More on the Article 50 process

Kevin’s article in the Irish Times is excellent. In the post below I make some of the same points and some others.

The farce on Monday highlighted Theresa May’s political weakness. It has also, yet again, revealed that many of the Brexiteers (and also many commentators) simply do not understand what is going on.

Various UK commentators and politicians have called on the EU to compromise. For example the BBC reported that “David Davis has said the EU must be willing to give ground too if further progress in Brexit talks is to be made.” This seems to stem from a belief that the so called phase 1 ‘negotiations’ are conducted in the usual way of political negotiations, where each side gives in a little, and in the end some clever form of words is found whereby each side can claim they got their way. This is simply not the case here.

The Article 50 process is about establishing what the UK is going to do regarding their financial liabilities, citizens rights (here the UK will also want to establish what the EU intends to do), whether a hard border on the island of Ireland will be necessitated by the future actions of the UK and whether the Good Friday Agreement, an internationally binding agreement can be maintained.

It is important to remember that it is the UK that wants to deviate from the status quo, so it is up to the UK to spell out in detail what it wants to change. The EU will determine if this is satisfactory for them to move to phase 2 where the future relationship between the UK and the EU will be negotiated.

Determining whether the UK proposals on these Article 50 issues are satisfactory is a technical matter not a political one. Either regulations in the UK (or Northern Ireland) will differ or they won’t, either the UK will end up agreeing to tariffs with third countries that deviate from those in the Customs Union or they don’t. If the UK wants to move in a direction where an open border would undermine the integrity of the EU Single Market and Customs Union, then border controls will be necessary.

Whatever is agreed will need to stand up to legal challenge, e.g. when the first lorry load of chlorinated chicken or beef that entered the UK at lower tariffs than are due in the EU, rolls across the border – so some clever form of words won’t do. There can be no compromise or a la carte approach here.

What can be offered to ease some of the unfounded DUP fears, are assurances regarding the status of Northern Ireland as a part of the UK (unless of course, as is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, a majority decide to change that).

The plea for some give from the EU side reveals another misconception among Brexiteers and that is that the UK is an equal partner in this. Instead it is by a long way the junior partner in the process.

The latest World Bank World Development Indicators shows that the UK is the 6th largest economy in the world. It slipped a place, at least in part due to Brexit, making France the 5th largest economy, but importantly the EU excluding the UK is almost six times larger than the UK in economic terms. The potential losses of a failure to agree a trade deal are also considerably more significant for the UK than the EU – over four and a half times those suffered by the EU (based on Lawless and Morgenroth, 2016, I also have estimates that put this seven times). Of course Ireland is something of an outlier but even here the impact on total trade is less than half that potentially suffered by the UK.

This coupled with the fact that the EU is the UKs largest trading partner, means that walking away from the process is a strategy that would maximise the self-harm to the UK economy, as this would mean that the UK will not get a trade deal with the EU. Of course a trade deal with the EU would be the quickest one to put in place and of course it would also cover the largest share of UK trade so it is also the most important one.

Brexit and the Irish border

As we get closer to the important EU Council meeting the amount of coverage on Brexit has increased significantly. Of course more noise does not necessarily equate to more content – there is a lot of uninformed opinion around.

There are some fundamental issues that need to be understood.

While we are talking about the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, we are also talking about a future external border of the EU. That means the issue of the Irish border is very important to the EU and our EU partners and all have the same objectives – to avoid a hard border. Thus, the negative commentary directed at Ireland by Brexiteers and the Brexiteer press, apart from being mostly factually wrong, is badly misdirected.

Of course the impact of a hard border would be felt more by Ireland than in any other Member State (you can find analysis on this here), but the nature of the border is a crucial determinant of the integrity of EU Customs Union and Single Market, and is thus of crucial importance to the EU. This latter point appears not be understood by everyone. To illustrate the significance of the EU external border, and the Irish border will be that post Brexit, it is useful to consider an example:

The UK wants to sign trade deals with other countries, which presumably will give other countries access to the UK market on different terms than are available in the EU. This is why the UK wants to leave the Customs Union. If the UK allows beef from a third country into the UK at a lower tariff than the EU would charge and/or subject to less regulation than applies in the EU (as part of a trade deal), then this beef could enter the EU if there is no hard border. Of course with lower tariffs in the UK than in the EU exporters would move their product through the UK (Northern Ireland) into the EU.

This would mean that the UK would effectively determine EU external trade policy. The EU will not allow such a situation to arise – and neither should Ireland as such a situation is likely to have significant negative impact on Irish businesses and consumers (remember the regulations are there to protect consumers).

