Three months ago, ‘growth’ was a dirty word.
In the context of European or domestic politics, the mere utterance of the word, let alone a call for measures that might actually spur economic growth, was enough to draw stern rebukes and charges of ‘deficit denier’.
Austerity was the only show in town and tackling the deficit was not just an imperative, it was a patriotic call to arms. The fact that synchronised austerity was strangling recovery all across Europe, the euro zone’s ‘suicide pact’, as Joseph Stiglitz termed it, was an inconvenient truth best ignored. Budget cuts were destroying growth so the prescription was to cut some more. It was the classic definition of madness, to keep doing the same thing and all the while expect a different answer.
Doubtless, if we escape this crisis, future historians and generations will derive great entertainment from the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ qualities that have characterised ‘debates’ in these years.
And then the French electorate rejected Sarkozy’s bling bling and opted for growth and ‘Monsieur Normal’.
Overnight, growth became the most fashionable term in political discourse. Not only did it become advisable for all political figures and commentators to advertise themselves as apostles of growth, it became de rigueur.
The French experience is not an isolated one, but one more manifestation of the growing political revolt against austerity that has brought down the Dutch Government and seen serious electoral setbacks for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, not to mention the demolition of the traditional political parties in Greece.
The mood music in the euro zone has changed significantly and the political conversation has, thankfully, broadened. That brings opportunities for Ireland.
It is in our selfish and strategic interest to position ourselves firmly in the growth camp and ensure that there is no confusion or ambiguity about our attitude to the politics of misery emanating from the key European institutions.
Ireland voted with a gun to its head, hardly a good advertisement for the health of any supposedly democratic project. After all, it is only through growth and investment that Ireland will recover.
Unrelenting austerity threatens to lead Europe into a dark and very unstable era, with echoes of the 1930s. So Ireland needs to very publicly throw itself enthusiastically behind this new dynamic and support the efforts of the Hollande Administration to make growth central to the European agenda.
The treaty does not require formal ratification until December 2012, therefore the Government should look to the rest of Europe, particularly Germany, where political considerations recently forced Chancellor Merkel to postpone her ratification process, as the social democratic opposition insisted on a delay to see what emerges from these new European political realities.
If there is one thing we can be guaranteed it is that there will be change between now and December 2012, so fluid is the situation. That may be change for the better, or for the worse.
Europe needs a ‘new deal’ of the kind that lifted the United States out of the mire of the Great Depression, in the 1930s.
We need to restore ‘social Europe’ and tame ‘financial Europe’, to bring the economy back into the service and under the control of society. The only way that can happen is if the growth dynamic builds sufficient momentum and garners sufficient political support across Europe to build a critical mass.
Ireland could play a very positive role is this process. It could even end up on the right side of history for once.
Domestically and internationally, growth is the key.
Tags: Trade union desk