6 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement regarding the European Council summit. [31034/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 8 November 2011
6 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement regarding the European Council summit. [31034/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
7 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail all contacts he had with Heads of State or Government in the week before 23 October 2011. [31035/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
8 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update regarding his bilateral contacts with leaders from eurozone countries. [31036/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
9 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has circulated any documents to other Heads of State or Government from eurozone countries. [31037/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
10 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will institute cross-party discussions regarding potential changes to the EU treaties. [31038/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
11 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has held any bilateral discussion with Prime Minister Papandreou since the matter was last discussed in Dáil Éireann. [31040/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
12 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on his plans to lead bilateral delegations in the next six months. [31043/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
13 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent European Council summit on 23 October 2011. [31158/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
14 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he raised at the European Council summit on 23 October 2011. [31159/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
15 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he had at the European Council summit on 23 October 2011. [31160/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
16 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the issues of changes to EU treaties was discussed at the European Council summit on 23 October 2011; and his position on that issue. [31161/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
17 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the European Council meeting on 23 October 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31266/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
18 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the Greek protests and strikes were discussed at the European Council meeting on 23 October 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31267/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
19 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the negative impact on growth resulting from austerity measures in Greece and more generally across the eurozone and including Ireland was discussed at the European Council meeting on 23 October 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31268/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
20 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if increasing unemployment was discussed at the recent European Council meeting on 23 October 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31269/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
21 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if the global protests against austerity and bank bailouts were raised at the recent European Council meeting on 23 October 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31270/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
22 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council summit on 26 October 2011. [31994/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
23 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he prioritised at the European Council summit on 26 October 2011. [31995/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
24 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the bilaterals he held with other European leaders at the European Council summit on 26 October 2011. [31996/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
25 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the promissory note to Anglo Irish Bank at the European Council summit on 26 October 2011. [31997/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
26 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the paying in full of unguaranteed unsecured bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank at the European summit on 26 October 2011. [31998/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
27 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the rising unemployment figures in the EU have been substantially discussed at recent EU Council meetings; the actions being taken to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32970/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
28 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will provide details of all contacts he had with Heads of State of the EU or Government in the past week. [33033/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
29 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the emergency European Council summit on 23 October 2011. [33034/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
30 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the issue of changes to European Union treaties was discussed at the recent European Council summit and his position on same. [33035/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
31 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will make contact with the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to discuss the Greek Government’s recent decision to hold a referendum on the EU-IMF deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33039/11]Amharc ar fhreagra
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 31, inclusive, together.
I attended meetings of the European Council and euro summit, in Brussels on 23 and 26 October. As I have already made statements to the House on these summit meetings, I will confine myself to giving a summary account of the proceedings.
On 23 October, the European Council identified a number of key priorities for internal economic policy to be pursued in the short term to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. These include the completion of the Single Market; measures to support SMEs; and the reduction of administrative burden. It called for a stronger focus to be given to growth-enhancing aspects of the European Union's external policies to maximise their contribution to growth in Europe, and to shape the conditions to attract more inward investment.
Recognising the pressures on national budgets, the European Council also agreed temporarily to increase co-financing rates for EU funds, which will have a direct benefit for Ireland. In this regard, my colleagues agreed to my suggestion that, in examining the possibilities for boosting investment in Europe, the European Investment Bank should have a particular focus on countries implementing a programme.
The Council also discussed preparations for the Cannes G20 Summit, giving top priority to maintaining financial stability and restoring growth. In addition, it also discussed the preparations for the Durban conference on climate change, stressing the need to take ambitious steps towards a global and comprehensive legally-binding framework for the post-2012 period.
The European Council of 23 October also agreed a set of conclusions concerning foreign policy issues covering developments in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Iran, as well as the Eastern Partnership Summit held in September. We also welcomed the announcement of the cessation of ETA's terrorist activities in Spain.
At the meeting of Heads of State and Government of the euro area on 23 October, which took place immediately following the European Council meeting, discussions concentrated on restoring stability to the euro area. Significant progress was made on a comprehensive package of measures. However, it was not possible to bring the work to a successful conclusion on that occasion.
As the House will be aware, the European Council and the euro summit met again on 26 October. At these meetings, work was finalised on the various elements of the comprehensive package of measures designed to restore stability to the euro area. The agreement reached covers all the key issues: bank recapitalisation; debt sustainability for Greece; firewalls to prevent contagion; and improved governance within the euro area. In each of these areas, Irish interests were fully protected.
