Saturday, 20 November 2010

Ireland's EU debt.

Anyone travelling through Ireland this century, will have witnessed for themselves, a major cause of the present economic difficulties.

Every country lane is flanked by Ponderosa style homes, far removed from the more humble dwellings of only a few years before. Roads that once required careful pothole dodging are now fit for the growing numbers of new cars, leaving detached garages, down ever longer drives.

And this is not neccessarily the rural hinterland of any large and prosperous commercial centre. A journey through the Republic's more remote counties looks just the same: new houses built to high specs and large floorplans, with no obvious signs of where the money came from.

But now we know what most of us suspected.

The Celtic Tiger was financed the same way that the housing boom was; with 'cheap', borrowed money.

Now, in the UK this boom and bust has been part of a natural economic cycle, where the rich get richer and the poor get shafted, but in Ireland there had always been lower, more realistic expectations which had prevented such disasterous economic mismanagement.

So what has changed?

How have the prudent and generally thrifty Celts, allowed themselves to be so seduced by the spend it, even if you haven't got it, mentality?

The EU must shoulder much of the responsibility for this cultural change.

Euro inflation, such as Spain and others have also experienced, has left prices climbing to some European norm, beyond any rational or sustainable level.

Why though, just because the currency is the same, do prices need to be similar?

Prices in the North of England have traditionally been significantly less than in the South, yet it is the same country with the same currency. Why then, do member states of the EU find prices skyrocketing to meet those of their EU neighbours?

The other great contributor has been EU policies on grants and subsidies.

Farming and 'developing' communities have long been used to these handy little earners, and it's not difficult to see how the business of making the most of what was availble led to them taking advantage of easy loans, simply because they were there.

But the day of reckoning had to come, and Ireland is now finding the difference between accepting free handouts, and taking loans which eventually have to be paid back.

And isn't it also Murphy's Law which states that this will happen "At the worst possible time"?