The Centre for European Studies (CES) is the think Tank of the European Peoples Party(EPP), of which Fine Gael in Ireland forms a part.
I am chairman of the fundraising and events committee of the CES.
I am happy that this enables me to keep in touch with people with whom I worked really closely during my time as a vice President o f the EPP, and when I was on the Convention that prepared what became the Lisbon Treaty.
The CES had two very good conferences recently.
The first was in London on financial services.
The second in Washington, was organised jointly with the International Republican Institute (IRI), and dealt with problems ranging from fiscal policy, to healthcare, to the Arab Spring, to Trade policy and the future of the euro zone.
Both events were addressed by the President of the EPP and of CES, Wilfried Martens, former Prime Minister of Belgium
Among those addressing the London Conference were, Peter Sutherland and Leon Brittain, both former EU Commissioners, Mark Hoban MP, Jonathan Evans MP, John Selwyn Gummer, former Agriculture and Environment Minister in the UK Government and the Governor of the bank of Luxembourg, Yves Mersch .
THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
Interesting points to emerge in London were
1. 1. The banking crisis arose because of a big increase in the amount of lending by banks to one another, an activity which then stopped suddenly, leaving some fatally exposed. Borrowing was encouraged by policies that gave companies tax relief for interest payments but not for dividends
2. Much remained to be done fill the gaps in banking regulation on either side of the Atlantic. Accounting standards still diverged. There was no agreement globally on what to do about banks that had been allowed to become “too big to fail.”
3. Europe’s business is still too reliant on banks as a source of funds,
4. Climate change will have its first and most dramatic effect in Africa, from which come so many of Europe’s refugees , partly because they cannot live with effects of climate change. Food price increases had ignited the Arab spring
5. Financial Markets should not be seen as the ultimate arbiters of everything that is worthwhile. They are fallible and volatile in their opinions because they have the “heart of a rabbit, the legs of a hare, and the memory of a elephant”!
The Washington Conference brought together notable figures like the recently elected Senator for Florida, Marco Rubio, considered by many to be an eventual Republican Presidential contender, US Congressmen Joe Wilson and David Dreier, and European Parliament members Jaime Mayor Oreja, Mario Mauro , Antonio Lopez Isturriz , Tokia Saifi and Mario David .
A CRISIS OF VALUES
Jaime Mayor Oreja said that the economic crisis was also a crisis of values and of trust. The illusion of unlimited credit and unlimited public expenditure growth had been exposed. Such illusions could only have taken hold in the first place because politics had ceased to be search for truth. There had, he said, to be a return to the pursuit of truth as the ultimate goal of politics, however painful that might be.
In the boom years, there had been a false exaltation of personal freedom as the only goal worth pursuing. This had led to societies that were affluent and indolent, believed in relativism, and thus were unable to face up to realities in a timely way. This emptiness left the way open for populist, partisan, and nihilist politics of the kind we are now seeing.
He said there should be a return to emphasis on effort, loyalty, frugality, the right to life and a defence of family. We needed to centre on the person as the focus of public policy.
I agree with what he said. If we are to overcome the present profound and lasting economic problem, we need a stronger sense of rootedness and a set of values that transcends consumerism
DEMOCRACY FOR MOLDOVA, UKRAINE , THE MIDDLE EAST
There was much discussion on the deterioration of democratic standards in Ukraine and criticism of the failure of the leaders of the Orange Revolution to work together. Support for Moldova was essential.
The discussion on the Arab Spring emphasised that it will be difficult to manage popular expectations. The political situation would take a long time to settle.
It was emphasised that the revolutions had started when an individual in Tunisia had been deprived of his dignity by an oppressive state. Increases in food prices had also played a part. It was claimed that there were 60 million Egyptians under the age of 25, as against only 75 million in that age group in all of the EU. This was our future and we needed to come to terms with it.
AND FOR PALESTINIANS?
My own sense is that this issue of deprivation of dignity is also at the heart of Palestinian grievances.
They are deprived of the dignity of managing their own lives, of having their own state in control of its own borders, and of voting for those who really rule over them.
The more other Arabs gain these simple privileges, the harder will it become to deny them to the Palestinian Arabs in the west bank and Gaza.
I do not believe Israel is any longer serious about pursuing a two state solution. Continued Israeli settlement building, in the small area left for a putative Palestinian state, suggests this.
I believe Israel is pursuing its short term security, at the expense of its long term security. The United States will not always be as powerful as it is today. Israel should make a generous settlement while it is in a position of strength. There will not be a better time.
Israel and the United States say they will not negotiate with Hamas, until Hamas first disarms and recognises Israel’s right to exist. It is indeed essential that Hamas does these two things. Otherwise there can be no peace.
But that is much more likely to come about as the RESULT of a negotiation, rather than as a PRECONDITION to be met by Hamas before talks with it can even begin.
These are exactly the problems we faced in the Irish peace process. My own very strong preference would have been to refuse to talk to Sinn Fein/IRA until the IRA had given up its weapons and accepted that Northern Ireland’s position in the UK could not be changed by any form of coercion. But if I, and others, had insisted on these requirements as a PRECONDITION for allowing Sinn Fein into talks, there would never have been a peace process at all, and no settlement.
I was surprised to have to explain to one American participant that the removal of the territorial claim over Northern Ireland and the disarming of the IRA were the negotiated RESULTS of the Irish peace process. Considering the extensive American involvement in the Irish peace process, I was surprised that the American, who is head of an American organisation whose very title says it is specialising in promoting peace in the Middle East , did not know these basic facts about another peace process in which his country was so successfully involved.