Britain and the EU

Though Ireland and the UK joined at the same time, the UK always remained semi-detached from the EU. Brussels affairs received barely a mention in the Blair-era diaries of British government ministers and advisors. That this was not even noticed by British reviewers is telling. London regarded itself as more significant on the world stage than Brussels. And, strange as this might sound to Irish ears, until German reunification it had perhaps good reason to do so.

The “supra-national” nature of the EU was designed by France to limit German post-war independence. As Ernest Bevin, Britain’s post-war Labour Foreign Secretary, commented: “when you open that Pandora’s box you’ll find it full of Trojan horses”. Britain felt neither the need nor the desire to have its independence limited in this way. For centuries it had stood secure in its island fortress, holding the balance of power between competing continental states. In the immediate post-war period it looked as much to the US and the Commonwealth as to Europe. The US was of much greater military importance. And as the world’s first industrial nation Britain had long pursued a ‘cheap food’ policy: the agricultural protectionism of the Common Market held little appeal.

Britain’s interest in Europe is as a free trade area. It viewed the creation of the single currency as a federalist step “far too far”, a position with which very many economists agreed.

Post-referendum Britain is not the only polity in existential crisis. The EU itself is clearly in the same position. The eurozone crisis side-lined the European Commission as member states looked to their own interests first. As a leading academic wrote recently, “supranational agents’ ability to take autonomous decisions can only be sustained in matters where the extent of disagreement among national governments over policy outcomes is relatively low”. The European elite thinks that the only way forward is through further integration: “more Europe”. But there is almost zero support across the European electorate for this.

The reaction to the referendum outcome has thrown a sharp light on clashing cultures. British political culture has always been suspicious of grandiose schemes and popular culture has always been irritated by layers upon layers of bureaucracy. (Ireland bears some responsibility for the latter, in that “a Commissioner from every member state” was given to us as a concession after one of our ‘no’ votes. Every commissioner views as their legacy the amount of legislation that they leave behind on the statute books.) The other side of the culture clash is reflected in the furious reaction of the European elite to the British vote, and the apparent desire to get the British out the door as quickly as possible. Twice the Irish voted no, and twice we were asked to vote again. Why did Europe react so differently to us, when there was so much less at stake?

The British vote is also clearly an inchoate reaction to globalisation, or perhaps more accurately to its “collateral damage”. In this it seems as one with the political support for the Trump campaign in the US.

Surely European leaders would be better advised to take a long hard look at how such widespread concerns might be addressed rather than rush to accept a British withdrawal? The latter may well lead to the break-up not just of the UK but to the withdrawal of other EU member states over time. It will entail years of negotiation on future relationships – at the bare minimum between the UK and Europe, and between the UK and Ireland. More worrying perhaps – given the class, age and geographic fault lines reflected in the referendum vote – is the legacy of bitterness and, quite possibly, civil strife that it will bequeath to Britain.

There is no need to rush Britain to withdraw, other than as a threat to other potential waverers. But this is hardly what the European project was supposed to be about. A year or two of uncertainty, particularly given the fragility of the global economy, is clearly undesirable. But the next general election in Britain is likely to offer the electorate an opportunity to visit the issue anew. Europe can use the hiatus to consider how the concerns of so many of its electorates can be addressed. A substantial electorate has spoken. Is Europe prepared to listen?

Ireland’s Negotiation Game Strategy for Brexit

Ireland needs to play its hand deftly and aggressively during the EU-wide Brexit negotiations. Irish interests in the Brexit process, post-vote, differ from those of other EU states. For EU enthusiasts in states with limited UK trade, a tempting strategy for preventing a NEXT-IT (Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, etc.) is to punish the UK via a spiteful exit deal. That would be a disaster for Ireland due to spillovers. Ireland needs to fight hard to let the UK be allowed a smooth and minimally-disruptive exit, not face a mini trade war. Ireland would be hit very badly in the crossfire.

Latest edition of the Economic and Social Review

It is available here:
http://www.esr.ie/issue/view/28

Contents:

Articles

Analysing Residential Energy Demand: An Error Correction Demand System
Approach for Ireland
John Curtis, Brian Stanley  185-211

Analysing the Drivers of Services Firm Performance: Evidence for Ireland
Olubunmi Ipinnaiye, Declan Dineen, Helena Lenihan  213-245

Quantifying the Importance of Nationality in Determining International
Protection Outcomes in Ireland
Gerard Keogh 247-270

Policy Section Articles

The Introduction of Macroprudential Measures for the Irish Mortgage Market
Mark Cassidy, Niamh Hallissey  271-297

An Analysis of Local Public Finances and the 2014 Local Government Reforms
Gerard Turley, Stephen McNena 299-326

Central Bank of Ireland Macro Financial Review 2016:1

The Bank’s most recent Macro Financial Review (MFR) was released recently. As well as providing an in-depth view of financial developments and risks in all key sectors of the economy, the MFR also contains a number of interesting analytical boxes on topics such as the components of NFC debt, SME actions after a credit rejection, household financial vulnerability estimates, residential property price expectations, new indicators of systemic stress and financial conditions, CoCo bonds and reciprocity in macroprudential policy.

The key messages from this most recent MFR can be summarised as follows:

  • Risks to the economic outlook are weighted to the downside and relate mostly to uncertainty in the external financial environment.
  • While economic conditions are improving, public and private sector indebtedness remain high.
  • Workout of impaired loans and disposal of non-performing loans in banking sector ongoing, domestic bank profitability remains weak.
  • Mortgage regulations: Call for evidence which will inform review opens from 15 June to 10 August.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Housing-related taxation receipts

In recent years, the summer period has become a boom time for those with an interest in the public finances. The past few weeks have seen a number of releases in the area including the Government’s Summer Economic Statement and IFAC’s Fiscal Assessment Report. The upcoming National Economic Dialogue will also spur debate in advance of Budget 2017.

With this in mind, readers might be interested in recent work published by myself and Kieran McQuinn (ESRI) in the Journal of European Real Estate Research examining the sustainable nature of housing related taxes in Ireland. Using a 3 pronged modelling approach we quantify the extent of housing related tax windfall gains and losses over a 30 year period as a result of disequilibrium in the housing market. We find that the fiscal position compatible with equilibrium in the housing market has at times diverged greatly from actual outturns both during the boom, the collapse and in the subsequent recovery.

The paper highlights the role played by the housing market in influencing the tax take and above all points to the need for a more granular approach to be taken in tax forecasting within Ireland. A link to the paper can be found here: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/JERER-01-2016-0004 with an older working paper version available here: http://www.esri.ie/publications/assessing-the-sustainable-nature-of-housing-related-taxation-receipts-the-case-of-ireland/.