This means that the apparent offer by the UK, that there will be no regulatory divergence at least for Northern Ireland, will not avoid the need for a hard border as the issue of different tariffs is not covered by that offer. A hard border will only be avoided if the UK, or at least Northern Ireland, stay in the Customs Union and there is no regulatory divergence – there is no way around this! An offer to avoid regulatory divergence is not enough to move to the next phase of the negotiations.

Even a special status for Northern Ireland, where the border runs through the Irish Sea and where UK authorities ensure that third country products do not end up in the EU market, is problematic as it would be difficult for the EU to enforce the proper policing of that border, given that it is located outside the EU in a sovereign country.

Another important point relates to opinions about the use of existing or yet to be invented technological solution to police the border. A lot of the legitimate routine trade is already processed electronically, and could easily continue to be processed that way. But that does not remove the need to check that what is being transported is what had been declared, and more importantly border checkpoints are there to stop illegal activity. It is hardly credible that criminals are going to be declaring their trade via an online system!? Importantly, once the UK is outside the Customs Union illegal activity will not only encompass the usual things like drug smuggling but will also encompass shipments where the tariffs and duties due in the EU have not been paid or where the goods do not meet EU regulatory requirements. In the event that the UK is outside the Customs Union (tariffs) and Single Market (regulations), Ireland is obliged to police this border adequately, which means physical checks.

This brings me to my next point. It would be very easy for the UK to guarantee that it will not introduce physical border checks, but given the arguments I put forward above, what the UK would needs to guarantee is that the EU will not need to put in physical border check in response to changes introduced by the UK in the wake of Brexit, namely deviations from regulations, tariffs and tariff-quotas.

Finally, there is talk about some form of words being found that would allow negotiations to progress to the next phase. Again given the facts, what is needed are very concrete undertakings that would be legally binding and would avoid the need for a hard border i.e. that the UK will not leave the Customs Union and there will be no regulatory divergence. Without such undertakings the negations should not proceed to phase two. Importantly, this is the point where Ireland holds all the cards, and it would be great mistake to settle for anything less than such an undertaking.

Latest issue of the Economic and Social Review

The Economic and Social Review has just published its latest issue at (Vol 48, No 3, Autumn 2017)

Articles

Taxation, Debt and Relative Prices in the Long Run: The Irish Experience
Vahagn Galstyan, Adnan Velic

An Irish Welcome? Changing Irish Attitudes to Immigrants
and Immigration: The Role of Recession and Immigration
Frances McGinnity, Gillian Kingston

Does the Month of Birth Affect Educational and Health Outcomes? A Population-Based Analysis Using the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study
Stefanie Doebler, Ian Shuttleworth, Myles Gould

Policy Section Articles

Modelling the Medium- to Long-Term Potential Macroeconomic Impact of Brexit on Ireland
Adele Bergin, Abian Garcia-Rodriguez, Edgar L. W. Morgenroth, Donal Smith

How Sensitive is Irish Income Tax Revenue to Underlying Economic Activity?
Yota Deli, Derek Lambert, Martina Lawless, Kieran McQuinn, Edgar L. W. Morgenroth

Valuing Informal Care in Ireland: Beyond the Traditional Production Boundary
Paul Hanly, Corina Sheerin

More on Brexit

Theresa May’s speech last week, while providing very little new information, provoked a lot of debate about the future relationship between the United (or perhaps more aptly the Disunited) Kingdom and the EU, and the potential consequences for Ireland. In particular there is much debate about the nature of the trade deal that might be achieved, and what Ireland should do. No doubt this debate will continue until the UK has left the EU and probably beyond.

However, what people are forgetting is that for there to be a trade agreement there first needs to be a successful outcome to the Article 50 negotiations. Some commentators do not distinguish the Article 50 negotiations, which are solely about the exit of the UK from the EU, from the trade negotiations, which in any case can’t be completed (at least in terms of signatures and giving legal effect to them) until the UK has actually left the EU.

The lack of attention on the Article 50 negotiations also seems to apply to the UK government, which other than indicating the likely time period in which Article 50 is going to be triggered, has not commented in detail about these. Theresa May’s speech last week is no exception in this. It would appear that the outcome of these negotiations is taken for granted, which might be due to a lack of understanding of what they entail.

