Last week took me from attending the staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, to a conference on the European economy in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia.
Finola and I accompanied out daughter Emily to Macbeth. We had each of us studied it at school (not in the same year!), and it was interesting to revisit it after so long(in my case…). I am afraid I had forgotten many of the twists and turns in the plot. There was a big and young audience at the play which shows that the Bard has not lost his appeal.
The conference in Zagreb was very interesting. Croatia is next in line to join the European Union, and it is watching closely as the leaders of the EU take on the forces in the financial markets who have doubts about Greek financial prospects.
It is important to remember that the euro is first and foremost a political project, a harnessing a single currency to build a structure of peace in Europe. If the European Union cannot manage its economy together, its political unity and influence will also be undermined.
The US, China, India and Brazil can each speak and act in a unified way on economic matters. If the EU fails to act together it runs the risk of being “Balkanised” economically speaking, in other words it runs the risk of having outside forces exploit its divisions for their own purposes.
It is also important to keep in mind that when the euro was first launched it stood at a value of $1.20. It subsequently went as high as $1.60, a development that had inevitable effects on the competitiveness of some European countries. We are now dealing with the consequences of that currency appreciation, which also affected Irish exports to Britain, which had allowed sterling to devalue.
Last week I also attended a very interesting lecture in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin by Chris Patten, the former EU Commissioner for External relations and former Governor of Hong Kong. Chris is a very witty speaker who has a deep understanding of the forces shaping the globe. He argued, notwithstanding the rise of other powers, that the United States would continue to be a predominant global influence in the 21st century. But he reminded his audience that the combined GDP if the EU is still bigger than that of the US.
I paid a most enjoyable visit to Bailieboro, County Cavan to speak at a meeting on Europe, organised by my friends Senator Joe O Reilly and Councillor Sean McKiernan. It was very well attended and the questions were penetrating and well informed.
Finally, I was honoured to be invited, along with Alan Dukes, to appear before a Committee of the Dail and Senate which is looking at how the two Houses can play a bigger role in EU affairs. I believe the present crisis, with its necessary closer scrutiny of the budgets and economic policies of member states, will give the parliaments of member states new and strong levers for more effective involvement in economic policy making , both in their own country, and in the EU as a whole.