First, we agreed measures that, when implemented, should put Greek debt back on a sustainable footing, and will help Greece to start rebuilding its economy. Second, we agreed to extend the capacity of the EFSF, through two basic leverage options, to ensure that there are robust and secure firewalls to prevent contagion spreading to other member states. Third, we agreed measures that ensure that Europe's banks are adequately capitalised and have access to funding. Fourth, we agreed to implement a series of additional measures at national level to drive the growth agenda forward, including the adoption by each member state of balanced budget rules which translate the Stability and Growth Pact into national legislation. Finally, we agreed on ten measures to improve euro area governance. These include regular euro summit meetings, at least twice a year, and regular meetings of the presidents of the euro summit, the Commission and the eurogroup.
We requested that President Van Rompuy, working closely with the presidents of the European Commission and of the eurogroup, prepare a report for the December European Council on possible steps to further strengthen economic convergence within the euro area, to improve fiscal discipline and to deepen economic union. As part of that report, President Van Rompuy will explore the possibility of limited treaty changes. In this, it is important to recall that no outcome is predetermined. I remain convinced that there is considerable scope to go further within existing frameworks and we should exploit that to the full.
As I told the House last week, the issue of Anglo Irish Bank did not arise at these meetings.
With regard to bilateral contacts, I had a telephone conversation with President Van Rompuy on 10 October and I also met President Barroso in Brussels on 13 October ahead of the summits. I also had extensive contacts with colleagues, including Prime Minister Papandreou, at the various meetings I attended. Preparations are at an advanced stage for a bilateral visit to meet Chancellor Merkel in Berlin later this month.
With regard to the manner in which Greece ratifies its new programme, this is a matter for the Greek Prime Minister, the Greek Government and the Greek Parliament.
I have eight questions in what by any standards is a large group of questions.
There were 26.
I have eight questions in the group and because of the limits which are naturally imposed on us, I want to ask separately about a number of questions on the issues I raised.
We all are clear that the eurozone is engulfed in a crisis which threatens its very existence, and yet in the eight months since the Taoiseach's appointment, he has not still visited or hosted a eurozone leader. We all saw how quickly Chancellor Merkel and he were willing to meet for the photocall before the election but it is incredible since then, given the severity of the crisis and the serious issues that we as a country must raise with Germany and other eurozone states, that there has been no formal substantive bilateral meeting between the Taoiseach and the Chancellor or any other eurozone leader. The Taoiseach has over-hyped the normal minor encounters on the edge of summits. Why is there this incredible reluctance to meet other eurozone leaders away from summits?
Why has the Taoiseach refused to table even one position paper at the five summits which he has attended? I asked that question specifically. The Taoiseach was able to produce briefing documents telling Ministers to praise him for his negotiating skills, but no meetings and no documents which would show any negotiations. In fact, the Taoiseach recently confirmed the refusal to release any information from his Department on specific issues relating to the euro summit meetings which would help us to see what has been happening there.
From what I can see, the Taoiseach had a brief meeting with Mr. Trichet in March which represents the sum total of his effort in negotiations, or lack thereof, on unsecured bondholders. Why is that the case? Why did the Taoiseach not take any personal negotiating stance on that? Why did he not table the matter of unsecured bondholders at the summit?
Deputy Martin will realise that there are other leaders in this besides me and their schedules are such that it is often not practical to hold formal bilateral meetings in advance of eurozone or EU summit meetings. It is quite some time since we made arrangements in respect of meeting the German Chancellor, and that will be finalised shortly.
While I do not want to place an emphasis on meeting leaders on the fringes of these meetings, these are important connections in their own way. While they are not formal bilateral occasions — I had three at the second last meeting and three with the euro partnerships — they take some scheduling because of other people's requirements.
Since the Lisbon treaty, President Van Rompuy has responsibility for determining the agenda for the meeting. It is not like the normal cumann meeting at which one has items Nos. 1 to 5. I spoke to him before both meetings and we discussed the impact and the observations of Ireland and our interest in regard to the main items on the agenda, which were the Greek debt position, firewalls and contagion, as did every other country. It was not a case of countries circulating papers and saying "This is what we think we should discuss here". The main agenda was determined by him, as is his requirement and responsibility following the Lisbon treaty. It may well be that, during the course of the meetings, an amendment to the translation, to an issue that is under discussion or to the conclusions that are being drawn up will be circulated by individual members. For instance, in regard to the governance issue, the point was made about having some connection with countries before they would present their budgets. I made the point that, while many countries were in excessive deficit positions, countries in a programme such as Ireland's were already under a great deal of scrutiny by the troika and that it should not be necessary on those occasions. That point was removed but, as the Deputy knows, one has to circulate the wording one wants approved at the meeting.
