Noonan, unlike Oliver Twist, can’t ask Europe for a little more

So, Spain escapes the pain, Greece is let off the leash, but Ireland is still expected to take a good hiding from the EU — why?

Despite Brussels bending over backwards to break the rules for Madrid and Athens, as far as Dublin is concerned EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn reacts to our pleas to ease the bailout burden with a sneer worthy of the one deployed by the Dickensian workhouse master at the cries of a desperate Oliver Twist.

The novel notes that young Oliver could bear his own era of austerity no longer: “He was wracked with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the Master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity: ‘Please sir, I want some more’.”

“‘More?’ roared the Master as an onlooker predicted: ‘That boy will be hung’.”

And while Ireland is seeking a bit more than an extra helping of gruel — a deal to lessen the crippling yearly levy of €3.1bn to pay the ECB back for the Fianna Fáil-Green bailout of their buddies in Anglo — the reaction from Rehn is the same Dickensian mix of condescension, aggression and bewilderment.

“I wonder why this question has to be asked at all,” Rehn despaired, “because the principle in European Union is pacta sunt servanda: Respect your commitments and obligations. The EU is a community of law and that assumes, by definition, it is in each and every member state’s interest to respect the commitments it has undertaken, and this is valid in the case of Ireland.”

Which, in layman’s language, translates as: “Ireland, stop whining — just shut up and pay up.”

Leaving aside that the rule of law Rehn views as so sacrosanct does not seem to apply whenever Germany or France decide such legal niceties are against their own national financial interests, it is startling how differently whipping boy Ireland gets treated compared to the other emergency economies.

Spain was allowed to drive a coach and horses through the EU’s so-called new stability pact of steel, simply because it wanted to.

Just after signing up to the rigours of the fiscal compact, Spain’s new centre-right prime minister Mariano Rajoy announced his government would ignore EU demands to cut its deficit to 4.4% this year and would instead aim for 5.3% — in a valiant bid to create work.

Spain has a contracting economy and an unemployment crisis even worse than here, with the official jobless level set to hit 24.3% and a general strike due at the end of the month.

Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of the eurozone countries, tried to save face by stating Spain would then move to a 3% deficit next year — but nobody in Brussels, or indeed the real world, really expects that to happen. Juncker also ruled out penalising Spain for failing by a wide margin to bring its deficit down last year, meekly saying: “The figure announced previously by the Spanish government... is dead.”

Coming so soon after the huge writedown on Greek debts, it would seem that what is also dead is the notion that everyone is equal in the EU.

Finance Minister Micheal Noonan still played a smoke and mirror numbers game to try and pretend there was no softening up of Spain as that country would still have to hit the 3% target within 20 months — but his numerical fig-leaf was as thin as it was unreliable.

Noonan also claims Spain is different because it is not in a bailout programme like Ireland, where the troika calls the shots. But that does not explain why bailout basketcase Greece got a better deal than Ireland as well.

As Noonan, who will not even seek a Spanish-style deficit boost, continues to bleat that mysterious “technical talks” continue about the outrageous payments of €47bn this country is expected to cough up for Anglo over the next two decades, suspicion grows over whether the Government has any proper gameplan on the issue at all.

Spain’s foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo announced: “We have won the battle.”

Spain got its way because it is so big, Greece got its way because it is so bolshy, but Ireland’s do-anything-to-please-the-EU Government is neither — and as such gets nothing but contempt from the likes of Rehn.

It seems Noonan does not even have the nerve of a nine-year-old Oliver to say straight out to the EU: “Please sir, I want some more.”


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