Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Speech by John Bruton to IIEA in Brussels on 27th April

The European Union will only survive the dramatic changes that the twenty first century will bring if the citizens of all EU states develop a common sense of European patriotism, alongside their national patriotisms. Appeals to monetary self interest and rational calculation alone will not be enough to keep the Union together in face of a new world dominated by Asian economic power.

European patriotism, like national patriotism, is not something that will arise spontaneously. It has to be fostered by the use of symbols,and appeals to people’s emotions, by political leaders who make a conscious decision to do so. This is not merely a matter for information campaigns and advertising. It is a matter for political leadership.

The 9th May 2010 will be the 60th anniversary of the Schumann Declaration that launched the project that has become the European Union, and it is also the date of an important election in the German state of Nord Rhine Westphalia.

How stands the European Union sixty years on,

  • after an unprecedented enlargement to 27 members?
  • after agreeing a new constitutional arrangement approved by all 27 countries democratically?
  • after 10 years of its own currency-the euro?

Are the electors of Europe proud of what they have achieved? Do they even think about it at all or do they just take it for granted

Are they proud of the fact that, despite being told from the very beginning by the Anglo Saxon press that the project of democratically pooling sovereignty was hopelessly naive, and despite being told by others that Europe was suffering a problem called “euro sclerosis”, are they proud of the fact that, against all those odds, the EU has grown to 350 million people, has a new Treaty is in place, and the euro is holding its own?


Are they proud that we in Europe have created the only truly voluntary and democratic union of states in human history?

I am afraid the answer to all those questions is NO, no they are not particularly proud of it, because they are but rarely told by their timorous political leaders that they should be proud of it. So we should not be surprised if electorates in important election like that in Westphalia think only of their own country’s interests.

But unless the European Union’s citizens come to be proud of their Union, the Union will not survive the twenty first century. A Union, whose base is solely in its technocratic achievements, and not in the hearts of its citizens, will not be capable of withstanding any existential challenge that the twenty first century might throw at it.


That is why so many countries ,that are net contributors to the EU budget, focus on ways to get their money back, and why one country even has a special rebate .

That is why we have not had clear and prompt decision making on a loan to the new Greek Government to help it clean up the mess it inherited. Instead of seeing this as a European problem to which a European solution must be found, we have had a series of national political calculations which ignore the mutual interest we all have in overcoming the Greek problem. We have to wait until after an election in North Rhine Westphalia because an insufficient effort has been made to explain to the intelligent electors of that large German state that sorting out the Greek problem quickly before the election is in their interests for three reasons.

In their interests, first, because the euro has been vitally helpful to Germany in increasing its exports by keeping its exchange rate at a more competitive level than it would have been if Germany was still using the mark.

In their interests, second, because it protects German banks who have bought a lot of Greek bonds.

In their interests, third, because the euro is at the heart of EU integration and a failure of the euro would deprive Germany of economic influence over its key markets .

Europe needs a political leadership in every member state that is willing to explain that Europe’s mutual interests are superior to the separate interests of individual states, and that we will all gain both materially and morally by staying together , and building the “ever closer union” sought in the Treaty of Rome so long ago.

Friday, 23 April 2010

A longer than expected visit to Madrid.

I have been in Spain for the past few days, longer than I had planned because of the restriction on air travel. I have met many other people stranded in the same way and have been struck by their ingenuity in finding ways to get home.

In Madrid, I visited the Sorolla museum, in the home of the impressionist artist of the same name. Many of the paintings are of members of his family and of places where he spent some of his life. This gives the museum a personal character which adds to enjoyment of the art itself.

I also visited the Cortes, the lower house of Parliament. Deputies sit on red seats while the Ministers sit on blue ones. The Spanish political system is quite confrontational and a lot of time and energy is now being devoted to historical memory issues deriving from the Civil War of the 1930s, which is surprising when there are so many other pressing issues, notably an unemployment rate of 20%.

The metro system in Madrid is marvellously efficient and clean, and a pleasure to use.

I attended a conference on renewable energy sponsored by the Irish Embassy and the Spanish /Irish business Network. The event was opened by the Irish Ambassador, Justin Harman.

