by Declan O’Brien
LEADING IRISH Euro-critic Anthony Coughlan warned last weekend (24 March) that any future decision to ditch the pound would have serious implications for the future democracy in Britain.
Speaking at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield during a debate between pro- and anti-euro speakers organised by the Irish Democrat as part of this year’s Sheffield Irish Festival, Mr Coughlan warned that joining the euro would deny Britain, as was now the case in Ireland, the right to adopt economic policies suitable to its own specific requirements and conditions.
The key issues which people had to keep in mind were not the obvious convenience for tourists travelling within the eurozone or even the, possibly temporary, benefits of being able to conduct a greater percentage of its transactions entirely in euros, but the question of who controls key the economic levers of the state and in whose interest these levers are operated.
A national currency is essential component of every independent democratic state, he insisted “It is this which enables governments to control or influence rates of interest and exchange in a manner which can serve the interests of their own citizens.”
Such control will be impossible if Britain accepts the euro. “Once control goes to Frankfurt the European central bank, which is independent of other European institutions and national governments, sets the rate of interest for the EU area as a whole — overwhelmingly influenced by what suits the economies of France and Germany.”
Fellow Irish eurocritc, Dublin Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna said that by joining the euro Ireland had given up the opportunity of pursuing the independent currency policy which, between 1993 and 1999, had produced the enormous economic boom in Ireland resulting in its reputation as the ‘Celtic tiger’.
She also spoke out forcefully against the growing militarisation of the EU, fundamentally anti-democratic decision-making processes and the ‘exportation’ of the EU’s problems to the developing world — especially the disastrous effects for certain developing countries of being forced into signing away access to natural resources, such as fishing stocks, in order to assist struggling EU fishing fleets.
“Do we want to create a European superstate or do we want to create a Europe where member states co-operate together, which works towards a fairer world, where we don’t exploit developing countries, where we address the problems that we have here instead of exporting them, where we don’t expect forever that we are going to get cheap and easy access to global resources, where we stop exporting arms to developing countries, which works for fairer world and where the people have the final say in what happens?”
She also warned people in Britain to expect big price hikes for everyday goods and services if the euro is eventually adopted.Referring to a report published in February by Ireland’s most influential consumer organisation, the Consumer’s Association of Ireland, she explained that some prices in Ireland had gone up by as much as 15 per cent since the launch of the new currency. The Association found that price rises were particularly high for medical costs such as private hospital care and GP visits while a range of other goods and services had also been subjected to huge increases.
Putting the case for Britain adopting the euro, Sheffield businesswoman Julia Gash, a leading regional spokesperson on European affairs, won considerable sympathy from audience and panellists alike after detailing the difficulties faced by many small and medium-sized, export-reliant businesses, whose competitiveness had been undermined by high interests rates in Britain.
Speaking from personal experience, she stressed that access to international markets, especially in Europe, had been further hit by Britain being outside the euro. The issue of the euro was simply about enabling business to compete more effectively, she said.
However she also appeared to give her support to a fully-integrated European superstate with a single currency, the euro: “We need to be big to stand up to America. Together, united as Europe we would stand stronger.” Putting forward the British Labour Party position at the meeting Yorkshire and Humber MEP
Linda McAvan, deputy leader of the Labour Party group in the European parliament., said that Britain should join the euro because “on the balance of the arguments it is the right thing to do, today, where we are economically.”
It made sense to be part of one of the world’s currency zones than to be a small currency zone outside, she insisted.
However, she also made it clear that she did not support the creation of a European federal superstate. Referring to a recent meeting of the Convention on the Future of Europe, the 105 strong constitutional body made up of ministers, MPs and MEPs which is working on a rethink of the workings of the European Union, the majority view had been that nation states played a key role within the EU and would continue to do so, she said.
Summing up, meeting chair, Irish Democrat editor David Granville, stressed that whatever people’s views, the question of whether to substitute the pound for the euro had major implications, political, economic and social, for everyone in Britain, especially those who valued democracy and supported the right of nations to self-determination.
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