‘The treaty is about more than stability. It is also about solidarity and trust between the peoples and governments of Europe.’
April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
Last week, the Dail debated the Fiscal Stability Treaty and I told the House that solidarity is the key to recovery. Below is a transcript of my speech. The website for the Stability Treaty is now live and available on www.stabilitytreaty.ie
I have found colleagues’ contributions to the debate this evening both interesting and informative. I was not aware, for example, that it was the view of Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan that we should leave the euro.
Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: I have expressed that view on previous occasions in the House.
Deputy Alex White: I respect his view although I disagree with it. I would be interested to hear Deputies Flanagan and Joan Collins say whether they would consider us to have a better chance of running our own affairs if the treaty is accepted or if it is rejected. Does Deputy Collins believe we will have more or less austerity if it is defeated? Many articles have been quoted from colleagues on that side of the House to support their case. Mr. Krugman’s ears must be very red. In an article of his on 11 March to which rather less reference was made, Mr. Krugman said: “You may ask what alternatives countries like Greece and Ireland had, and the answer is that they had and have no good alternatives”. In other words, while he has offered a major critique of the strategy in the eurozone, he has formed the view that Ireland, among others, has little choice in regard to where it finds itself. I do not accept that we are without choices, but I am strongly of the view that if this referendum is defeated, we will have more austerity, not less. We have a deficit of €15 billion and nobody willing to lend to us. Were we to decide, as Deputy Flanagan advocates, to just leave the currency, we would simply isolate ourselves from any prospect of recovery.
I acknowledge that the treaty is not perfect. In fact, I do not accept it is the solution to the problems in the eurozone. Moreover, I very much agree with some of the points made by Deputy Mick Wallace and others in regard to the huge economic imbalances that exist across the eurozone countries. That is a major issue that must be addressed. It may even be more at the heart of the collapse in Ireland than fiscal indiscipline ever was. I agree with Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn that if the rules set out in the stability treaty had been observed for the past ten years they would not, on their own, have addressed or solved the problems that have arisen. They would not have tracked the bubble which was, in fact, an indirect or perhaps even a direct result of the imbalances to which I referred. The explosion of credit that emerged in the core of Europe after 2000 and the introduction of the euro was bound to have a differential impact on different countries given their varying economic circumstances. Our economy simply was not in a position to withstand and should never have been exposed to that type of influx of credit in the uncontrolled manner in which it occurred. I absolutely agree that fiscal rules alone would not have prevented the crisis. However, that is not an argument against fiscal rules. Rather, it is an argument that fiscal rules are not enough, that the fiscal discipline that is advocated is necessary but not sufficient. It is certainly not a case for throwing out the rules as if they were not required at all.
It is not difficult to ascertain the impetus behind this treaty. The design of the euro currency in the early part of the last decade was incomplete and arguably flawed. Member states thought they could have monetary union without any type of fiscal co-ordination, but there is no currency in history that ever could survive in those types of circumstances. Rules were set out in the Stability and Growth Pact, but they were ignored by many countries, not so much those on the so-called periphery but by France and Germany, among others. What is now being proposed is, first, to take the rules from the shelf, dust them down and strengthen them, which is what was done last year. The provisions contained in the treaty are the strengthened rules that were reintroduced last year. Indeed, they are largely the same rules that have been in place since 1997, which have merely been dusted off and strengthened. In addition, a decision was made to introduce corrective mechanisms where the rules are not applied.
This is the main response the European Union has had to the crisis in the eurozone. To reiterate, while I am of the view that it is necessary, it is not sufficient because we have not yet addressed the macroeconomic imbalances that continue to exist. Europe made a start on addressing those imbalances in the six-pack last year and made additional progress in this new two-pack set of regulations, but it has not done enough to address the risk that the same type of explosion of asset price bubbles could recur in periphery countries. It is moving in the direction of addressing the issue, but it should be given just as much attention as is being given to fiscal discipline. Unfortunately, that is not being done. Nor is sufficient attention being given to the necessity for a growth strategy in Europe. It will probably never be possible, despite what colleagues have argued, for a Keynesian, stimulus-type approach to be taken in isolation in one country within the eurozone. It will however be possible for it to be done in the eurozone as a whole, and I support that, but given the configuration of a system where there is monetary union and fiscal co-ordination, no single country will be in a position to stimulate its own economy without the co-ordination and co-operation of other member states.