The speeches were very informative. I was particularly impressed by that of Philip Clarke, of ESB International (the consultancy arm of the Irish electricity company).

He said that the goal of getting all our energy from renewable sources was attainable. If electric cars became commercial they would recharge their batteries at night when electricity would be capable of being produced at little or no cost. Wind blows just as much at night as during the day so electric cars would contribute to the viability of wind turbines by providing a market for their product, which might otherwise go to waste. The really expensive electricity was that produced at times of peak use in the mornings and evenings, not at night.

He argued strongly for a common EU Energy policy, which promoted competition and the sale of electricity between countries. Otherwise Philip Clarke feared that electricity generation in Europe would soon be the hands of a few big companies from a few big countries.

He argued for a policy that would encourage households to generate their own electricity by solar panels and even small windmills. This policy would only reach its potential if the householder could sell any surplus electricity, when there was a lot of sunshine or wind in the locality, into a grid which could then transport it to other places in Europe ,where there was a demand for electricity at that particular time.

Philip Clarke has contributed greatly to the improvement of electricity distribution in Spain as part of his work with the ESB and he is based in Bilbao.

Spain is a world leader in wind energy, and Ireland learn a lot from Spain about how to make things happen, and how to turn good ideas quickly into projects that actually work.

Monday, 19 April 2010


This week I had the chance to visit Burgos for the first time. I had always wanted to visit this beautiful city, and I was certainly not disappointed by what I found.

I came to Spain to speak at a meeting in Madrid organised by the Centre for European Studies, and to address at a conference entitled “Transforming the crisis into an opportunity” organised by the Burgos Forum for Business and Enterprise in Burgos .

At the Madrid conference I shared the platform with Jose Maria Aznar , who has been a good friend of mine since before we were Prime Ministers of our countries. The former Finance Minister of Romania , Daniel Daianu also spoke at another session of the conference.

Spain, like Ireland, faces a big problem because it devoted too much of its resources to building and buying house property. House construction has always been a volatile sector of the economy and in the past five years Spain built 2.8 million new houses, but has only been able to sell 1.5 million of them so far. Its banks also extended credit for the purchase of development land for the building of even more houses, and that land is now worth only a fraction of what was paid for it .This is exactly the problem in Ireland too.

The lesson I would draw from this is that it is not enough for the government authorities like the Central Bank to ensure that the banks have enough capital and do not use risky financial instruments, which the Bank of Spain did much better than most central banks did, but they should also monitor what money is being lent for to ensure that it is spread over a variety of sectors, and not concentrated in a single volatile sector like property development.

I also told my audience in Burgos that I am very troubled to see the German Constitutional Court being brought in to arbitrate on whether Germany should, as part of the stabilization plan for the eurozone, be allowed to lend money at a 5% rate of interest to Greece. This is a loan, not a subsidy and ,and the Judges of one country are not the people who should be deciding economic policy for the European Union, especially when the people who are elected to make European economic policy are struggling with an unprecedented crisis.

I had the chance to spend several hours touring Burgos on foot. The Cathedral is truly magnificent. It was built in the 14th century but some of the highly detailed sculptural work looks as if it was only completed yesterday. The art work in the Cathedral shows Flemish as well as Spanish influences, as well as Muslim and Jewish inspiration. One of the Bishops who contributed most to the internal decoration had converted to Catholicism from Judaism. Many of the artists were Muslim Spaniards.

I also visited the monastery of Santa Maria where the museum contains clothing actually worn by the King and Queen of Castille in the 13th century.

I strongly advise a visit to Burgos, especially at this time of the year.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Christian churches of Europe, and the European Union

Speech by John Bruton at the Human Dignity group meeting in the European Parliament on Wednesday 14th April 2010

I will address the relationship that should exist between the Christian churches of Europe, and the European Union. I am very grateful to my friend, Gay Mitchell MEP, for giving me this opportunity to speak to you.

My basic thesis is that the European Union is open to be influenced by people of faith; that getting involved on a day to day basis with its work is the best way to promote Christian values; and that opting out in an effort to recreate a romanticised past would lead nowhere. Essentially, just as a person of faith fights his or her corner on the local political scene on a daily basis, one should do the same in the European Union.

