PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has launched an unprecedented attack on the EU, warning that it risks losing popular legitimacy without reforming its “hegemonic” economic model.
In his most outspoken intervention since taking office, the Irish President told the Financial Times that European leaders must radically rethink the way they are dealing with the economic crisis.
He also claimed the EU faces a “moral crisis” while its leaders fail to decide what kind of union they really want.
Building on a speech to the European Parliament two weeks ago, in which he warned Europeans are threatened with an unconscious drift into disharmony, Mr Higgins argued there would be no “glowing future” for an EU that allowed divisions to grow between its members.
“There is a real problem in what was assumed to be a single hegemonic model,” he said. “The unemployment profile in Greece is different from the unemployment profile in Ireland. You need a pluralism of approaches.”
In an interview that pushed the boundaries of the President’s largely ceremonial role, he went on to criticise EU leaders for failing to fulfil their promise to break the link between bank and sovereign debt.
“It would have been of immense benefit naturally to growth, employment creation and investment if the … commitment of separating banking debt from sovereign debt had in fact been implemented,” Mr Higgins said. “It would give you the opportunity to breathe and create growth in the economy.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said whether EU leaders make good on their promise last June to break the link will be a “test of credibility” for the 27-member bloc. The Irish Government hopes that the move will lead to European funds being used to compensate Irish taxpayers for bailing out the country’s collapsing banks.
Referring to Irish people’s acceptance of the large cuts imposed on it following its EU bailout, Mr Higgins said: “The polite version is that we are pragmatists. What we really need now is something that goes beyond outrage and recrimination.”
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore this afternoon said that President Higgins’s comments are reflecting the views of the Government. He added that they are “helpful” to the Coalition and “reflecting the Irish position in that debate.”
He added: “The President has made a very significant contribution to the debate in Europe, about where Europe is going.
“I’m very proud of the fact that during the course of the Irish presidency, the President of Ireland made a very clear, keynote address to the European Parliament reflecting very clearly priorities the Government have set for our presidency and the direction we want to see Europe taking.”
The President’s decision to speak out about political matters has drawn widely divergent reactions.
Referring to Ireland’s last Presidential election, one person wrote on the Irish Times website: “Higgins was unfortunately the best of a very bad lot but if he wasn’t prepared to do the job as laid out in the Constitution, he shouldn’t have applied for it.
“By speaking out on matters which don’t concern his office, he is skirting dangerously close to creating a constitutional issue – and he does not have a mandate for that.”
Another commentator said: “I think Mr Higgins was correct in speaking out, and all matters that effect the people of Ireland is his concern. I voted for him and I gave him a mandate to speak on my behalf. Thank you Mr President.”