A gigantic political-economic crisis is gripping Europe. It is hammering Ireland and other small states on the “periphery” of Europe: Greece and Portugal, and — though not “small and peripheral” — Italy and Spain.
Yet, so far, in Irish America, one detects almost no recognition of the scale, nature, and novelty of the disaster engulfing Ireland.
What just happened to Greece and Italy could happen to Ireland, and soon. In an action many described as tantamount to a coup d’état, a few weeks ago German Chancellor Merkel ousted elected Italian and Greek leaders. She parachuted into power two unelected banker-technocrats. The new Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, was an official of Goldman Sachs. The new Greek Prime Minister, Lucas Papademos, worked for the European Central Bank.
In 1941, an earlier German Chancellor required fifteen divisions to install a collaborationist Greek government. Today, despite the Greek people’s magnificent fight back against austerity, Chancellor Merkel did the same — with a few phone calls.
The very interests in Ireland that have brought the country to its knees want to keep up the semblance of normality. Unlike in the days of the peace process there will be no “Pan-Nationalist Front” now. Grassroots forces in Ireland and Irish-America will have no allies in the government parties, nor in the senior civil service.
This week, in the run up to March 17, there will be a normal trip by a Taoiseach to the US for his normal round of Washington business and government meetings. He will express confidence in his government’s course and appeal for investment and tourism. The Embassy staff will complete plans for the light-hearted, traditional Shamrock Ceremony at the White House next month. All is well.
Except for the fact that all isn’t well.
A crisis always exposes the real power relations. It lifts the rhetorical fog.
In its latest proposal for the Eurozone, Germany wants Greece to yield sovereignty over tax and spending decisions to a Eurozone 'Budget Commissioner’ to secure a second €130 bailout. According to the Financial Times,
"In what would amount to an extraordinary extension of European Union control over a member state, the new commissioner would have the power to veto budget decisions taken by the Greek government if they were not in line with targets set by international lenders.
"The new administrator, appointed by other Eurozone finance ministers, would have responsibility for overseeing ‘all major blocks of expenditure’ by the Greek government....
This crisis is not normal for other reasons.
The crisis has far to go. The measures the European elites are imposing on the peoples of Europe are bound to deepen the depression, setting in motion political upheavals of all kinds.
Having already surrendered the powers of an independent state, step by step, treaty after treaty, for decades, the Irish government announced it will commit a final act of folly and accede to the Treaty for Fiscal Stability. Like Greece and Italy, Ireland will be at the mercy of German banks.
It gets worse. The Irish Times has disclosed the Fiscal Stability Treaty favored by the Irish government was specifically designed to avoid a referendum in Ireland.
The masters of Europe learn. They know that, since 1987, democrats in Ireland have been able to compel a referendum on eurotreaties. They know Ireland is a key arena of the fight between democratic and plutocratic Europe.
This is no normal recession and normal upsurge in immigration. This is no normal right-of-center government imposing budget cuts in public services and bestowing tax cuts on the rich and the corporations.
The unreal tranquility is also rooted in the notion that we are in the aftermath of the great storm, the four decades in the Six Counties before 2007. There is “a settlement.” Our job is to help to implement the Good Friday Agreement. In the North, democratic change and demographic change, or both together, will sooner or later move the needle. There may be a referendum on reunification by 2016.
One unspoken assumption of this outlook is that there would be an independent, healthy, reasonably prosperous 26-county state for the Six Counties to reunite with. That assumption, I believe, is now in question.
Some far-seeing observers in Ireland blurted out the inconvenient truth. Democrats and patriots – left, right, and center — insisted for decades on the absurdity of Ireland handing over ever more power to unelected officials in a Brussels bureaucracy dominated by German and French big business.
But, the march of folly continued. In treaty after treaty the Irish state surrendered essential economic powers — such as its own currency and control over its exchange rate.
Sometimes Irish voters did listen to the dissenters and voted a treaty down. When they did so, Irish elites, goaded by Brussels, re-ran the referendum to get the desired result.
In Europe, a mood is in the air like nothing we have seen in our lifetimes.
Democracy in Europe is being extinguished by a Germany acting on the crazed priorities of German high finance
The elites who presided over the crash and slump in Europe and who profited from the boom that preceded it show no remorse in their drive to make little people bear the full cost.
This will worsen the coming downturn.
At Davos, Switzerland a few days ago, these self-assured elites left little doubt where they stand. There is no jobs crisis; there is only a crisis of investor confidence. Regardless, any crisis has nothing to do with us. Things can be patched up by slashing the social safety net.
In Davos, the Great and the Good chose to party on. The Titanic steams toward the iceberg.
Public opinion in the Twenty Six Counties may be awakening. In the mainstream Irish media, sober commentators with a sense of history glimpse the march toward the abyss. They urge a change in course. Academic and other non-party political leaders of civil society are writing open letters in the Irish Times appealing for, at least, a policy of expansion, not austerity.
Now, it is time for us in Irish America to wake up.
This is the first of a two-part opinion essay by Joe Jamison, president of the Irish-American Labor Coalition. He writes in a personal capacity. First published in Irish Echo, NY Wed. Feb. 8, 2012