What should the relationship be between the churches and the European Union?

Secularists might claim that there should be no such relationship, that the European Union is a political institution for all the people and that, as such, it should operate in an entirely separate sphere from that of the churches, who should neither influence, nor be influenced by , political institutions. They would say that political institutions should remain strictly secular not only in their form but also in the influences brought to bear upon them.

I believe this secularist view is naive in its understanding of human nature for a number of reasons.

First, Voters do not divide their minds up into watertight compartments, marked “religious”, “political,” ”personal,” family” and so forth. What goes on in one part of their mind influences what goes on in all the others?

Second, no one will deny that ethical beliefs can, and should, influence the actions of political institutions whether that be at national, local or European level. It would be very difficult to separate people’s ethical beliefs from the religious source from which many people’s ethics spring. So if ethics influences politics, religious belief will also influence it.

That is not to claim that people with no religious belief have no ethical beliefs, of course they do, often very strong and considered ones, but it is to say that those who have religious beliefs do draw heavily on their religious heritage and practice in formulating, and more importantly in holding themselves accountable for how they follow, their ethical beliefs.

Third, Humans are social beings. They do not live atomised lives. They live in multiple overlapping communities of families, of neighbourhoods, of workplaces, political parties, nations, sports clubs, and for many....in the community of a church.

The ethos of society is formed, in varying degrees, in all of these communities. And without a shared ethos, it is very difficult for any society to function. In varying degrees, the shared ethos of each European society has been formed, among other things, by the religious beliefs of some or all of its citizens and by the thought that they give to these beliefs when they come together in churches , meeting houses and mosques.

Laws are obeyed not only out of fear of retribution but just as importantly out of this sense of a shared ethos, an ethos that forms a basis for trust, an ethos that thus makes government and governance possible. It is impossible completely to disentangle this from religious belief, or unbelief.

Therefore I suggest that as long as religious belief exists, and there is every reason to believe it will always exist, a secularist notion that religion and politics should be kept entirely separate is simply unrealistic, even naive.

And naive beliefs pursued relentlessly, as they often are, lead toward either tyranny or the breakdown of the pluralism that is required if democracy to function. People of faith are part of society, and they deserve to be able, in the exercise of pluralism, to bring their beliefs into the public sphere just as much as people of other beliefs are entitled to do so.

Of course, secularism did not appear out of thin air. It was a reaction to an excessive and immoderate intertwining of religion and politics in the past, but secularists should now beware of committing the same errors of immoderation today, that they justly condemn churches for in the past.

For example, to seek to use the power of the state to remove every symbol or sign of religious belief from the public space would be just as immoderate as were past efforts to harness the powers of the state to push one religion on people.

It is worth recalling too that the European Convention on Human Rights, approved in 1949 before the EU came into existence, guarantees to every European the right , in its words, to

“manifest his religion, with others in public or private , in teaching, practice , worship and observance”.

This right to manifest religious belief is not subordinate to other rights in the Convention.

The Convention must be read as a whole. And the EU submits itself to the whole Convention, including to this article about how people may exercise their religious freedom, in the Lisbon Treaty. It is, of course, to point out that the Convention extends its protection to all religions and not just to Christianity.

In that context, it appears to me that the Swiss vote to ban minarets on mosques in Switzerland is a denial of the right to “manifest” religious belief “in public” as guaranteed by the Convention.

Likewise Christians should not confuse Christianity with some form of Euro centric cultural nationalism. Christians believe Christ came on earth to save all mankind, not just people who can prove European ancestry.

I hope I have shown that it is not possible entirely to separate the religion practised by a significant body of its members or citizens from any political entity such as the European Union, or vice versa.

But there are, of course, clear distinctions of function which must be respected. Working out these boundaries will be an unending task, and the boundaries will shift slightly from time to time. That there will be a continuing argument about the exact boundary at a given time should be accepted and should not be seen as threatening on either side. In the past, churches took in roles that the state was unwilling or unable to take on. Some of these can now more easily performed by the state, with its increased resources and the reduced fulltime manpower available to the churches.

But there are areas the state should not enter, and areas that the church should leave to secular authorities. As the Lisbon Treaty puts it, the Union

“respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches” and “shall maintain open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches”.

