Fiasco could cost Government valuable political capital

THE debacle of Kevin Cardiff’s rejection for the Court of Auditors leaves the Government with a series of options, each one more messy than the other and in danger of re-opening the debate in Europe on the country’s handling of the financial crisis.

Government leaders made it clear yesterday they intend to continue with the nomination of the secretary-general of the Department of Finance for Ireland’s place in the auditors’ court.

But their determination to push this through could end up costing the country a lot of the political capital that the coalition has been busy building up over the past few months.

It will almost certainly involve them lobbying MEPs hard to either reverse the opinion of the Budget Control Committee that rejected his nomination, or to get the parliament as a whole to reject the committee’s decision.

They could go even further and lobby each member state capital, asking them to override the parliament that has only the power to give an opinion which, in theory at least, can be ignored by the finance ministers who are ultimately responsible for approving the nomination.

But at a time when the Government is working hard to improve the country’s reputation within the EU, especially over the way it is handling the aftermath of the crisis, the timing could not be worse for any lobbying of this kind.

Mr Cardiff’s frank responses to the committee that he had made major mistakes during the crisis and that he had given his advice on the night the decision was made to blanket guarantee the banks on the basis that it bought time to protect citizens from contagion could become an issue.

And questions might also be raised of whether it would be a good idea to have a person charged with checking the accounts of the EU’s multi-billion euro budget possibly being called to give evidence in court actions involving Anglo Irish Bank if charges arise.

The best outcome the Government can hope for now is that the Budget Control Committee chairman, Jens Mulder, calls a fresh meeting over the next two weeks to discuss the rejection of Mr Cardiff by 12 votes to 11. They could agree to reopen their decision on the basis that they may have been overly influenced by emails two of them received from Ireland’s current auditor, Eoin O’Shea.

“Since the e-mails were mentioned several times during the meeting and this could be regarded as extraordinary lobbying in the circumstances, it would justify calling a new meeting”, said a senior EPP source.

MEPs are lobbied all the time, by vested interests as well as constituents. Europe Minister Lucinda Creighton spoke to some committee members including EPP coordinator Ingeborg Grässle. Fine Gael is attached to the European People’s Party, which is the largest group in the Parliament.

The 29 members could vote again and decide to support Mr Cardiff. But this would require at least one of the key people in the committee, Ingeborg Grässle, to change her mind and drop her demand for a more detailed and technical questionnaire from Mr Cardiff. The motion to support the committee’s decisions on the eight nominees interviewed on Wednesday will be put to the parliament by Spanish Socialist MEP Ines Ayala Sander. She could ask the parliament to overturn the decision on Mr Cardiff — going against her own report.

The vote is secret so the MEPs can vote which ever way they like.

However if the motion was supported by the three major groups and co-signed by some key MEPs, it could persuade a sufficient number of MEPs.

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