A key aspect of the negotiations relates to the assets and liabilities shared between the Member States. The EU owns significant financial assets and of course also owns significant property assets. The 2015 consolidated EU accounts show that these assets were worth €154 billion. Of course the EU also has substantial liabilities, such as contractually committed expenditures but also pension liabilities. These amounted to €226billion in 2015. If one simply apportioned the net liabilities according to economic size the UK would owe the EU €12.6 billion.

Apportioning the UK share of the net liabilities amounting to €72 billion is going to be a tricky task, especially as the simple aggregate approach used here for illustrative purposes will have to be replaced by a much more detailed approach. Thus, instead of arguing about the shares for the two figures on assets and liabilities the negotiations will be about lots of figures.

Some commentators have also suggested alternative numbers, which are presumably based on different underlying data. For example the Financial Times has suggested that net payments from the UK to the EU could range between €20 billion and €60 billion. Apart from the potential for disagreements in attributing assets and liabilities to the UK, it should not be taken for granted that a Eurosceptic Westminster would approve payment of billions of pounds to ‘Brussels bureaucrats’. Failing to successfully complete the Article 50 negotiations would make trade negotiations difficult if not impossible.

What should Ireland do to mitigate the consequences of Brexit? Some people (e.g. Nigel Farage) are arguing that Ireland should also leave the EU. This is utter nonsense! Does anyone believe that Ireland could cut a good trade deal with a country that is over ten times larger in economic terms (GDP) and 14 times large in terms of population (the UK) rather than being part of a block that is almost 5 times larger than the UK? Brexiteers are trying to stir disagreement among EU members as a broken EU will be a lot easier to leave and doing deals with (small) individual countries will also be more advantageous for the UK.

The fact that Ireland trades extensively with non-EU countries, and particularly the US is not evidence that Ireland does not need the EU, but the opposite. Multinational companies that are responsible for the bulk of Irish trade are in Ireland because of EU membership. The EU has concluded trade deals with a range of countries and blocks and a small country like Ireland is not going to negotiate a better deal than the EU.

The latter point also applies to the UK. While Theresa May is now using the slogan of “making Britain truly global”, she and fellow Brexiteers have failed to show how the EU stopped the UK from being global. Indeed the evidence shows that Germany went global, i.e. increased its export share with non-EU countries accounting for EU expansion effects, from the 1980’s onwards. Using this definition the UK only started globalising in the early part of the last decade (see Morgenroth, 2017). Far from stopping countries going global the EU has actually facilitated globalisation for countries that wanted to pursue this goal (something that has been criticised by certain groups). Failure to do so is thus likely to be due to domestic policy failings.

So what should Ireland do? Firstly, it is important to note that when it comes to trade, the objectives of the EU are the same as those of Ireland – to keep trade as free as possible. Similarly, every EU Member State will want to protect its firms from unfair competition. This implies that the EU negotiating stance is likely to be reactive, responding to deviations by the UK from the status quo on trade barriers as well as other factors such as the adherence to State Aid Rules.

Secondly, while Ireland is particularly exposed to the negative impacts of Brexit, there are other EU Members, which will have shared concerns. For example as is now well known, the Irish agri-food sector is particularly exposed. Analysis shows that the Danish pork exports are as exposed Brexit as Irish beef exports to the UK (see Lawless and Morgenroth, 2016). Thus, there are natural allies which will have similar interests when it comes to the negotiations. The detailed analysis of which sectors, firms and regions are most exposed will help identify potential mitigating actions, for example by helping develop alternative markets.
Thirdly, EU Members will have the same objectives when it comes to attracting investment (both of foreign and UK firms) away from the UK, even if they will be competing against each other for this investment. Ireland is already more successful in attracting FDI than its size would suggest and it is likely that this will also apply to any investment diverted from the UK, at least in sectors where Ireland is already strong.

Finally, it is important to remember that it is not the EU that is turning its back on Ireland but that it is the UK that is doing so by leaving the EU – no amount of rhetoric changes this fact.

Senior Macroeconomist Posts

ESRI is looking to recruit 2 senior research economists in macroeconomics
The ESRI is seeking to expand its existing research capabilities in the following areas; housing, public finances and general macroeconomics. Accordingly, the Institute is looking to hire two senior research economists with proven track records in applied, econometric research in any or all of these areas. The appointments may be tenure track positions or on a secondment basis. The roles will involve contributing and leading research programmes in housing, public finances and general macroeconomics and the successful candidates will be expected to produce relevant high-quality research papers which can be published in both international peer-reviewed journals and domestically-oriented policy papers.
More information can be found here:
For any queries concerning the position, e-mail: kieran.mcquinn@esri.ie

IEA 2015 Conference

The 29th Annual Irish Economic Association Conference will be held at the Institute of Banking, IFSC, 1 North Wall Quay, Dublin 1 on Thursday May 7th and Friday May 8th, 2015. The ESR guest lecture will be given by Professor Christopher Udry (Yale University) and the Edgeworth Lecture by Professor Giancarlo Corsetti (University of Cambridge). This year we have a very strong and expanded programme.