Now that the Lisbon Treaty is finally passed, that dialogue is formally required of the Union .

Such dialogue would only make sense, and the Union would only have committed itself to it in the most solemn way possible in a Treaty, if it open to be influenced by the churches. What other purpose would the dialogue have? It is important to ensure that both the Union and the churches take the new obligations in the Treaty seriously.

It will be interesting to see where responsibility to implement this Treaty obligation is placed within the EU institutions.

Will a particular member of the Commission take on the role?

Will a Committee of the European Parliament take it on?

It seems to me that all institution will in some measure have to share the role

Equally churches have an obligation to respect duly constituted political institutions exercising their proper functions.

Churches do not take over the role of a state, or of its citizens, but they can help them discern what to do, and have the patient commitment to carry it through

Or, as Pope Benedict put it in his latest Encyclical, ”Caritas in Veritate”

“The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim to interfere in any way in the politics of states. She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish in every time and circumstance”

Recently the Catholic Bishops of the EU identified the core motivation of the Schumann Declaration, the declaration on 9 May 1950 of the French Foreign Minister which led to the setting up of the European Union ,as being

”essentially an appeal for mutual forgiveness”,

and as such a profoundly Christian act, a Christian duty too ,but one too often neglected in relations between states and nations. I know that will find similar sentiments in the doctrines of other religions active in Europe.

Forgiveness is a key word here. It is all too easy to get support for demands for apologies for this or that historical wrong committed against ones nation, but rarely does one hear calls for full and final forgiveness to be granted.

Indeed the culture shaped by the modern media seems to leave little space for forgiveness. But it was mutual forgiveness that was the unique element in the formation of the European Union. That point seems lost on some nowadays.

The formation of the European Union was also driven by an impulse of solidarity, solidarity between European states and between the people of Europe, a solidarity not confined within national frontiers.

As the Pope Benedict put it in his recent Encyclical,

“Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today it is this trust that has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a great loss”

This is a very important insight.

All markets depend on trust. Without trust, we would find ourselves spending so much on lawyers that trading with one another would become incredibly expensive.

But where does trust come from?

It comes from a shared ethos or belief system. And where, for many people, does their ethos come from? To a significant degree, it comes from their religious beliefs or heritage.

National, European and international Regulations alone cannot create the degree of trust and confidence necessary for markets to function. There has to be trust too. Ask business people about doing business in China today and they will tell you about great opportunities there that are severely mitigated by symptoms of lack of trust, like corruption and intellectual property theft.

To summarize my argument, this is what churches contribute to the process of building the European Union,

an understanding of the project’s moral and spiritual roots ,

an insight on the need for the mutual trust necessary to build a common market,

the patience and wisdom that comes from being a 2000 year old institution and

a perspective on our responsibility towards future generations yet unborn.

These are strengths on which Europeans can draw. They threaten nobody. They diminish nobody. They are not all of what Europe is about, but they are an important part of it.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Al Smith

I was in the United States on business last week.

Long plane flights are an opportunity to catch up on reading. I am afraid I have never got used to the idea of watching a film on a plane. I do not know why.

I read an excellent biography, by Christopher Finan, of Governor Al Smith of New York, entitled “Al Smith, the happy warrior.” Al Smith was the Democratic party’s nominee for President in 1928, the election won by President Herbert Hoover. He was the first Catholic to be nominated for President by a major party, and his religion was a factor in the campaign.

The book gives a good account of Al Smith’s volatile relationship with Franklin Roosevelt, who succeeded him as Governor of New York and went on to win the Presidential election in 1932. Smith was a New York city politician, which limited his appeal outside the North East, whereas Roosevelt came from upstate New York, and had a better appeal in rest of the country.

Smith strongly opposed the constiutional Prohibition on sales of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s, which created so many business opportunities for Al Capone and friends.

Al Smith pioneered much important legislation at state level, notably on factory safety and widows pensions. When he retired from politics, he chaired the company that built the Empire State building.

Al Smith’s father’s family came from a German speaking part of Italy, and his mother’s people were Mulvihills from Co. Westmeath in Ireland. He visited Westmeath in the 1930s.