That is not to say that Keynes is dead, as some have claimed. Nor does it necessarily mean that neoliberalism has finally triumphed, as Deputy Clare Daly claimed, or that there is no room for any other politics. I strongly disagree with her on that. However, when we have 22 or 23 essentially right-wing or centre-right Governments out of 27 in the European Union, there is a large political job to do. One will not do that political job by cutting oneself loose from the currency or choosing not to engage in politics in Europe. One will not succeed by abandoning any interest in whether the elections in France at the weekend, for example, will change the Government in that country. We will not achieve our objectives by deciding not to make common cause with other Governments, whether on the left or centre-left, in other member states. Instead we should be in Europe arguing with people, co-operating with people and making common cause with people.
There are many people elsewhere in Europe who are interested in hearing the type of debate that is taking place in this Chamber. However, Deputy Flanagan and others are arguing that we should just look after ourselves. He claims that is not a nationalistic position to adopt but I would contend, with respect, that he is being the very essence of a little Irelander.
There is no future for this country on its own. I have made the point to Sinn Féin Deputies in the past that sinn féin as a concept – ourselves alone – is ludicrous in the modern world. We cannot solve all the major problems in the world, economic, financial and environmental, ourselves alone. Deputy Flanagan might believe it can be done but that does not make it so. What we must do is, for example, mutualise debt and deal with the necessity for restructuring it where countries have an overhang of debt. I am strongly of the view that the debt must be restructured in some considerable respect. That is a political fight in Europe. It is a political fight with countries and institutions that do not want to see it happen. If one believes in eurobonds and the mutualising of debt, let us go and argue for them. Let us go and fight for them, talk to other people who might agree with us and talk to other countries in similar positions. However, my colleagues across the House do not want that. Instead they say we should just forget about it all on the basis that it is neoliberalism, and that we should turn our backs and paddle our own canoe. That will not work. Let us be serious politicians, as I am sure my colleagues on that side of the House are. As I said, I accept that fiscal discipline is necessary but I do not agree it is sufficient. We must employ other economic instruments that promote growth. The European Union has not, despite some welcome initiatives recently, been anything like as forthcoming or robust on the growth side as it has been on the fiscal discipline side. Therefore, it is a considerable challenge to build a new strategy in Europe in that regard. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
Alex White TD today applauded the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., who has announced the establishment of a new scholarship scheme for higher education. As part of Budget 2012, the Government committed to abolishing all existing scholarship schemes, and replacing these with a new set of bursaries, aimed solely at students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Speaking after the Minister’s announcement at TUI Conference in Wexford last week, Deputy White said: “I am delighted with these new arrangements.”
60 students from DEIS schools, and who hold medical cards, will receive a bursary of ?2,000 each this September. This number will rise over each of the next three years, with over 350 students a year benefiting by 2015. The awards will be awarded regionally on the basis of the leaving cert results achieved by students.
The awards under the new scheme will be fixed at ?2,000 per student. The bursary will be an extra support and incentive to recognise high achievement for students who are from disadvantaged families and attending DEIS schools.
Those students to whom bursaries are awarded will also be entitled to apply for student grants towards the cost of maintenance and the student contribution or fees. 41% of all undergraduate students currently receive a student grant and have their fees or student contribution paid on their behalf.
These bursaries will be augmented by a small number of bursaries focussed on students who undertake studies in the Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) areas.
“These scholarships will be named the Walton Bursaries after Ernest Walton – Ireland’s only Nobel laureate in science, and the man who, with John Cockcroft, became the first person to split the atom,” said Deputy White.
“We hope that these bursaries will help ensure a new generation of Irish people strive to replicate his achievements.”
April 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
Speaking after the launch of this year’s Sports Capital Programme, Deputy Alex White today welcomed news that the new scheme will be open to far more clubs and groups than ever before, because a strict requirement on landownership has been relaxed. In the past, all applicants had to own their land or have it on a long lease. The Minister has decided that these clubs will now be able to apply for grants of up to €25,000 to upgrade facilities.
“This is the first round of Sports Capital Funding in four years, and it will crucially offer sports clubs throughout Dublin South access to vital funds. With €30 million available nationwide, the new focus of the sporting programme is to encourage more people to get involved in sporting activity”.
The Sports Capital Programme is the main channel of Government support for developing sports facilities and purchasing sports equipment.
Deputy White said “In line with the Programme for Government, this new Sports Capital scheme will have a stronger focus on projects which increase active participation in sport, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Under this scheme pitches will be drained, floodlights will be installed, sports halls will be improved and dressing rooms will be built”.
Thanks to these grants, people will have more opportunities than ever to get active and stay active in a wide range of sports. It will also have a positive impact on job creation in construction.
Application forms and information about how to apply is now available on the website: www.sportscapitalprogramme.ie.