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December 06, 2017

Ireland in search of its own path in the EU

Brexit brings to the forefront Ireland's over-dependence on the UK as an ally at the EU negotiating table, and as a buyer of Irish goods and services. With Brexit this dependence is becoming a liability for Ireland, and prompting a turn in Irish diplomacy. Leo Varadkar was to attend the African summit (which in the end he had to cancel), where Ireland has virtually no footprint. Ireland also recently applied to join the Francophonie, a club of French-speaking states, though not as a member but as an observer. French is growing as a language in Africa and, if the population continues to grow as forecast, it could even overtake Mandarin, Spanish, or English, as the world's most-spoken language. Observer status would bring Ireland closer into the French orbit, and allow Dublin to develop new relationships and diversify trade, so the Irish Times.

We also note an interesting comment by linguist Joachim Fischer, who notes that in a post-Brexit world Ireland will also face cultural shifts in the media and academia that they have not even begun to think about. Outsider perspectives can never be identical to insider perspective, and this will affect the discourse in the UK and also in Ireland, which used to rely on the UK for input in its own debates. 

British media will discuss the EU as an outsider, with from a different mindset from the (mostly negative) coverage about the EU while still a member. After Brexit, Irish commentators can no longer rely on British prompts. They will have to turn to continental media to find reference points for debating the future of Europe, and the role of Ireland within it. 

This also affects teaching. So far, teaching EU studies depends on textbooks by British publishers. The conceptualisation is strongly influenced by British perspectives. From there, a discussion a about the future of the EU will look very different indeed. Compare Wikipedia in different languages and you already see the not-so-subtle differences, which are only likely to increase with an outsider mindset.

Fischer sees this as an opportunity for the language-lazy Irish. The time has come for Ireland to find its own path in a new Europe. This calls for new alliances and a stronger engagement in the multi-linguistic and multi-cultural EU.

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December 06, 2017

Who owns the eurozone?

Werner Mussler is right with his assertion in FAZ this morning that there is currently no majority for a set of proposals by the Commission, due today, that seek to strengthen its own role and that of the European Parliament. But one should also note that the euro is a project of the EU, not an inter-governmental enterprise, and that there are limits - including legal limits - to inter-governmentalism. Mussler's reporting gives us a good summary of the hostile position of the member states towards further eurozone integration at the EU level, but omits to point out that the scope for eurozone reform on an intergovernmental level is also very small. One of the issues where we agreed with Wolfgang Schäuble is that a meaningful eurobond will require treaty change.

We also agree with Mussler's criticism of the European Commission's excessive emphasis on who is in charge, as opposed to what needs to be done. Mussler also informs us that Donald Tusk had a meeting with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Klaus Regling, and Mario Draghi, this week, which he interprets as a signal that the European Council, not the commission, will take charge of the process. 

He said there is a lot of disagreement among the member states, but the following five areas have emerged for discussion:

  1. completion of the banking union;
  2. a European monetary fund;
  3. the eurozone finance minister;
  4. a eurozone budget;
  5. fiscal supervision.
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December 06, 2017

Gabriel's big speech

Germans love big inconsequential speeches. Joschka Fischer's pro-Europe speech at Humboldt university in 2000, about the need for a unified Europe, set out a federalist vision of the kind the country did support but no longer does. This week Sigmar Gabriel, who is now demoted to acting foreign minister, gave his big speech on the future of trans-atlantic relations and the EU.

What always bothers us about Germans asking for a European defence force is their unwillingness to contemplate that their persistent reluctance to use force is the main reason why this is not happening. Germany's foreign policy strategy is very similar to its economic strategy. It is based on other countries not doing the same - i.e. running persistent current account surpluses and refusing military engagement as Germany's default option. As we have seen in the eurozone, the small-country mindset is poisonous once you integrate almost 20 small economies into a single large one. The same problem arises when you do this in foreign policy. As the world's second or third largest power, the EU can no longer play the neutral card in the way it has done before.

Gabriel's speech is worth reading because it indicates that there is slow progress. For examples, he explains in detail why there is a complete lack of strategic thinking in German foreign policy circles - unlike, for example, in the US. Gabriel is right, of course, in his core diagnosis that there is a fundamental shift going on in US foreign policy, and that Europe will no longer be able to hide behind the US or indeed allow Washington to take the lead. He cites Donald Trump's unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the US sanctions decided by the Congress in the summer (against, among others, German companies) as examples of Europe needing to seriously pursue its own interests. 

But what he doesn't mention is that the europeanisation of foreign and security policy requires a fundamental shift in thinking in Germany - and especially in his own party. The main political difficulty is not the symbolic stuff, like the creation of a joint military headquarters, but the real stuff. The question to ask is: would the SPD support Emmanuel Macron on the issue of force deployment as well? The German discussion on this issue has not even started.

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