Registration for the conference is through the exordo site. Early registration costs 100 euros and includes dinner on the 7th. There is a much lower price for student delegates at 35 euros.

Bookings for accommodation should be made directly. We have negotiated some discounted hotel rooms at the Maldron Hotel, Cardiff Lane, which is close to the conference venue (mention the “IEA2015″).

I’m looking forward to seeing you there.

IEA 2015 – Submission Deadline Approaching Fast!

The 29th Annual Irish Economic Association Conference will be held at the Institute of Banking, IFSC, 1 North Wall Quay, Dublin 1 on Thursday May 7th and Friday May 8th, 2015. Edgar Morgenroth (Economic and Social Research Institute) is the local organizer.

The ESR guest lecture will be given by Professor Christopher Udry (Yale University) and the Edgeworth Lecture by Professor Giancarlo Corsetti (University of Cambridge).

The Association invites submissions of papers to be considered for the conference programme. Papers may be on any area in Economics, Finance and Econometrics.
The deadline for submitted articles is the 8th of February 2015 and submissions can be made through this site.

Please note that the Irish Economic Association awards two prizes for conference papers, the Denis Conniffe prize and the Novartis prize.

The Denis Conniffe prize of €500 is awarded for the best paper by a young author-presenter at the Irish Economic Association annual conference. To be eligible the author must be either (a) aged < 30 or (b) within 3 years of finishing a PhD. For co-authored papers, all co-authors must meet these criteria. If you are eligible for this award and would like to be considered for the prize, please let the conference organiser know, when submitting your paper. The prize award will be decided by the IEA council and will be announced at the annual conference.

The Novartis prize of €500, is sponsored by Novartis Ireland, is awarded to the best Health Economics paper presented at the Irish Economic Association annual conference. If you consider your paper to be in the “health economics” field and would like to be considered for the prize, please let the conference organiser know, when submitting your paper. Members of the IEA council or individuals affiliated to Novartis are not eligible for the prize. The prize award will be decided by the IEA council and will be announced at the annual conference.

2015 Annual Irish Economic Association Conference

The 29th Annual Irish Economic Association Conference will be held at the Institute of Banking, IFSC, 1 North Wall Quay, Dublin 1 on Thursday May 7th and Friday May 8th, 2015. Edgar Morgenroth (Economic and Social Research Institute) is the local organizer.
The ESR guest lecture will be given by Professor Christopher Udry (Yale University) and the Edgeworth Lecture by Professor Giancarlo Corsetti (University of Cambridge).
The Association invites submissions of papers to be considered for the conference programme. Papers may be on any area in Economics, Finance and Econometrics.
The deadline for submitted articles is the 8th of February 2015 and submissions can be made through this site.

Conference: Financing SMEs in Economic Recovery

Conference: Financing SMEs in Economic Recovery
ESRI, 26/09/2014, 8.30am -1pm

The ESRI will hold a half-day conference focusing on the bank and non-bank financing environment of SMEs in economic recovery. The research presented aims to contribute to a policy environment that facilitates a smooth recovery in the SME sector. Programme outline below:

PROGRAMME

08.30 Registration and Coffee
09.00 Welcome: Professor Frances Ruane, Director, ESRI
09.05 Opening Address: Simon Harris, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Finance

SESSION 1
Evidence on SME Financing: Ireland in a European Perspective
Chair: Fergal McCann, Central Bank of Ireland

09.30 Which Firms Apply for Credit in the Euro Area?
Annalisa Ferrando, European Central Bank

10.00 SME Financing Landscape in Ireland: A Comparative Perspective
Conor O’Toole, Economic and Social Research Institute

10.30 Tea/Coffee

SESSION 2
Policy Objectives and Supports for Funding SMEs
Chair: Niall O’Donnellan, Enterprise Ireland

11.00 SME Default in Ireland
Tara McIndoe-Calder, Central Bank Ireland

11.30 Policy Options for SME Financing in Ireland
Martina Lawless, Economic and Social Research Institute

SESSION 3

12.00 Roundtable discussion
Chair: John Hogan, Department of Finance

Participants: Loretta O’Sullivan (BoI), Patricia Callan (Small Firms Association), John O’Sullivan (ACT Venture Capital ), Nick Ashmore (SBCI), Garrett Murray (Enterprise Ireland )

Please register at:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SMECONFERENCE

ESRI QEC Research Notes

Last week the latest ESRI Quarterly Economic Commentary was published. It includes 5 research notes including one by myself on the regional dimension of the unemployment crisis.

