Monday, May 14, 2012

Hans, Pierre & Paddy: An EU Referendum Explained In Plain English

Don't lie: you've seen the signs. While driving around, with the ugly mugs of politicians smiling at you creepily, willing you to say either 'Yes' or 'No' to a question you had no idea you were even being asked.

Then, even when you got stuck at traffic lights and bothered to read the full sign, the question still made no sense. "You want me to say Yes to EU Fiscal Stability? Fiscal? Don't you spell that with a 'Ph'? And I suppose I like things stable but...what exactly are you asking me? It sounds painful, if I'm being completely honest..."
Credit: TheJournal.ie

On May 31st, we are being asked to go back to the polls to vote in the third referendum since our general election last year. I agree with what you're thinking: can't we just click yes once to a box that says 'Fix our country, please. And make me rich again, while you're at it. Or at least make me less poor'?

As is always the case with these treaties, it's quite a fuss about what could either be a relatively small, inconsequential matter, or something deliberately intended for us not to understand so Europe's finest can swiftly get back to their day-jobs of making our lives more difficult, breath by fucking breath.




I'm no expert, you'll certainly never hear me on Morning Ireland or see me on Vincent Browne (although I would love to be on the latter, for the lolz), but I seem to constantly be the person that many in my family and peer group turn to for full explanations on these matters. I read The Guardian and listen to Pat Kenny daily, after all, so I must have learned something about politics and economics by now, right?

Truth is, I understand this stuff like I understand the Irish language: while I certainly can't speak it fluently, if I was listening to or watching a fluent speaker dropping economic jargon bombs on my black ass, I'd understand the gist of what they were talking about. Though it'd be a rough translation. For example: in my head, I translate the EU Fiscal Stability Treaty into 'A Pain In The Arse', and so on.

So what can I do for you, exactly? Well I can, hopefully, bring you up to speed on what I know so that you can at least begin to have a clue what all of this nonsense is about. But, for god's sake, don't let this be your only research on the matter: instead, let it serve as a middle man and read up on some material elsewhere arguing both 'Yes' and 'No', now that you have a frame of reference to allow you to begin to understand the complexities of both arguments. Watch the forthcoming debates on RTE/TV3, listen to the reports on the likes of Pat Kenny and The Last Word (podcasts are great for doing this on the go so you don't have to listen to a 2 hour-show for a 10-minute bit), try to get through all four-sides of those annoying pamphlets they put in your letterbox, etc. Also, try not to let your feelings about the politicians on either side dictate your decision too much.

Because if you've been hit by recession, and pretty much everyone has (how many 'Going Away' parties have you attended in the past six months, for example? Remember all those friends you used to know who live in Oz now? They didn't really move to Oz. It's like when your parents tell you your pet has gone to live on a farm. Your friends are dead), then you'll realise how important this stuff can be to our day-to-day lives, much as we'd all like it to all fuck the fuck off so we can book a holiday already.

Our only way to really affect change isn't through 'liking' a status written in textspeak on Facebook. It's through educating ourselves, through making sure we're informed and active in the running of our country, a country that can easily chew us up and spit us out if we continue to stand by and do nothing. Or chew our parents, our brothers and sisters, our close friends etc, up and spit them out, if our only solution to doing something is to 'leave'.

So this is part of my contribution in doing so. If you find it helpful, please share it to your own friends (via Facebook, Twitter etc) so they can help themselves and, as a result, help you also.

I've written a short satirical script, focusing on three stereotypical characters that represent Ireland, France and Germany. In it, it references all the background info you need to know: from how the EU/IMF bailout came to pass, to Ireland's standing within the EU and Germany's power to influence it, to the upcoming referendum. I also tried to write it unbiasedly to help you all to know the issues but still make up your own minds.

It is not meant to be taken completely literally, some minor details and stances have been portrayed in a way to allow it to be more entertaining and readable. But, like I said, the idea is for you to just get the gist of what's being asked of you. It's a start.

Of course, if anyone would like to offer any suggestions on changes or amendments I could make, then feel free to do so (constructively, mind, I don't get paid for this so don't suffer trolls lightly) and I'll try to amend it if necessary before polling day.

Enjoy...
 
Imagine this is the Hans in the piece. It makes the whole thing a lot more bad ass.

A SMALL, QUIET IRISH PUB - LATE
There are scant few punters scattered throughout the pub. In a corner, an Irishman (PADDY) sits somberly on his own, staring into his pint as if searching for an answer. It may just have entered: a well-dressed German man (HANS) enters the bar. After searching the area, he finds who he is looking for. Paddy notices him as he approaches and his demeanour immediately shifts to one of feigned happiness.

PADDY
Ah, Hans! How's tricks?

HANS
(Humming Baywatch theme. Upon Paddy greeting him, he extends his hand jovially. He obviously has much time for Paddy.)
Eh tricks are...efficient, as always. And you?

PADDY
(Shrugs as the pair sit down)
Ah I've seen better days, but you know yourself...

HANS
Oh? Last time I talked you were investing in the property? You were telling me about how you bought a new car every year and owned a villa in Santa Ponsa?

PADDY
(Uncomfortable)
Yeah...the property is still there. It's a lot emptier since we spoke though...

HANS
How do you mean?

PADDY
Well put it this way: if ya took the kitchen from number 2, the sitting rooms from number 4 and bedrooms of number 8, you'd have a great house. But we kinda had to wrap up building work before we got that far. And customers aren't exactly buying the bricks and mortar look as a 'retro design'.

HANS
(In disbelief)
B-but surely you have savings?