From that point of view, it is a case of having time to make arrangements for all of these things. It might be nice to set off on a European tour of the eurozone countries and include three or four over a day's session or whatever, but the Deputy will also appreciate that the conditions of the troika here have required up to 30 pieces of legislation in this particular session. It has been pretty hectic for everybody, the Deputy included, since the summer recess.
It is a case of making arrangements to talk with them at the meetings — before and after — and, in due course after it has settled down a bit, maybe having more time to focus on structuring formal bilaterals. I would not want to lead the Deputy astray — it is not an interest of mine. I like to think that we can keep a handle on the difficulties that we face here, deal with those in the first instance and, where necessary, talk to other leaders either by telephone or before or after meetings. In due course, we will get around to having formal bilaterals with them all.
I tabled this substantial number of questions because, when entering Government, the Taoiseach stated he would launch a major diplomatic initiative. He engaged in a great deal of political spin on the subject and the expectation was that he was going to do the tour he has just derided by remarking, "It might be nice to set off on a European tour". The Taoiseach made all of these comments. I put it to him that he made it very clear that he would undertake such a diplomatic initiative. He unworthily attacked the previous Government and tried to make political play out of its——
Adjourning of the Dáil.
——lack of attendance at meetings. I refer him to a Swedish research paper. It was categoric that, during the past decade, the Irish Government was fifth out of the 27 member states in terms of attendance. I can give this substantive piece of academic research to the Taoiseach. It was objectively done by Swedish researchers, not by anyone here. I did not create the political spin about tours.
It is important that we circulate positions on some of these issues because Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy are circulating papers. When one meets other European leaders and speaks with them, they worry about the lack of a communautaire approach. It is not a Europe of France and Germany. It is a Europe of the 27.
I ask the Deputy to put a question.
There is an obligation on the Taoiseach to circulate papers on, for example, unsecured bondholders and how the European Financial Stability Facility, EFSF, is working. We are all getting a bit tired of people coming out of meetings saying they have lifted it for Europe once and for all, we have turned a corner etc. All of the crisis summits have failed. They unravel within a week or two, as the last one did.
The communique states that we agree that fiscal issues are the main cause of the crisis. Does the Taoiseach agree this is nonsense? Financial and monetary systems are at the core of the crisis and are making it worse. Why is there no mention of reform of the European Central Bank in the 15-page document that emanated from the work?
So far, the Taoiseach has avoided taking any public position on the measures being proposed by Germany and France. The Council is set to agree measures next month and finalise them in March in terms of the potential reform of the treaties. I asked the Taoiseach whether he had tabled any specific reform proposal and whether he would consult on any matter before the December summit.
I will take the last point first. I will of course consult. Obviously, what President Van Rompuy is in charge of is to bring back a report in December on the possibilities that exist for the tightening up of government and limited treaty change. When the President brings back that report, we will see whether there is any conclusion in it about the possibility of limited treaty change or other issues of governance. I contributed to that debate.
Twenty-three of the 27 countries are outside the terms and conditions of the Stability and Growth Pact. Clearly, for a country like Greece, which contributes about 2.5% of the EU's GDP, to be central to this for the past two and a half years speaks for itself. The point was that, when the eurozone leaders made their decision, it was not foreseen that the Greek Prime Minister would suddenly decide to call a referendum and cause the unravelling and turmoil.
The Deputy referred to the diplomatic initiative. This is not confined to leaders alone. As the Deputy is aware, the Tánaiste called back all of the ambassadors, including the European ambassadors.
That did nothing.
It is all part of the diplomatic initiative, as the Deputy is aware. I have anecdotal evidence and confirmed evidence of cases where Ministers did not attend meetings. When they did attend meetings, they more or less gave the impression that we were Ireland and——
That is not true.
I have it for the Deputy. I can present him with it.
I will give the Taoiseach the research.
The impression was that they were from Ireland, that we were top of the pile——
This is not good enough. The Taoiseach has done none of what I have mentioned. He should call it a day.