While there is a lot of discussion about unemployment, the differences across regions have not received much attention. The note shows that the differences are significant. It also shows that things would look a lot worse if it had not been for a drop in labour force participation – in the Border region the unemployment rate could have reached 27%. Not surprisingly a sharp drop in employment is the major cause of the increase in unemployment, but a look at the sectoral breakdown of employment changes gives some interesting results. Firstly, construction employment appears to have contracted quite uniformly across the country. Secondly, employment in education and health actually grew. Thirdly, there are some interesting differences across the regions with respect to other sectors. For example, manufacturing declined much more in Dublin than elsewhere. Most importantly the analysis suggests that the underlying factors that are responsible for the differences in unemployment rates across the regions are very persistent but were hidden during the boom. You can expect some more analysis on this in the near future.

The other notes are:
Tax and Taxable Capacity: Ireland in Comparative Perspective
Comparing Public and Private Sector Pay in Ireland: Size Matters
Trends in Consumption since the Crisis
Revisions to Population, Migration and the Labour Force, 2007-2011

ESRI Environmental Economics Seminar

Venue: The ESRI, Whitaker Square, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2

Date: 03/05/2012
Time: 9.00 -13.00

This seminar will present some of the latest research undertaken by ESRI researchers as part of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded project. A range of topics will be covered, including surface water quality, transport and energy.

Agenda

9.15     Introduction

9.30     Towards Green Net National Product: A Summary of modelling and other output – Edgar Morgenroth

10.0 The Impact of Land Use on Lake Water Quality in Ireland 2004-2009 – John Curtis and Edgar Morgenroth

10.30 The value of domestic building energy efficiency – evidence from Ireland – Marie Hyland, Ronan Lyons (U. Oxford), Anna Alberini (U. Maryland) and Sean Lyons

11.00 Coffee Break

11.30 An Analysis of Non-Commuting Travel – Aine Driscoll, Edgar Morgenroth and Anne Nolan

12.0 Estimating the Impact of Time-of-Use Pricing on Irish Electricity Demand – Valeria di Cosmo, Sean Lyons and Anne Nolan

Booking

To register to attend this Seminar, please register here.

View map and how to find us.

If you would like to receive our monthly eNewsletter with news of ESRI activities and publications, please subscribe here.

ESRI Renewal Conference: Economic Adjustment

Venue: The ESRI, Whitaker Square, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2

Date: 18/04/2012
Time: 8.30 – 13.00

The fourth ESRI Renewal Conference will examine the best available domestic and international evidence relating to the need for rapid economic adjustment. Papers will address:

  • What explains the apparent inflexibility of wages in the Irish labour market?
  • How can competition and regulatory policies help in economic recovery?
  • What does evidence tell us about designing a property tax?

Papers will be followed by a response from an expert in the field and an open Q&A session.

Programme

8.30 Registration & Refreshments

9.00 Opening remarks: Frances Ruane, Director, ESRI

9.05 Explaining Changes in Earnings and Labour Costs During the Recession
Adele Bergin, Elish Kelly, Seamus McGuinness (ESRI)
9.35 Response: Kieran Mulvey, The Labour Relations Commission
9.45 Audience discussion

10.10 Troubled Times: What role for Competition and Regulatory Policy?
Paul Gorecki (ESRI).
10.40 Response: Cathal Guiomard, Commission for Aviation Regulation
10.50 Audience Discussion

11.15 Coffee

11.45 Property Tax in Ireland: Key Choices
Claire Keane, John Walsh, Tim Callan, Michael Savage (ESRI)
12.15 Response: Dr William McCluskey, University of Ulster
12.25 Audience Discussion

12.50 Close

Booking

To book a place at this conference, please register here

For further information please email renewal@esri.ie.

The Economic Renewal Conference Series is supported by FBD Trust

View map and how to find us.

If you would like to receive our monthly eNewsletter with news of ESRI activities and publications, please subscribe here.

 

Download Programme

Public Capital Programme

Here is a link to the new infrastructure and capital investment programme. There is a lot in there so it will take a little time to digest it.

