A tale of two tigers (5)
Archived Articles 29 Apr 2008  EWR
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Ireland is known as the Celtic Tiger, a sobriquet gained for the country’s rapid transformation from being one of Europe’s poorest countriest to being one of its wealthiest. The economic boom that began on the Emerald Isle in the 1990s has been attributed to the embrace of free market capitalism, education and an emphasis on information and communications technology (IT). Some also point to the much-needed financial infusion from the European Union, which helped jump-start the economy.

Estonia’s successes during the same period are directly attributable to the similar emphasis. And Estonia also lays claim to having a tiger in its turbocharged economic tank.

The Tiger Leap Foundation dates back to 1996 when then Foreign Minister, now President Toomas Hendrik Ilves was the dynamo behind promoting the idea that new information and communication technology that changes not only one’s way of life but the whole educational paradigm. Symbolizing the designed radical changes and technological leap the programme was named Tiger Leap as an allusion to the East Asian Tigers, countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore whose economies boomed in large part as a result of IT.

Ireland and Estonia have much in common. Both countries fought and won a War of Independence against imperialist rule, the Irish one was in 1919. Culturally there are similarities – folksingers from Estonia have found Ireland warm and familiar. The ancient religions of druidism and maausk have commonalities with regard to a respect and worship of nature and the land that shelters and feeds us. It should not be surprising then, that one of the fastest growing – and largest such communities of Estonians abroad moving from Estonia today, according to data presented at the Compatriot Programme Conference last November in Estonia – is in Cork.

However, there is one considerable difference today – Ireland is willing to put the Lisbon Treaty to a national referendum on June 12, being the only EU member nation with the guts to have the people decide. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the architect of the European Constitution rejected by referendum by his own countrymen, has gone on record as saying that Lisbon contains most of the rejected constitution’s key points, and that Lisbon was designed to avoid referenda. D’Estaing wrote in the Independent last October that the “difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content” and “the Treaty of Lisbon is thus a catalogue of amendments. It is unpenetrable for the public.”

Further: “in terms of content, the proposed institutional reforms – the only ones which mattered to the drafting Convention – are all to be found in the Treaty of Lisbon. They have merely been ordered differently and split up between previous treaties.”

Estonia – along with the rest of the EU – is going ahead with what seems to be perfunctory parliamentary ratification, with no debate. It may even be possible that the second and final reading will take place in May, before the pols scarper for the summer. The people will have no say, as Estonia’s constitution explicitly forbids a referendum on international matters. But what will Estonians do when their flat tax system is bumped by the EU’s progressive one, as it is highly likely that there will be a call for the standardization of all tax systems?

The Irish won’t be able to complain if it takes place, as they will have had a say in the matter.

That is, if government and media manipulation does not sway them from an informed ballot. The Telegraph (UK) reported on Monday that there is perfidy afoot – uncovering a secret deal to persuade Irish voters. Gethin Chamberlain writes from Dublin that “two leaked memos suggest that the Irish government and Brussels are going to great lengths to suppress bad news that might encourage a No vote.”

One of them, from Jo Leinen, the German chairman of the Europarliament’s committee on constitutional affairs, “warned that ‘politically sensitive’ aspects of the treaty should not be discussed [in the press] until it was in force.” Chamberlain notes that one such sensitive issue is the call from Paris for harmonized corporate taxes across Europe. Ireland’s corporate tax is a low 12.5% compared to Britain’s at 28% – and that is what has allowed the Irish to lure those international companies, which have helped them create the tiger economy.

Lisbon could thus mean the end to good times. But the European Commission has been pressuring Dublin, according to a leaked memo, to “tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful” to passing the referendum. That is blatant interference in the democratic process.

Ilves was in Ireland last week, and in a meeting with Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, discussed, among other issues, the Lisbon Treaty.

According to his PR office’s press release, Ilves “stressed that a smooth ratification process is in the interests of all the member states.” Whereas he believes that the greatest challenge facing the EU is finding a balance within the European Union leadership — the President of the European Council, the Union’s highest representative for the foreign and security affairs, and the President of the Commission. “It should be considered that the first distribution of roles will create a precedent for the future,” said President Ilves. Hmmm… perchance mulling the idea of a Lynx Leap in the future to another presidency?

A final point to consider. Should Lisbon come into force Estonia may be forced to finance part of the proposed Nordstream underwater Baltic pipeline that the country has been fighting against. The high – 7.4 billion euro – cost of the project means the Russo-German consortium will need to take out loans, most likely from the European Investment Bank, one that Estonia is obligated to help fund.

Lisbon has been deemed too difficult for the best and brightest of Estonian and Irish minds to understand. But not those ruling Brussels, of course. As the Guardian revealed this week, there is an at-all-costs-must-pass attitude coming from the continent. Why? Time for at least the Celtic tiger to snarl back as the ones on Toompea are, on this issue, toothless.
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