Before going to the United States, I went to Fairyhouse for the Irish Grand National. I did not back the winner.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Renewing the Republic.......

Some may assume we simply want a restoration of Celtic Tiger conditions, of an economy growing at 8% a year, and of a herd like pursuit of more property and of more conspicuous forms of consumption. I doubt if many people really want to go back to those disorientating conditions. They did not bring us much contentment at the time, and have not done much good for our bank balances since then.

Prosperity brought us more freedom and it allowed us to make far more new choices, both about what we could buy ,and about how and where we could live. But making choices is always hard work. Having to make too many choices at a time can actually make us really unhappy .That is something that happened to many people in the Tiger era. There is no sign, for example, that there was less family breakdown during the Tiger era than in earlier times when people had fewer choices in their lives. And a family break up brings a lot more pain than a pay cut.

We should all regularly list our strengths and our weaknesses, and the opportunities and the threats that face us in achieving our chosen goals. And we should write out on paper what our goals are, for ourselves as individuals, and for our Republic. Making such lists may seem trite, but it will help us sort out what we really want, from what we only say we want.

In setting a goal for ourselves and our Republic, I believe most people would prefer an Irish economy that was growing at a slower and steadier pace than it was in the Tiger era, an economy growing at a pace that would allow us more time as families and individuals to adjust to change, to understand what change was doing to us psychologically and spiritually, and to get our material and non material priorities into a healthy relationship with one another.

My own sense is that a steady growth rate of around 3% to 4% would satisfy that criterion. It would allow us scope to devote about 1% of GDP to paying off personal and Government debts , and would leave 2% to 3% to improve living conditions and to put something aside to meet the extra costs we will have to meet after 2020, when the baby boomers have retired and we have a smaller workforce to support them .

A steady 3 to 4% growth rate is attainable. To achieve it, we must, as a society, look realistically at all our strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. We must then set clear goals and make brave decisions to reallocate resources away from all uses that do not help us achieve those goals . It should not be about what politicians promise us, because politicians are only promising us our own money anyway. It should be about about what we can afford to promise ourselves.

The biggest strength we have is our human capital, the educated young workforce we have, some of whom were born here, and some who have come here as immigrants . Their educational level is above that of previous generations and we cannot afford to lose them to emigration. We need to keep their talent here. Are we using them as well as we should? Are we sure they are not facing a closed shop when they look for work? Are the qualifications of immigrants being recognised, or is non recognition of qualifications forcing them to work below their potential? If we have a negative answer to any of those questions, then there is a waste of human capital .

My own sense is that the human capital in our public service is not always used to the full. This is because there is too much hierarchy and duplication, and too many grades and layers of administration. The Irish public service wins much praise from foreign companies for its flexible problem solving approach. We should build on that.

The Irish health service is a big commitment of expensively educated talent. In addition to providing services today, it should become an innovator of saleable services and products. The application of information technology to giving medical care of the elderly while they remain in their own homes is an area in which Ireland should seek to become a world leader.

Our legal system also consumes vast human resources in ways that spend, rather than create wealth. The emphasis on adversarial oral argument consumes talent and time in ways that greater use of written procedures would not. The Irish system places heavy emphasis on legalistic process, in areas like Planning, Refugee decisions and Unfair Dismissals. But the result of all this “process” is not fairer decisions, but simply slower and more expensive decisions. The Commercial Court is an example of how to do things better. Foreign trained lawyers find it hard to set up in practice here. Ireland’s legal system represents a poor use of human capital, in the economist’s jargon.

While the present generation is better educated than previous ones, there is room for improvement in Irish education. Not enough time is given in Primary schools to foreign languages, science, and Maths, and too much is given to learning the two national languages. We should reallocate a couple of hours a week on the primary school timetable to science, maths and a foreign language .

Our universities are a huge talent bank, but they could do more. The criteria for advancement in academia may not coincide with the goal society would set for an Irish university in this time of scarce resources . They do not do enough to promote new business development. Their teaching hours are often too short, and they could accommodate far more foreign students, especially if they operated a dual academic year system which would keep them operational all year round. Our visa system for foreign students should be streamlined.

