After going from yes to no to maybe and back a few times I voted “Yes” in the Fiscal Compact referendum today. You see, it’s like everything, nothing is ever pure and there will always be a part of it that you do or don’t like with particular gusto, but at some stage you have to weigh the options and then decide, because not voting also influences the result and there is nothing worse than people whining about the state of the country if they don’t vote at all So being a Yes voter doesn’t mean I agree with everything in there, it just means I think it’s the better choice. And as I don’t see myself as a preacher woman, I decided to write this blog after I voted, and not as treaty thumping canvasser.
So what do I not like? Nearly everything. I suppose a lot of people have their issues with article 3. That’s the one that says there are deficit rules for all countries who go with the treaty. It means that Ireland can only have a structural deficit of max 3% of the GDP. Given that last year our deficit was 11% it seems obvious that we won’t be able to manage to get it down to the 3% which will mean breaking the rules and then being liable to pay fines, which are explained in article 8. Thing is though, the rules would be introduced gradually, and I feel more comfortable being part of those rules than part of the system that brought us to where we are now. Also, many countries will struggle with these rules, and there are exceptions available for some circumstances, so who knows where it will all end. Possibly in tears, but aren’t we on our knees as it is?
But do we need the fiscal clause at all? Does the EU need to create and enforce rules like this? Surely if we agree with the whole idea of the deficit structure we can just make our own rules around it, the same rules even, but just for ourselves. Surely we could change and amend it if we felt like it, instead of having big bad Europeans trying to control our lovely little self sufficient independent island that has no need to interact with the rest of the world? Besides, what about all the ‘austerity’ talk? Does it mean that we have to live within our means forever and ever? Does that mean more and more cuts and no spending even during good times? Well not really. We may be on our knees, but we won’t be on them forever. And that is where I wonder about our long term perspective when it comes to the treaty. Does it mean our future economic policies will be choked by what we agree to now?
On top of that the terms of the treaty are not good for the lefties. Now despite being left handed and outspoken, I wouldn’t be a huge leftie myself, but keeping tabs on the future spend of a government is the polar opposite of Keynesian economics. So is this a power grab by the conservative Europeans governments in order to put down left wing politics? Surely it would mean that if a future elected government is left-wing those wings will already be clipped when it comes to creating new economic policies? And even if ultimately, I see the treaty being altered in the future, you have to assume that it is what it is, and that the vote you cast is looking at both short and long term. A bit like signing up for a mortgage I guess.
So what are the other options? Reject, default, leave the Euro, devalue, and move from there. Painful choices, but they have their points too. We like to see Iceland as our model student in doing something like this. Only thing is though, Iceland was not part of the Euro. Because we chose to join the euro our economy is tied in to other ones in a way that Iceland isn’t. More importantly, we need to remember that we have gone beyond the Icelandic solution anyway, due to the bank guarantee, and like it or not, it’s something we cannot just ditch at this stage.
But let’s just say we were to take the Icelandic route anyway, we might be looking at functioning better in the longer term, but what the hell do we do in the meantime? What would happen when there is no money in the ATM? No social welfare payments? No police, school teachers or hospital services? And even scarier and more irresponsible is that it may not even work for us. Treating our economic crisis as if it were a simple graze on the knee is a nice thought, but one that is about as connected to reality as thinking that the Fiscal Compact will also be the answer to the maiden’s prayer.
So why am I voting yes?
This is all about being practical and real above having an idealistic notion of how things should be in a perfect world. How we got to where we are has to be put aside for a moment, in favour of looking at reality, and fact is, that the harm it could cause for hospitals, all of the public services, peoples lives, etc… would be too horrendous. And although I’m leaving the country in a few weeks to go live in Germany (I’ll tell them to go easy on us), I still couldn’t do that given that I care about the people who I’m leaving behind. So despite my moral issues with all of this, I cannot, hand on heart agree to Ireland taking on the risk of financial uncertainty in the form it could come if we don’t vote yes. And I hate all of this, because I feel I’m being bullied to a degree, but it’s where we are, we need to be real. Without a shadow of a doubt, we are going to need a bailout a bit further up the road, and for that, we need the ESM, which we cannot access without saying ‘Yes’ to the treaty. So even if the treaty itself seems filled with pitfalls, we are going to need access to the ECM.
So, there you go, voting yes does not mean I am all gung ho about the fiscal treaty; I won’t even be excited about what way the voting goes. Just don’t see any other way around it, given that we have come so far, and when you are trapped on a ravine stuck between a rock and a hard place, do you tell the helicopter hovering overhead, that yes, you’ll pay back whatever it costs for the rest of your life if they come save you, or do you tell them to stop bullying you with their terms and conditions and that you’ll try to save yourself on your own as you don’t like the way they operate. And then what? Would you try to save yourself through the power of prayer and positive thinking? I think I’d chose the bully…