Some quick points:

– There is a commitment to the National Children’s Hospital;

– There is funding for new schools;

– Luas BXD to go ahead (Metro North and DART Interconnector shelved, Metro West was shelved some time ago);

– the A5 project in Northern Ireland (80 km from the border to Derry) has now also been shelved (in addition to the shelving of 45 other national roads projects announced some time ago);

Seminar on R&D and Climate Change Innovation

On the 21st of September Professor David Mowery of UC Berkeley will give a seminar entitled ‘Mission Driven R&D and Climate Change Innovation: Lessons from US Experience with Information Technology’ at the ESRI (Whitaker Square, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2).  This is a lunchtime seminar starting at 1pm. More details can be found here.

Smart Economy Jobs in Irish Regions

Guest Post by Dr Chris van Egeraat of the Geography Department at NUI Maynooth and Chariman of the Regional Studies Association Irish Branch.

Enterprise Ireland announced that 445 jobs will be created in 24 new high potential start-up companies which have been supported by government through Enterprise Ireland in the second quarter of 2011. The announcement follows on the 310 new jobs announced earlier this year as part of the first quarter results of Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start Ups programme.

Many of the companies involved operate in the sectors that the Government has identified as part of the Smart Economy strategy, including biotechnology, life sciences, ICT and financial services. This is good news for Ireland but from a regional development perspective it is important to consider the extent to which different regions benefit from these developments.

Interestingly the press release includes a breakdown of number of projects and related jobs by location. Unfortunately, the information pertains to 16 of the 24 investments only, and the press office was not in a position to provide details of the other eight investments because of the commercially sensitive nature. The data allows us to between the Greater Dublin Area (including Kildare and Wicklow), the rest of the South and East (S&E) Region and the Border-Midlands-West (BMW) Region.

The results are striking. Three quarters of the new projects are located in the Greater Dublin Area and a further 12 per cent in the rest of the S&E region. Only 12% of the projects are located in the traditionally lagging BMW region. The results in terms of jobs are similar with merely 12% of the jobs located in the BMW region.

The data for the first quarter of 2011, suggests that this is not a once-off result. In the first quarter the GDA accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the new projects, while the rest of the S&E region accounted for a further 16%. With 15% of the new projects, the BMW region again performed poorly. The press release for the first quarter did not provide complete data for jobs.

To put these figures into perspective one can compare these with the geography of employment in all Irish-owned agency-assisted companies by regions in 2010 using figures from the Forfas annual employment survey. Currently the Dublin region only accounts for 31 per cent of jobs in indigenous assisted companies with the rest of the SE accounting for 41 per cent. The BMW region still accounted for 28% of the jobs in 2010.

Clearly, there are some limitations to the new data on the geography of recent project and job announcements, not at least the fact that we don’t have access to the complete dataset. However, if the results do represent a real trend, this will have important implications for the economic development potential of Irish regions and raises questions about the role that different regions can play in the Smart Economy as promoted by the Irish Government.

The regional trends outlined above highlight the timeliness and relevance of the upcoming Irish Regions in the Smart Economy Conference, organised by the Regional Studies Association at NUI Maynooth. For further details: http://www.regional-studies-assoc.ac.uk/events/2011/sept-ireland/programme.pdf

 

Steinbrück: Admit Greece will need restructuring

Given the recent discussions of  the views of Professor H-W Sinn on this site it seems only right to point out that there are also other opinions in Germany. A number of current and former German politicians (Helmut Schmidt, Joschka Fischer) have been critical of the leadership provided by key politicians. Now the former finance minister Peer Steinbrück (still an active opposition politician) has found some clear words: “Greek default is inevitable – lets call a debtors conference.”

Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities

The report of the Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities has been published here. While some of the key recommendations had been signalled over recent days in the media there is a lot of detail in the report. Apart from the recommendations on asset disposal there are lots of recommendations on the regulation and governance of state bodies. 

NI Corporation Tax

The UK Budget was published yesterday. One of the noteworthy changes announced as part of this is a reduction in corporation tax:

“a reduction in the main rate of corporation tax by a further one per cent. From April 2011, the rate will be reduced to 26 per cent with further yearly reductions of one per cent until 2014 when it will reach 23 per cent”.

In addition the UK Treasury has published a consultation document entitled Rebalancing the Northern Ireland Economy, which specifically considers the potential for, and costs and benefits of devolving the power to vary the corporate tax rate in Northern Ireland, potentially reducing the rate in Northern Ireland to the 12.5% that applies in the republic of Ireland.