——and if people wanted their countries to follow, they should look at what we had done in Ireland. I am quite sure that, if I was away on a tour today or tomorrow with the Government jet visiting the Slovenian leader, Slovakian leader or the Estonian leader, places where there are no public deficits at all, Deputy Martin would be on his feet here asking where was the Taoiseach.
I would not, actually.
From that point of view, times may arise when I will consult with the Deputy and the other leaders about the necessity of going away.
I put it on the record, both with President Barroso directly and with President Van Rompuy, at the meeting as part of my public statements that I did not appreciate or agree with a situation where Europe might be perceived to be drifting at the behest of one or two large countries. This is a union of 27, and they are all there with equal measure. It is part of what we have signed on for. This is reflected in many of the comments and remarks made at the meetings. People do not want a situation where a measure is pre-prepared and they are told what they must do. There must be serious discussion, negotiation and rational conversation about these issues because they affect everyone. As the Deputy is aware, those matters are profoundly important to different countries. I might say that the attitudes of Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany towards governance are different than those of some other countries.
Ireland has measured up in terms of a number of troika assessments. While it is difficult and challenging for our people, we are recognised as making progress. That is all it is. We have put it very clearly on the record to the other leaders of the eurozone and the EU and we do not want to lose sight of the fact that this country still needs a lot of encouragement and assistance. It is in this area that I was happy with the flexibility given to the EFSF. For example, we can now pursue longer maturity and lower interest in terms of the Anglo debt, which is of enormous importance in reducing the overall debt burden on our citizens here.
Tá naoi gceist agam.
Tá ceisteanna Uimh. 13 go dtí 16 agus ansin tá cinn eile ag an Teachta Boyd Barrett.
Tá a lán ceisteanna ann ach tá mé ag lorg a lán freagraí. Since the last time we met, the euro crisis has worsened. I have many questions and would like to be allowed in again, particularly regarding Question No. 9 because the Government paid €700 million of the people's money to bondholders. Last week, the Taoiseach expressed his opposition to two categories of EU membership and to the emergence of an inner and outer circle. Surely he did not approve of the actions of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy in summoning the Greek Prime Minister to a summit to tell him not to hold a referendum on the Greek bailout and to threaten him with the expulsion of Greece from the eurozone. Did the Taoiseach support this action? Was he consulted on this issue? Did the German and French leaders act on his behalf? Do they believe they have the authority to summon Heads of Government or to threaten any member state with expulsion or to decide what questions can and cannot be put to a referendum in a member state?
It was made perfectly clear that the €8 billion tranche approved in principle to go to Greece would be paid over on its signing up to the conditions which were laid out. At the meeting, there was a very long discussion about this — it continued until the early hours of the morning — and when it eventually concluded the Prime Minister of Greece stated that it was an opportunity for a new day for his country and its citizens. The clear understanding of everybody in the room was that the matter had been decided, agreement had been reached, conditions had been laid out and people were expected to implement it. Obviously, when for his own reasons the Greek Prime Minister decided to return home and announce a referendum would be held it caused massive turmoil in the Greek Parliament and Government and in his own party. The matter has now been cleared to a point where there is focus on what they have to do. Obviously, the German Chancellor and the French President, as big payers, were exceptionally upset, particularly I am sure the French President because the triple-A status of France was being threatened and commented upon. Arising from the conclusion of the meeting where a clear set of decisions had been made things began to improve but then they were thrown into some confusion.
I do not support at all a situation in which inner and outer groups exist; this is a Union of 27 and whether it be Cyprus or Malta or the largest country they all sit at the table as equals and there is no one else there when they sit around the table. While leaders may take an initiative and state what they believe needs to be done there must be unanimous consent in some cases on conclusions and the changes that can be brought about as result of talks which take place. It is a serious place where very serious issues are discussed. In September, the German Chancellor passed measures in the Bundestag which required her to return for validation any further funds to be made available, and people would feel aggrieved at a spanner being thrown into the works which caused some confusion before clarity again emerged. As a consequence, in the meantime Italy became the source of much focus. As I stated to Deputy Martin, Prime Minister Berlusconi brought a 15 page document of proposals for the implementation of serious austerity measures in Italy. The situation in the Parliament there has changed but on that day he pointed out that he had a majority to implement them.
This will be like "Groundhog Day" because I will ask the Taoiseach the same questions again. Was the Taoiseach consulted about this issue? Did President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel act on his behalf? Does he believe they have the authority to summon Heads of Government or to threaten any member state with expulsion from the eurozone or to decide what questions can and cannot be put to a referendum in member states? I asked the Taoiseach these questions.
