Ireland: Enda Kenny: European what of the year?

News that Enda Kenny has been chosen as “European of the year” by a group of German Magazine Publishers makes sense only in the context that recently the European Union itself recently won the Nobel peace prize. We would have to ask the question “European what of the year?”

Thousands of young Irish people are emigrating every month and thousands more languish on the dole, the economy is still crawling out of the crisis, there are thousands of unsold houses on the ghost estates, house prices have fallen so far over the last few years that they are only half what they were at the height of the boom. The building industry is in a deep crisis and there is precious little evidence of sustained growth in the economy at all. How many young people, workers and their families would agree with Enda Kenny’s new title? Not many.

But we live in a class society and the so called “great and the good” like nothing better than to award each other and slap each other on the back.  So what has Enda done? In our humble opinion he is a fine example of those well behaved representatives of the weak and parasitic Irish capitalist class who are doing their best to carry out the wishes of the Troika, European lapdog of the year maybe?

While Frau Merckel is otherwise engaged disagreeing with the French, bailing out the Spanish banks, worrying about Italy and Portugal and imposing more pain and suffering on the Greek workers, Enda himself can be seen hovering around hoping for a photo opportunity; or maybe waiting in the hope that he might sort out a deal on the interest on the bailout. The truth however is that Ireland’s economic prospects remain in dire straits, as RTE explained on 24/10/2012:

“New figures from Eurostat show that Ireland had the fourth highest government debt to GDP ratio in the EU - behind Greece, Italy and Portugal.

Europe's debts continue to mount despite austerity measures

Ireland's debt to GDP in the second quarter stood at 111.5%, up 10 percentage points on the same time last year.

This compares to 150.3% in Greece, 126.1% in Italy and 117.5% in Italy.

The lowest government debt to GDP ratio was recorded in Estonia (7.3%), Bulgaria (16.5%) and Luxembourg (20.9%).

Today's Eurostat figures show that in spite of years of harsh spending cuts and tax increases, Europe's debt problems are getting worse.

The official figures showed that the total debt of the 17 countries that use the single currency at the end of the second quarter was worth 90% of the value of the group's economy.”

So, upon what possible grounds might Enda be in the running for such an accolade? Here’s what the Magazine Publishers were reported as saying in the Daily Business Post:

"Ireland’s determined response to the current economic and financial crisis has been widely respected, particularly in view of the genuine hardship being experienced by many Irish people.

"This award, however, also acknowledges the unique contribution which Ireland has made to the European project since its accession in 1973. Despite being located at the Western edge of continent, the green island has always been at the heart of Europe”.

The award comes as Ireland prepares to assume the EU Presidency for the seventh time.

"In these difficult times, Europe benefits from the open, outward looking character of the Irish State and people and from the calibre of its Prime Minister, Enda Kenny”, the publishers group said.

What has been this response to the “current economic and financial crisis” ?

Both the current and the previous coalition governments have bent over themselves to place the entire burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of the working class and particularly the old, the unemployed, the sick, the young and the poor. Thousands and thousands of euro have been sucked out of the economy to bail out the banks. Some €14,000 per head has been taken already to pay for the crisis.

New taxes, pension levies, wage cuts, squeezing the public sector, all of these have been tried over the last few years. Sure, the Croke Park Deal has stopped further wage cuts in the public sector, but that itself has been under attack now for some time. As we’ve said before, give the bosses an inch and they will take a mile, a country mile at that.

The depth of the crisis in the state meant that for most of 2009 and 2010 the economy was being sucked into a black hole. FF and the Greens had no means to solve the crisis which was exacerbated because of the dependence of the Irish economy on exports and its small size. Ireland exports some 80% of GDP. Combine that with the collapse of the credit bubble and the massive speculative building boom in the state and its clear that Irish Capitalism was at an impasse.

The “European of the Year” and his allies among the Labour leadership have merely continued along the same track as Cowen and Lenihan. Far from transforming that situation, Enda and Eamon Gilmore have merely carried on in the same fashion as their predecessors. The austerity has been continued and the new coalition has chipped away at the hard won reforms and working conditions that the trade unions and working people have won over decades.

Various elements of the press have commented on the apparent calm in the state. It would be hard to call the demonstration outside the Labour Conference earlier this year calm. Meanwhile the ongoing campaign against the Household and Water Taxes reports up to 50% non payment. That and the frequent demonstrations most recently by the teachers all reflect a simmering opposition beneath the surface.

The Croke Park deal still has some time to go, but FG backbenchers were agitating for it to be torn up within a year of coming into office. The relative quiet in the public sector trade unions compared to 2009 and 2010 is partly a result of Croke Park. Any attempt to tear it up would have to be fought by every section of the movement. It is interesting that Labour TD’s have argued that Croke Park has bought social peace. That is however only part of the equation, the bailout solved the immediate financial problems of the state and took the Government temporarily out of the bond markets and the speculators firing line. Their attention was turned onto Greece and Spain, with disastrous consequences for the workers in those countries.

In large measure Enda Kenny has been picked for this award on the grounds that he is not Spanish, Portuguese, Italian,  Greek or… French,  all countries with whom Angela Merckel and the ECB have large bones to pick. That is hardly a good reason to be nominated as European of the year. It reflects again the impasse in the capitalist system.

Meanwhile the Noble Peace Prize has been awarded to the European Union. Why? According to the Irish Times on October 12th:

“European Commission president Jose Barroso said being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is a "great honour" for the European Union and a "justified recognition" of its work to promote peace and European values around the world.

European Council president Herman van Rompuy said: "We are all very proud that the efforts of the EU for keeping the peace in Europe are rewarded. Europe got through two civil wars in the 20th century and we have established peace thanks to the European Union. So the European Union is the biggest peacemaker in history."

Economic and Monetary Affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said that, despite "some gloom in the economy", it was a great day for Europe. "I am very proud of these European values which are also universal human values. This is a proud day for every European."

The irony of this award won’t be lost on workers and young people in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Almost daily the press and the Television carry reports and footage of the crises throughout the world, driven by the failure of capitalism and the impasse of European and US imperialism. Capitalism means horror without end across large swathes of the world.

There is however an alternative, the socialist transformation of society, not just in Ireland but on a world scale. That requires the abolition of the anarchy of the capitalist system and a 32 County Socialist United Ireland linked to a Socialist United States of Europe.

As for Enda’s calibre? Well, he’ll get fired soon enough.