In the context of the pressure from France and Germany for the Republic of Ireland to raise its corporation tax rate, both the reduction in corporation tax rates in the UK and the potential harmonisation of the corporation tax rate to 12.5% on the island of Ireland are an interesting development.

John Bruton on the EU response to the Irish Banking Crisis

John Bruton has an interesting opinion piece in the Irish Times – the headline is “Europe also responsible for Ireland’s Banking Crisis”. He is of course absolutely right to point out, as others have done, that this crisis would not have happened if German, UK, Belgian and other banks had not lent to Irish banks, just as much as it would not have happened if Irish banks had not lent to Irish developers. What he does not point out is that other EU members benefitted greatly from the Irish boom e.g. where were the BMWs, Mercs, Audis etc. built?

John Bruton is very critical of the EU response and highlights that it is very narrow and one sided. For example he points out that the agreement reached at the last summit only provides a mechanism for help if the crisis threatens the entire Euro-zone – no scope to help out countries hit by an asymmetric shock. He also points to other crises facing the EU that need serious action.

To me the approach taken at the summit (and during other recent decisions) implies a departure from the principle of solidarity between the EU members that was supposed to underpin the EU. Of course all EU members can start looking after domestic interests only – Angela Merkel might end up with a nasty surprise the next time she is looking for a decision that requires unanimity. In that sense, far from solving problems, the last summit has added more uncertainties for the EU. No doubt the markets will use the Christmas break to sharpen their knives!

Wasting Money on Roads

An interesting little scrap has broken out between An Taisce and the NRA. As reported in the Irish Times yesterday, An Taisce has accused the NRA of using false data, while the Irish Independent reports that the NRA dismisses the criticism.

The criticism by An Taisce refers to traffic projections which are now seven years old, and the fact that traffic volumes have been falling. The NRA counters that roads are build with a longer time horizon in mind. While I agree with the NRA that roads are build with a longer time horizon in mind, it is nevertheless true that the projections are seriously out of date and that the starting position has changed significantly. Furthermore, there are at least some schemes, which are grossly over designed. An Taisce points to  a refusal for planning permission for a dual carriageway between Bohola and Ballina, because the NRA apparently failed to support the project on traffic grounds.

Unfortunately gold-plating of projects is not unusual. In the ESRI Mid-Term Evaluation of NDP 2000-2006 we pointed out that “roads with capacity of 55,500 AADT, or anywhere near it, appear to be a significant overdesign for the numerous lightly-trafficked sections of the N8 and N9”. Such schemes cannot pass a reasonable cost-benefit analysis when compared to more appropriately sized schemes. Unfortunately, the lesson does not seem to have been learned and the tax payer is expected to pay for overdesign again (the fact that some of the schemes are PPPs is irrelevant here as these also have to be paid for by tax payers).

Take the example of the N2, for which there are two proposed schemes in the system. I have already referred to the idiotic scheme to by-pass Slane where the key issue could be simply dealt with via a HGV ban.

The second scheme is in North Monaghan, where a by-pass of Monaghan and Emyvale to dual carriageway standard is being pursued. Interestingly Monaghan has already been by-passed and anyone who knows the road also knows that there is no danger of congestion except through Emyvale (for which a by-pass is likely to be supported by some analysis). Traffic counts bear this out – average total volumes (north and southbound) for 2010 amount to 5,413 AADT. Why then are we building for 35,000 AADT – almost seven times the current volume? Further south, the section between Castleblaney and Clontibret has been upgraded to 2+1, and further south still between the M1 and Castleblaney a wide 2 lane road is perfectly sufficient to achieve the target level of service (80km/h) – both of these sections of road carry a higher level of traffic than that, which is supposed to be upgraded to dual-carriageway standard. 

The construction costs of a dual carriageway are 82% higher (according to the NRA Road Needs Study) than for a wide 2 lane road – can we really afford such goldplated schemes?

Establishment of the Review Group on State Assets

As has been widely reported the Minister for Finance has established a Review Group on State Assets that is chaired by Colm McCarthy.

The terms of reference are:

  • To consider the potential for asset disposals in the public sector, including commercial state bodies, in view of the indebtedness of the State.
  • To draw up a list of possible asset disposals.
  • To assess how the use and disposition of such assets can best help restore growth and contribute to national investment priorities.
  • To review where appropriate, relevant investment and financing plans, commercial practices and regulatory requirements affecting the use of such assets in the national interest.
  • While most comments in the media have interpreted the focus on asset disposals to refer only to privatisation, it is perfectly possible that the various state companies hold assets that might not be essential for the efficient running of these businesses and thus could be disposed of without privatisation.