No, I was not consulted by Chancellor Merkel or President Sarkozy, nor was I consulted by them when they decided to meet either in Frankfurt or in Paris; as leaders of their respective countries they are entitled to do so if they wish. The Lisbon treaty allows for an opt-out by an individual country if it wishes to leave, but it is a hell of a different prospect if one signs on for certain conditions in respect of a bailout involving €8 billion and the principal payers feel very aggrieved if one does not measure up. It is a case of stating the tranche of money will not be paid unless one adheres to the conditions which one already agreed. This is where the emphasis is. So far as continued membership of the European Union is concerned the situation is set out very clearly in the Lisbon treaty.
I ask Deputy Adams to be brief because two other Deputies have questions.
The Taoiseach stated that he does not approve or support the actions and that he was not consulted. The Lisbon treaty states that except where the treaties provide otherwise decisions of the European Council shall be taken by consensus. What is the Taoiseach doing about this action and the clear emergence of a two-tier Europe? This is an action of which he does not approve or support and on which he was not consulted.
The Deputy read out the relevant section of the Lisbon treaty. Decisions are taken by consensus and the consensus of the meeting was that provided the Greek Government adhered to the conditions set out at the meeting the extra moneys made available would be paid, that the haircut of 50% would apply and that the extra billions to be paid over would also be paid but that this required a reform programme which would be exceptionally challenging for the citizens of Greece and which would continue for at least ten years. The consensus arrived at was that the programme——
There was no consensus for the actions of the French and Germans.
The consensus was that the programme would be implemented and this was agreed at the meeting. Everybody there agreed this was the position. Obviously, the Greek Prime Minister took a different view as to how it should be implemented when he went home and that is for him to speak about. It is a case of consensus being arrived at, and consensus was arrived at. As part of this consensus I made it perfectly clear that the interests of our country should be protected and they were protected.
You are not answering the question.
When decisions are made people are perfectly free to comment on them but they cannot change those decisions unless another meeting takes place where they are changed by the consensus about which Deputy Adams speaks.
You are not answering the question. You refuse to answer the question. The question was very simple. What did the Taoiseach do about this issue?
I participated in the meeting where the consensus was reached.
What did you do about this issue of which you disapproved? You were not even consulted about it.
We cannot have discussions across the floor. We have procedures here.
I do not give out to Deputy Adams when he comments on whether the Louth football team wins or loses a match. That is his own business.
I tabled six questions and the Taoiseach did not really answer them. He did not even refer to some of them in his reply. The weekend prior to the European Council meeting, and directed towards it, in approximately 2,000 cities across the world people in their tens of thousands, and in their hundreds of thousands in some cases, took to the streets to protest against the policies of bailing out banks and bondholders and imposing austerity on ordinary people. In Greece, as I am sure the Taoiseach is aware, there has been huge mobilisation of people power taking to the streets to oppose the policy of inflicting brutal austerity on the people, pensioners and workers in the country to pay off bondholders and bankers. These protests took place here too. The Taoiseach may have noticed at the weekend, reinforcing the message of these protests, opinion polls indicated a significant majority of people believe the austerity to pay off bondholders was unjustified and is not in line with public sentiment in this country. The protests across Europe indicate——
This is Question Time.
At the European Council meeting did the Taoiseach or any of the EU leaders take on board the message being put out by the people on the streets in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Wall Street that they believe it is wrong and unsustainable to continue a policy of bailing out bankers and bondholders at their expense? Did the Taoiseach discuss those protests?
I will allow Deputy Boyd Barrett to speak again after the Taoiseach answers that point.
Do the EU leaders take seriously what looks like a majority sentiment across Europe, and increasingly across the world, about the incorrect priorities that Governments seem to pursue? Did the Taoiseach specifically discuss jobs and what he was going to do for jobs? This is all about bailouts and mechanisms. What did the Taoiseach say should be done to create jobs in Europe? What decisions were made and what actions will be taken by European Council leaders to create jobs in Europe?
Did the Taoiseach discuss the fact that there is probably a consensus among economists and commentators that austerity is having a negative impact on growth, that it is crippling growth in the European economy and that policies are not working? Did the Taoiseach discuss these issues? Did he raise them or did European Union leaders raise them?
