The IMF has such good taste

November 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

 

After a hard week chuckling over the future of Europe with my transcontinental colleagues at the Presseurop offices, there’s nothing I can resist quite as much as scooting off to poor banjaxed ould completely knackered Ireland in an Air France jet and just “letting go” at the Merrion Hotel, “one of the finest luxury hotels in Dublin City Centre” as its elegant website informs me. Whether I’m in for a €239 “Superior King Bed” or a “Speciality Suite” at €1100 per night, let me tell you, there’s always something special about the “exquisite service” provided by an army of discreet and wide-cheeked Eastern Europeans, especially when they earn a lot less than me.

Whether I’m laughing my head off in the Carrera marble bath, or chucking down my gullet Half a Dozen Carlingford Oysters (€42.00) at Patrick Guibaud’s “Michelin” starred restaurant – a €98 Roast Lacquered Challans Duck to follow! – one thing about the Merrion is that you won’t hear anyone quacking about “bankers” or “de politicians” because, like me, they’re the only people who can afford to be here – as I guzzle a caramelised pear (€24).

All this to say I would like to raise a glass of vintage port (€25) to the IMF, which have booked no less than 16 rooms at my home from home for a minimum of three weeks, with a bill of anything from €80,304 to €369,000 to enjoy “magnificent views of Government Buildings” – which is apt, considering they are the new government ;-). Like Ajay Chopra and the “lads”, I too have a taste for rooms with “Irish fabrics and antiques to reflect the architecture and original interiors of the 18th Century Townhouses.” And of course by the time Ajay has finished overseeing the Irish budget of €15 billion in cuts, 18th century Ireland it will be! Santé, and here’s to austerity, les amis…

It’s TINA, stupid

November 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

This is the Presseurop editorial I wrote as the EU / IMF men in back landed in Dublin. It’s available also in 9 other languages at our site.

In the coming weeks, if not months, the story you are likely to hear will be one of a plucky nation, emerging from a legacy of colonial oppression, poverty and mass emigration, whose rise to riches was as spectacular as its downfall. And there are no better masters of this narrative than the Irish themselves. On the day that experts from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary fund flew into Dublin to oversee Ireland’s economic affairs, the Irish Times leader lamented – “There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be masters of our affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty”. The cause of this? “Having spent the last decade in a fog of intoxicating self-congratulation for our economic success, we now face the reality that it was illusory,” writes novelist Joseph O’Connor, in the Guardian. “Inept politicians, greedy bankers and property speculators have wrecked the certainties on which our recent notions of ourselves were founded.”

But is Ireland’s economic car crash a purely local phenomenon, one that can be attributed to its inept politicians and greedy speculators? Looking to the south-western fringe of Europe to Portugal, rumoured to be the next candidate to hand over the keys of economic sovereignty to the EC, ECB, IMF triumverate, then another narrative emerges. “Portugal’s problem is different,” writes the New York Times. “Its banks are not especially troubled, but the state itself has high debts and low growth, and the mound of both public and private debt is considerable.” If we add to this unfortunate duo the recent case of Greece, once accused of “ineradicable guile“, clientelism and fraud by German weekly Focus, it is nonetheless surprising that three such highly distinctive destinies all lead to the exact same outcome – collapse, bailout, loss of sovereignty. Read on at presseurop.eu

Meet the new government of Ireland

November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Meet the new government of Ireland

18 November 2010
The only thing sovereign in Ireland right now is the contempt which the government holds for its own people, denying point blank that an EU/IMF bailout for the national economic car crash is imminent. So first off I would like to offer profuse thanks and curtsies to Simeon Djankov, deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria, for finally calling a spade a spud when he blurted, “I expect a bailout decision to be taken within a week.” This was before a gathering of journos in Brussels, none of whom reported afterwards that my man Simeon burst into a fit of giggles, with his eyes crossed, and tongue stuck out. So perhaps I would not be naïve in assuming Simeon is telling the truth, and that Taoiseach Brian Cowen, as well as French finance minister Christine Lagarde, have been telling the reverse of that.

