Like my colleague, I am speaking as an internationalist in support of the ULA positive addendum to the Technical Group’s motion. The idea that one cannot be pro-Europe if one is against the European Union is nonsense. The current position makes it clear to people everywhere that there is dictatorship by the markets is not an exaggerated claim by left wingers in respect of a global capitalist plot, rather it is the reality in Europe which has been laid bare before the eyes of ordinary Europeans everywhere. What is under way is a monumental assault on democratic rights by European bondholders, bankers and speculators, facilitated by the leadership of the European Union.
The reaction to the crisis in the eurozone has been compared to being like a house on fire, while the owners stand around arguing about the fire safety measures they need to put in place. It is clear that the European Establishment is incapable of cobbling together anything to put out the fire and defend the interests of ordinary working people throughout Europe. The problem is not over-borrowing by governments but excessive lending by private banks which fuelled bubble-led growth and a crisis which has been transferred to ordinary people. I remind the Deputy from the Labour Party that the cheque we receive every month is not a present. It is a loan at extortionate interest rates to pay the debts of banks and private individuals.
It is obvious to everybody that the markets are calling the shots and demanding restructuring. Agencies such as Standard and Poor’s are increasing the pressure on all countries in the European Union in order to get their way. The point has been made that they are threatening to cut the ratings of 15 countries, including Germany and France, and Reuters predicts a situation where we will see a 40% reduction in eurozone output. This is critical. What is being demanded is fiscal control over member states’ budgetary policies to try to persuade the ECB to increase its bond market intervention. That is the game under way and it is being spearheaded by Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy. In order to achieve this, what is up for grabs is a further erosion of democratic rights. Measures being considered go way beyond the EU six-pack governance measures which, to be honest, already go far enough, in strengthening penalties on countries for not reaching targets, thereby facilitating the creation of a situation where the European Commission would come in and demand the liberalisation of labour markets or privatisation and so on. What is being discussed goes even further than this, with the possibility of powers being given to the European Court of Justice to decide whether countries are breaking the rules.
We are in the era of supreme rule by technocrats. We are aware of the process under way in countries such as Italy and Greece and now see the influence exerted by former Goldman Sachs managing directors and advisers at the heart of the European Union. Should we seriously believe they are coming to power to protect the interests of ordinary Europeans? Clearly, they are being imposed to protect the interests of the bankers and the wealthy elite. The process under way which suggests there might be a change to the Lisbon treaty without a referendum or without coming back to national parliaments is a step too far down that road. There is talk, too, about attempting to use the protocol in the Lisbon treaty to bring about treaty change without a referendum. This is confirmation of the warnings given at the time the treaty was debated. Those of us on the “No” side warned that it included self-amending powers. These warnings have come to pass.
One of the key purposes of the motion is to issue the Taoiseach with a warning that under no circumstances should he entertain any attempt to change the protocol on excessive budget deficit procedure. He must exercise a veto if that debate or choice is posed. Any attempt to push through these measures without a referendum will simply not be tolerated. As a minimum, we guarantee the Government will face a legal challenge based on the Crotty judgment, not to mention the opposition that will be built inside and outside this House.
The key questions are why all this is being done and in whose interests these democratic rights are being eroded. The only reason this is being considered is to enforce and institutionalise austerity. They are afraid of the idea of a referendum in Ireland, the only country which must hold one, because they fear it would not be passed. It is a very legitimate fear because who in his or her right mind, in Ireland or in any other EU country, would vote to increase the retirement age, cut spending, unleash a massive scale of privatisation and allow the EU have control over his or her national budgets? No one would vote for that so instead they are trying to dispense with the luxury of democracy.
Part of the reason for this debate is to let the Taoiseach know that they will not get away with it and that these policies are being resisted all over Europe. Those of us on this side of the House and in the United Left Alliance very much support the struggles of people all over Europe against austerity. Last week we saw one of the largest strikes in Portugal against increases in VAT, hikes in gas, electricity and public transport costs and plans next year to force all workers to work an extra half an hour every day unpaid, which is the equivalent of 17 days unpaid per year.
Last weekend, there were 80,000 people on the streets in Belgium protesting against cuts very similar to the ones the Government has imposed on people here. There was the massive strike in Britain and Northern Ireland last week and there are planned strikes in Italy next week as part of a national strike movement there.
We support all of those campaigns against austerity. That is the vision for a new Europe where ordinary people come together and say they did not create this crisis and they will not be forced to pay for it. Standing firm against austerity is a very positive alternative as is putting on the agenda the idea of making bankers pay for the crisis and a Europe run in the interests of the majority rather than the profits of a few.