On the question of a referendum in Greece does the Taoiseach agree with many people, who feel it is outrageous that European leaders, Merkel and Sarkozy and the so-called markets went crazy because the Greek Prime Minister had the audacity to suggest the Greek people might have some say on their social and economic future? Does the Taoiseach agree it shows contempt for democracy that this was the response of the EU leaders and the markets in Europe to a desire by the Greek Prime Minister to have a referendum?
I disagree with Deputy Boyd Barrett's last point. Every country is entitled to conduct its business in its own way. It was not that the Greek Prime Minister called for a referendum that upset others, it was the delay and the consequent confusion and uncertainty arising from that. Markets do not hang around to make their judgments. There was certainty and clarity following the meeting and the decisions that were arrived at, which was reflected in the market response. This was thrown into turmoil and confusion by the fact that there would be a referendum sometime in the new year in Greece. It was not that they were concerned about the way Greece was to do its business, as is the right of the Greek citizens, it was the delay that was going to cause further confusion and turmoil.
In respect of discussions on protests, in the course of his contribution to the meeting the Greek Prime Minister pointed out that people were dying in the streets, that there was absolute mayhem in the delivery of public services and that there was great anxiety, concern and fear among citizens arising from this. The anger was not directed solely at banks but also at the lack of governance and competence in terms of the management of people's affairs by Governments in recent years, when debt was doubled and there was incapacity to measure up. During his contribution, the Greek Minister pointed out that there were protests in Greece and this was reflected in references by a number of leaders to similar, but smaller-scale, protests in other countries. The protests were not discussed beyond that.
Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to the poll on bailing out banks and the fact that most people would prefer not to bail out banks. If we were to ask whether the interest rate reduction should be passed on to seriously challenged mortgage holders, the answer would be "yes", which I support.
I have good news on jobs. At the meeting prior to the last meeting, there was a specific paper from the European Commission dealing with the situation of the Single Market, small and medium-sized enterprises, the opportunities that exist there for micro-finance, credit guarantees and freeing up the opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, the target objective of being able to form a company within three days and for €100 and the potential that exists across the European Union for serious job creation. Before Deputy Boyd Barrett was elected to the House, the Lisbon agenda was supposed to allow Europe to measure up to America and the Far East in terms of job creation, although it never did. There is a big focus on this in the paper, which I will send to Deputy Boyd Barrett. I am sure he will find it very interesting.
I also want to call Deputy Higgins.
Deputy Martin has had his chance. The Taoiseach did not answer one important part of the question. Was there discussion at the Council meeting about the fact that growth is stalling and contracting in Europe as a result of austerity? There is a widespread view among a wide spectrum of commentators, academics and economists, supported by recent figures, that growth is contracting and is being crippled in Europe as a result of the austerity policies resulting from the prioritisation of the bank bailout. Was this discussed or was there acknowledgment that this is happening?
I ask the Taoiseach to answer.
On the question of the referendum, does the Taoiseach share the shock most people feel at the hostile response in Europe and among the markets, who seem to be dictating everything to us, at the simple fact that the Greek people might have a vote? Does the Taoiseach think this is terrible? Does the Taoiseach think this shows dysfunctionality at the heart of the European system that they were so appalled at the simple prospect of people having a vote on the austerity package?
I ask Deputy Boyd Barrett to allow the Taoiseach to answer the question. I also want to allow Deputy Higgins to contribute.
I have answered that question. They do not have referendums in Germany. In France, when the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was defeated, President Sarkozy campaigned on the basis that he would put through the treaty by parliamentary majority if he was elected. It was not about the issue of the referendum but the delay and confusion caused as a consequence.
There was no discussion in any great detail about individual protests in each of the countries. There was a serious discussion about jobs. There was a great deal of comment about the fact that we cannot cut our way back to prosperity or tax our way back to prosperity. There must be an emphasis on growth, employment and job opportunities and freeing people to create work and jobs. That is where the emphasis will be and Ireland contributed comprehensively to that debate because it is in our specific interest.
The Taoiseach is entirely missing the point. The past two weeks show that the claim of the European Union leadership, that it constitutes one of the greatest zones of democracy and democratic rights in the world, has been shot to bits. The Taoiseach justified Monsieur Sarkozy and Frau Merkel summoning the Greek Prime Minister on the basis that the markets were going crazy.
Vous parlez bien le français.
Does the Taoiseach not see the irony in that situation?
Does Deputy Higgins want to be like the Greeks?
