remember that there was a different version of events from that most seasoned of campaigners, the Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker. Quite remarkably, he went public with his view that Mr Kenny had been bullied.

He, and others, have suggested that Ms Merkel was not an eager participant in whatever bullying took place.

Rather, it is said, she felt that there could have been a deal involving corporation tax and interest rates had Mr Sarkozy been a bit less heavy-handed.

On one thing though, French, Germans and others seem united - that Ireland needs to "put something on the table".

Several international analysts have said that Ireland's problem was not a fiscal crisis, and that fiscal austerity is not the solution.

One can see what they mean - up to a point. The scale of the crisis is due to excessive private borrowing, not public borrowing. Government debt would not be rising so fast if so much private debt had not been transferred to the State.

But there is a fiscal crisis nonetheless. One may argue, and argue vigorously, about the exact measures and timescale for fixing this, but not about the actual problem.

This is not something for which we can blame Europe, or anyone else, but that may not stop us trying.