This means also that the “team” consisting of experts from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that landed in Dublin today can now be called the de facto government of the Irish Republic, with powers to oversee Ireland’s mad austerity and budget plans. In a depressingly limpid turn of phrase from the delightful people over at the EUobserver, said team will “maintain a degree of authority over the elected government of Ireland.”

Seeing as they now hold a degree of authority over the government of Ireland, it would only be normal, think you, that we get acquainted. You know, whether they got their Leaving Cert, favourite cheese, star signs. However, according to deliciously named EU spokesman Amadeu Tardio, “These people do not do press conferences. They do not need to speak to the press.” Amadeu’s thoughts have been echoed as if from one and the same brain by an ECB spokespeep – “These people do not need to have a public profile… People do not need to know who these inspectors are,” she outputted.

So essentially, this new non-elected de facto government of the Irish Republic is also a secret one. And if a secret government in a democratic society is not strange enough, then what about Amadeu’s declaration that he doesn’t know how many they are. “There will be more than two but fewer than 10 people going,” he said.

I would like to offer some serious advice to Amadeu, which he could then pass onto “team”. Given that the supervisors will not be suffering themselves from any austerity budgets – this is not Commish, ECB or IMF practice – as they oversee the next round of €15 billion cuts in the next four years (proportionally over twice the size of slasher Osborne’s UK cuts), they should all go out for a nice meal now and then in that lovely restaurant called L’Ecrivain on Baggot Street. But careful!, Amadeu, if the lads have a hankering for a starter of Jerusalem Artichoke Rissotto followed by a Wild Wicklow Venison with a caramelised pear for only €59 a pop, I’d be worried about the reservation.

“Good afternoon, L’Ecrivain restaurant?”

“Hallo, I’d like to make a reservation for dinner.”

“For how many people?”

“There will be more than two but fewer than 10 people going.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said a table for more than two but fewer than ten.”

“I’m afraid I can’t make a reservation for that.”

(Muttering in the background)

“Ok, aha, well, let’s say a table for, eh, 10, but nothing could be further than certain.”

“Can I have a name, please?”

“People do not need to know who they are.”

“Sorry?”

“These people do not need to have a public profile.”

You would surely agree, Signore Tardio, that while in the public affairs of a nation it’s apparently no longer necessary to say who you are and how many you will be, this kind of carry-on won’t get you a table at L’Ecrivain.

The new Irish famine

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

“The Irish famine killed more than a million people, but it killed poor devils only. To the wealth of the country, it did not the slightest damage.” So wrote Karl Marx back in 1867. As 21st century Ireland peers out over the debt drop, beneath which lie the open jaws of an EU/IMF “bailout”, I’d like to make some outrageous parallels between then and now. 

Back then, Ireland’s colonial masters massively restructured the national economy, effectively turning the Irish countryside into one big pasture upon which livestock for export could feed. Right now, members of the European Commission sit at Merrion Square overseeing cuts to the Irish economy worth €15 billion over the next four years. If this were a country the size of the UK, George Osborne’s tastefully appellated “Spending Review” would be axing €207 billion instead of a mere €91 billion. Cleverly, the Irish government anticipates that such a society, with bits of its legs and arms amputated, won’t need much of population to live in it. That’s why it’s dropped a big hint that 40,000 will need to emigrate in order to maintain the unemployment level at its current 13.8 per cent. 13.8%? Hohoho.

By 1866, the result of the economic convulsions was “1,032,694 Irishmen replaced by 996,877 head of cattle, sheep and pigs.” 144 years later, the Irish government officialeses the medium term outlook for the exporting sector as “reasonably favourable given the adjustment in competitiveness”. But “the additional employment-content of growth will be limited to some degree by the export-led nature of the recovery.”

Translated into English, this means that while there won’t be much of an influx of new pigs, there will be, by some mystery process, a scenario where exports are “favourable” but “employment-content” won’t have, well, any content. In other words, a diminished country that works for diminished wages, on diminished expectations, but to the wealth of the country, not the slightest damage. Back in the days of the USSR, factories turned out saucepans with four-inch thick bases or shoes with the heel where the toe should be in order to satisfy the numbers of tons to be churned out according to the master plan laid out by Moscow, in kilos and not utility. In the stunted new world coming into being, “growth” is any quantity that a bureaucrat notes on a report, regardless of whether anything cooks or not.

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