What is the Taoiseach's opinion on the financial markets having moved on and attempting to dictate to the Italian people who should form its Government? Has the Taoiseach seen that they ruthlessly ratcheted up the interest rates on Italy's bonds in order to pressurise Prime Minister Berlusconi and, on the rumour that he was about to resign, the markets dropped the interest rates and then put them up again? Let us leave aside the despicable political entity that is Signor Berlusconi.
I thought Deputy Higgins was defending him and wanted to hold on to him.
This is Question Time.
Why can the Taoiseach not get the point that ordinary people around Europe see that the Taoiseach is capitulating to what is effectively an economic dictatorship of the markets? Does the Taoiseach agree that he himself contributed to this assault on democratic rights by joining with Merkel, Sarkozy and the rest of them and capitulating to what is, after all, an assorted bunch of chancers, cheats, spivs and speculators that constitutes the financial markets?
That is quite a list.
That is completely unparliamentary. Will the Deputy please get on with his question?
Does the Taoiseach agree that this new jargon of "firewalls" and "contagion" is reminiscent of US generals' use of language to mask reality? For example, they used the term "collateral damage" to cover up the incineration of innocent civilians. Jargon is being used to mask the reality of this stranglehold that the Taoiseach is giving these financial market players. "Contagion" simply means that they can move to any country they want and ratchet up interest rates in order to increase private profit. The whole lot of you capitulate in front of them; what is that except a negation of democracy?
What is the Deputy's question?
I could not quite catch the litany of despair the Deputy read out concerning other European leaders. I am not sure whether he was as cocky when he was out there himself as an elected MEP. In any event, I do not share the Deputy's view. This country is a long-time member of the European Union and has been central to the European process since the 1970s. All Irish Governments have contributed well to those debates and Irish citizens have benefited greatly from EU membership. Ireland still benefits greatly as a large percentage of our GDP is export based. Maybe the Deputy does not want that to continue. Markets have an inhuman dimension in that they do not focus on individuals, but look at figures and statistics. From that perspective it is important for political leadership to be able to set down clear decisions from which clarity and decisiveness emerge. That is what happened at the meetings of EU and eurozone leaders, but it was thrown into turmoil and confusion following the announcement that there was to be a referendum sometime in the new year in Greece. I am not taking from the right of the Greek Parliament and people to decide their own affairs but the timescale in between is going to cause much confusion and further turmoil. This country is not capitulating to anybody. Whether the Deputy realises it or not, we unfortunately happen to be in a bailout situation here through the choppy economic waters of which we are making steady progress. Nonetheless we have a very long way to go. I remind the Deputy, as I said to Deputy Stephen Donnelly last week, that when we do get out of this bailout situation we will do so with our reputation intact in respect of our colleagues in Europe. In addition, our integrity will be intact in respect of the European institutions. Moreover, the markets will have a focus on Ireland that is clear on the understanding that this country does not jump around from Billy to Jack, or spivs, as the Deputy mentioned earlier.
The Taoiseach will leave a burned-out landscape behind him.
The question of how Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy pursue these issues is crucial, because they made a hames of Deauville last year.
Questions please, no statements.
They also made a hames of successive summits in terms of the reaction of the bond markets. I asked the Taoiseach a question earlier but he did not reply because there were so many questions. Why was there no mention of ECB reform in the 15 pages of conclusions that emanated from the summit?
I did not see the programme last night but I understand that in Deputy Martin's own, very timid way he was saying that it was all about liquidity instead of solvency.
Will the Taoiseach please answer my question? I do not want any smart-aleckry from him.
There seemed to be a hames being made of many things in the middle of the night a few years ago when there was nobody around to discuss them. There should have been but they were all asleep on the watch.
The Taoiseach paid unsecured bondholders last week.
In answer to Deputy Martin's question as to why there was no discussion about reform of the ECB, it was not specifically on the agenda.
The ECB was not on the agenda in the current crisis?
As regards the Greek crisis, debt sustainability and the leveraging up of the EFSF, I made the point, which was agreed by a number of other leaders, that the ECB should be the central defender. It really has unlimited economic or financial firepower to deal with that.
It is not a fiscal crisis, it is a financial and monetary crisis. The Taoiseach keeps missing that point.
The ECB has a set responsibility of 17 different governors of central banks, and they all have different views. If there comes a time when that is central to an agenda for discussion, we will certainly be happy to participate in that debate.