    In relation to privatisation it will be important not only to consider the short-run gain in funds through the sale of assets, but the longer-run impact on the competitiveness of the economy. Long-run considerations should include the loss of control of national strategic assets that would result from a sale. This might be addressed by keeping the key infrastructures such as networks in public ownership.

    In some cases it might also be useful to consider a long-term lease as an alternative to an outright sale of assets, which will also yield revenue up-front but avoids the ‘selling off of family silver’. Joint ownership is another option.

    Looking through the list of assets to be reviewed it is hard to ignore the differences in ownership patterns with many other countries. Electricity generation, ports and airports are private in many countries.

    CSO Quarterly National Accounts Q1 2010

    The CSO released the latest Quarterly National Accounts covering the first quarter of 2010. While seasonally adjusted GDP is up by 2.7% on the previous quarter, GNP is down by 0.5% (net factor outflows were up 11%on the previous quarter) . Compared to the same quarter in 2009 GDP was down by 0.7% and GNP was 4.2% lower. Exports are up compared both to the previous quarter and the same quarter a year ago. Building and construction has continued to contract significantly (-16.3%) while other industry has done very well (+11.6% for Industry including Building and Construction).

    Relative Food Prices Across Europe

    Yesterday Eurostat released their annual comparison of food prices. It shows that the prices in Ireland are the second highest in the EU after Denmark. What is more worrying is that instead of coming down faster in Ireland than in other countries food prices were actually relatively higher in 2009 than in 2008 or 2007. Irish consumers pay 29.2% more than the EU average. While Italy and Finland improved their relative price levels all other Euro members disimproved. The biggest relative improvement was recorded by Iceland, followed by Sweden and Poland.

    InterTrade Economic Forum

    On the 28th of April InterTrade Ireland held their second Economic Forum entitled Shaping Recovery. Speakers included Barry Eichengreen (Berkley), Linda Yueh (Oxford), Will Hutton (Work Foundation) and Michael O’Sullivan (Credit Suisse). The presentations have now been put on the web and can be found here. As the speakers took a wider perspective the presentations are still relevant.

    Barry Eichengreen argued that Zarnowitz’s Law – the deeper the recession the stronger the recovery – would not hold this time. While he argued that the US won’t experience a double dip, he also thinks that current projections are to optimistic. He believes that Europe will underperform relative to the US. He also had a few words on Greece.

    Linda Yueh focused on Asia. She was upbeat but also highlighted the issue of global rebalancing. She pointed out that as China has a very poorly developed financial system the exposure to the financial crisis had been minimal. However, internal rebalancing and re-orientation of the economy towards domestic consumption were important challenges. She highlighted that China is becoming a capital exporter particularly in relation to energy, minerals and other raw materials (this has implications for Europe).

    Will Hutton focused on innovation. He also commented on the economic problems in the UK and Ireland (he made a few comments that might provoke some debate – unfortunately he had to leave the discussion early). In general he argued that since innovation depends on the cumulative stock of scientific and technological knowledge most innovation will continue to take place in the EU, US and Japan but that it was important to put the appropriate structures in place.

    Michael O’Sullivan took a closer look at Ireland, outlining achievements, comparing the latest crash with previous ones and argued for institutional reform He also had a very interesting quote about the Irish by Fridrich Engels that I had not heard before. His graph on the growth of Irish golf clubs also caught attention!

    All in all  there was plenty of food for thought including lots of interesting graphs and I suggest you have a look yourself. You can also listen to the presentations.

    EU Spring Forecasts

    The EU Commission released its Spring Forecast today. The abstract states that:

    The economic recovery is underway in the EU, although it is set to be a gradual one. The economic recession came to an end in the EU in the third quarter of last year, in large part thanks to the exceptional crisis measures put in place under the European Economic Recovery Plan, but also owing to some other temporary factors.

    The speed of recovery is forecast to increasingly vary across EU countries, reflecting the extent of the housing-market correction needed, the size of the financial-services sector and the degree of internal and external imbalances.

    Once you get beyond the positive start they do admit that there is significant uncertainty. Also it is hard to get excited about an EU unemployment rate of 10% and debt of 80% of GDP.

    For Ireland they paint a positive picture for 2011 with 3% GDP growth and a slight reduction in the unemployment rate.