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Recent European defeats show it is time we faced home truths about our standing

Losing out to Paris in the bid to land the European Banking Authority (EBA) this week, wasn’t quite our Thierry Henry moment.

After all, the French didn’t cheat. And in fact, there wasn’t even any extra time played, or penalties after the bids from Dublin and Paris secured the same number of votes.

No, instead of opting for a final vote, which would have given member states time to change their minds, officials decided to draw lots to see who would win the coveted quango.
It may only involve 167 direct jobs, but winning it would have been a real feather in the cap of the Dublin financial services presence.

The timing of this loss isn’t great for Irish confidence and self-esteem. After all we have missed out on a few things in recent weeks: a place at the soccer World Cup; hosting the Rugby World Cup (also lost to France) and securing the European Medicines Agency after Brexit. Now it’s the EBA.
So what should Ireland take from this disappointing outcome, which has seen us pipped again for an international prize?

Many analysts reckon Dublin did so well in the EBA voting because of a Brexit solidarity vote from many of our EU colleagues. Perhaps, but what lessons should we take from that?
We can congratulate ourselves that we were not beaten by Frankfurt or Paris in the bid to secure the EBA. Surely this reflects well on the quality of the bid and those who put it together.

But if part of our bidding success was down to Brexit solidarity, then surely the lesson to be learned is that European Brexit solidarity will only take us so far and it might not be enough.
There is a measure of goodwill towards Ireland, but in the end it cannot be relied upon.

It is also a lesson we might take into the Brexit negotiations and the diplomatic spat playing out between Britain and Ireland over the operation of the Border after the UK leaves the EU.
In recent weeks, the Irish government’s stance on the Border issue has hardened. It reflects a deep and understandable frustration with the British position, which is decided by a handful of Tory Brexiteers. Boris Johnson stumbled his way through a meeting and press conference with Simon Coveney last week, by lumping in what happens at the Border with the North together with what happens in Dover. For him they are one and the same.

However, the primary diplomatic goal of the Irish Government has to be to ensure the UK gets the best possible trading deal with the EU.
The better the deal secured, then the smoother the movement of people and goods from Dublin to London, as well as from Dundalk to Newry.

Of course the Good Friday Agreement has to be maintained, along with preserving special cross-Border relationships as much as possible. But if the customs border was placed in the Irish Sea, and the UK secured a bad EU trade deal, imagine the chaos for the Irish business supply chain for goods going from here to the continent via the UK.
A chunk of our exports to the EU would be tied up in queues, tariffs and bureaucracy at British ports.

There is a danger that the Irish Government could overplay its hand, while egged on by our European colleagues in Brussels.
This is where our understanding of EU solidarity must be very finely tuned. Take the EBA vote for example. We secured enough votes to draw with Paris, but that was it. This is despite the euro currency solidarity we showed by taking a €60bn hit in bailing out bond holders.

So many European countries lined up to tell us we had been treated unfairly and “taken one for the team” when we were prevented from bailing out bank bondholders. Even the ECB and EU themselves have put new measures in place to ensure the transfer of private bank debt to ordinary citizens does not happen again.

We were bailed out by the troika of the EU, the ECB and the IMF. Yet, the cheapest troika money we got came from the IMF. The lowest interest rate we received from anybody in bailout money, was on several billion we received from the UK in a bilateral loan. Leo Varadkar is the only European prime minister talking openly about exercising a veto on Brexit talks going to the next stage. Yet the UK is our second biggest export market.
The Border issue has been set up as a showdown from which Mr Varadkar must be seen to get something. Yet it is hard to imagine Ireland holding up the second phase of Brexit negotiations if the others are happy to proceed. The Irish Government is looking like a stalking horse for Brussels in the talks – the last place we should want to be. When the British decided to leave the EU, there was a view that ‘less Europe’ might emerge in the union to prevent other countries feeling the same way as the UK. Yet if anything, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction.

The election of President Emmanuel Macron in France has set an agenda towards a two-speed Europe. The fast-track will see greater integration. Does Ireland want to be in the fast lane, even if it to the wrong destination?

There is absolutely no sense at all that the EU is becoming a warmer place for smaller countries.
If anything, it is about the bigger western European countries taking stronger roles. Admittedly, the political uncertainty surrounding the formation of a new government in Germany could slow down that drive towards greater rapid EU integration.

The big questions for Ireland after Brexit is who do we want to be? We can no longer present ourselves as the small plucky underdog country that has come through famine, oppression and colonialism with a smile on our faces.

That might work well in attracting tourism, but it isn’t cutting any ice with parliaments across Europe. Our incredibly successful, but morally dubious approach to corporation tax structures has not done us any favours.
We can’t be the likeable, popular, plucky underdogs and at the same time allow large corporations to pay virtually no tax in countries we want to like us. We cannot brag about being the greatest exporters in Europe of everything from infant milk formula, to beef and cheese without even having a plan to reduce our CO2 emissions from all of the extra cows. Our climate change commitments are not being met and there are gaping holes in the strategy, which is largely based on negotiating derogations and delays from the EU. We will try to play the Brexit poor mouth there again.

If anything, the biggest lesson we might learn from recent defeats, is that we might not be as popular as we tell ourselves.

Or perhaps put more generously, actually being liked or popular, counts for a lot less than we believe. Our place in Europe and on the international stage has still to be carved out. Progress towards greater economic security and confidence was derailed by the economic and banking crash.
Humpty Dumpty is being put back together again – albeit with a massive €200bn national debt – but we still aren’t sure where our place on the wall is.

The old Boston or Berlin debate remains unresolved. Right now, politically we are throwing our arms around Berlin, while economically still hoping to hold on to as much Boston money as we can.

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