The big multinational presence in Ireland is a huge source of strength. It has helped us change the way we think about business.

Individual entrepreneurship is vital too. Those who fail in business should be encouraged to start again. The appallingly heavy personal bankruptcy code in Ireland is an obstacle to entrepreneurship.

So is the lack of credit. We should systematically simplify our laws, to make it easier for banks from other countries to provide the credit direct to Irish consumers and businesses. The fact that the state owns a share in existing Irish banks must not be a bar to encouraging more foreign competition. The Government needs prudently to scale back the guarantees it has given to the banks, so that the taxpayer is not unnecessarily exposed.

Ireland is an under populated country with a lot of fertile land. The world population will grow by another 3 billion people by 2050 and all those people will have to be fed from a diminished global acreage of arable land. The way we use our fertile land in Ireland is not the best possible. We depend too much on low margin livestock production which produces methane and contributes to climate change. We need a new growth model for Irish agriculture. We need more young people to enter farming, which is something that will now happen on many family farms , as non farming job opportunities diminish.

These are some of our strengths and opportunities, what of the threats and weaknesses?

The biggest weakness is superficial thinking...blaming others, pursuing scapegoats, waiting for something to turn up, producing unrealistic budgets, and thinking we can pass the buck.

The biggest threat is a panic in financial markets about the Irish public finances, which if it happened, would force the country into drastic adjustments that would cause a huge additional loss in our growth potential.

To mitigate these weaknesses, we need a credible fiscal plan for the next five years, whose assumptions and contingencies should be vetted in advance by the European Commission and the IMF, both of whom would be wise to consult the Opposition parties as well as the Government, as they go through the vetting process.

a contribution by John Bruton, former Taoiseach.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Child Sex Abuse

I was surprised by the severity of comments of the Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury about the Catholic Church in Ireland. He is reported as saying, in the course of a radio interview, that the Catholic church in Ireland had “lost all credibility” because of its handling of the paedophile priests issue.

The abuse of children by people exercising power, whether that be religious, familial or civil power, is among the worst of crimes.

But the Archbishop’s conclusion is overstated for a number of reasons.

The Catholic Church is not just the priests and religious, it is the people. The people have not lost either their credibility, or their faith.

The vast majority of priests had nothing to do with this criminal behaviour.

While it is true that, in the past many of these suspected crimes were not reported to the civil authorities, procedures are now fully in place to report such suspected crimes in a timely manner.

Not all the reports have been found to be valid, although the consequences for those against whom all reports were made were severe.

Recent enquiries have also found that, in some cases in the past, medical and police authorities were not as rigorous as they might have been in pursuing allegations of child sex abuse. This reflected profoundly unhealthy attitudes in society as a whole, for which Irish society as a whole must share blame with the church.

The danger now is that a debate about accountability for past wrongs will absorb all our energies, and that the issue of paedophilia itself will not be examined and discussed.

What causes this tendency to develop in people? When does it start? What are its roots in families?

How can it be prevented?

What treatments work? What penalties are effective, and which ones cause as much harm as they prevent?

Does religious belief, and a sense of right and wrong that has been reinforced by religious belief, help people to suppress such tendencies in themselves, or does it hinder them in doing so?

These are really difficult questions to which we need to find answers if we are not to have another similar scandal in another generation, perhaps affecting a different institution in which power is then concentrated , the way it was concentrated in the Catholic Church in an earlier time .

I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury should accept that Irish Catholics know that they have deep and painful lessons to draw from what has happened. But they are learning these lessons and are well able to make the necessary distinctions between

- the strength and credibility of their faith,

- and the sins of acts and omission of the human beings who make up the church.


Last week I spoke at the European Insurance Forum in Dublin. This two day event was also addressed by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese and by insurance and reinsurance experts from all over the world. The new EU wide system of measuring the solvency of insurers, Solvency Two, was discussed in depth.

There was concern at proposals in the United States to introduce protectionist measures into the reinsurance market . Reinsurance is about the initial insurer laying off risks and spreading the risk more widely by selling it on to others insurers. Protectionist measures would be self defeating because by limiting the capacity to spread risks internationally they would increase the possibility of failure.