PADDY
Yeah...you could say that. But I call my savings 'the villa'. We've had some good times in that place...

HANS
So you're broke?

PADDY
Shhh! Jaysus Christ Hans are you trying to have me killed saying that word! Look I'm not 'broke' per se...just having a temporary cash flow issue.

HANS
And now you want a loan?

PADDY
(Panicking...whispers frantically)
Are you mental?!
(Shouts loudly in case anyone else hears)
A LOAN?! NOOOOO THANK YOU VERY MUCH! WE'LL PAY OUR OWN WAY HANS BUT YOU'RE VERY KIND FOR OFFERING!

HANS
(Slightly disgusted)
Do you want a loan or not?

PADDY
(Whispering again)
Just until I get back on my feet Hans, if ya wouldn't mind...

HANS
Fine, but let me check with Pierre first.



A LATE NIGHT PHONE CALL
Following Hans' meeting with Paddy, he calls PIERRE, who isn't as fond of Paddy as Hans...

PIERRE
(Furious)
I knew it! I haven't liked him for a long time! He is a mess!

HANS
Alright Pierre, I think you are overreacting somewhat...

PIERRE
Overreacting? That's rich when we're talking about Paddy. Remember he lost that game of football to me?

HANS
You clearly handled the ball!

PIERRE
Bah, the referee never saw it. Maybe if Paddy took opportunities like that instead of sunning it up in villas and bragging to his neighbours about his double-glazing windows he wouldn't be broke now.

HANS
Yes Pierre, but you have to admit, he is pretty funny. A great singer too! What was that song he sang before?
(Sings)
"We were the Rock 'n' Roll Kids..."

PIERRE
That was nearly 20 years ago, Hans. Need I remind you of the time he got drunk, put a Turkey puppet on his hand and started shouting the name of countries at all of us? I wasn't laughing, you weren't laughing, but he thought it was all hilarious.

HANS
(Pondering)
Yes this is true. Quite sad, really. But I don't want to upset Brad. He loves Paddy like a little brother.

PIERRE
The American? He is too busy cleaning up his own mess to care about Paddy. He's nothing.

HANS
Maybe. But Pierre, I still think you are failing to realise that this could be a massive opportunity for us...

PIERRE
(Pauses, intrigued )
...I'm listening...



BACK IN IRELAND - PADDY'S OFFICE
Paddy is sitting at his desk, on the phone. Upon seeing Hans and Pierre arrive, he smiles and waves them in, holding one finger up to say "One minute."

PADDY
(On the phone)
Why thank you Brad, that's very kind of you to say! You've cheered me right up. Come here though Brad, I wanted to ask, ya don't have a few quid handy, just for a short period of time, to get me by? I'll have it back in...Brad? Brad?
(Looks at the phone, confused)
He must have gotten cut off. Anyway lads, what can I do for ya's? Oh come here, by the way, before you start: wait until you see what I have in store for the song contest this year. Oh lads, you are going to laugh and laugh and laugh. Put it this way: think 'Two Little Boys'...on crack!

HANS
(Sighs, as Pierre looks at him defiantly)
Very nice. Well Paddy, we have discussed your loan. And we decided that we need some insurance, in case you were to make the same mistakes again, we need to add some interest to look after our...uh...

PIERRE
...interests.

PADDY
What are we talking here?

Pierre puts down a sheet of paper on the desk, Paddy reads it.

PADDY
Y-you're serious?

PIERRE
We would also need to take a large control of your accounts and financial dealings, you would need to pay back a certain amount every year and so on, or we would be force to cut the supply of money off.

PADDY
(To Hans, while pointing at Pierre)
This was all Frenchy's idea wasn't it?

PIERRE
(Furious)
You indignant little...

PADDY
Don't you shout at me! You've had it in for me since day one! Remember you invited us all over to France for a game of rugby, then cancelled it just as we were supposed to start because you were 'too cold'?

PIERRE
We all could've got pneumonia!

PADDY
D'ya know what we couldn't get? Refunds on Ryanair tickets! It was the way ya handled it too. Actually, speaking of handling...

HANS
ENOUGH! Look Paddy, we're sorry but these are our terms. It needs to be this way.

PADDY
I'm sorry lads, I just can't afford that interest.

PIERRE
That's a beautiful watch you're wearing.

PADDY
(His mood changes, he's smiling and flattered)
Ah cheers Frenchy, the wife got it for me last week...
(Realising)
Oh...right...point taken. Look if it was just a watch or two to deal with then yeah, no bother. But it's more than that. My child, she needs disability allowance to get by.

HANS
I'm sorry Paddy, we have to make sacrifices when times are tough. This is our offer. How you pay it back is up to you. Take it or leave it.

PADDY
I'm sorry lads...I can't.

HANS
Goodbye Paddy.

Hans and Pierre turn to leave.

PADDY
Wait...



PADDY'S OFFICE - TWO YEARS LATER
Two years have passed since Paddy was forced to take the loan. He tried to talk Hans and Pierre down on the interest, but it fell on deaf ears. Since then, several others in their group (including Pierre) have fallen on similarly tough times as a result of reckless money-lending by Hans and all involved during better times. Hans has had to bail a lot of them out and is losing patience. Hans walks into the same office to greet Paddy. Paddy is friendly and happy to see him, Hans is stern and business-like. He doesn't have the same warmth for Paddy that he had two years ago. He seems more battle-hardened and impatient now.

PADDY
Ah there y'are now Hans!

HANS
Paddy.

PADDY
What can I do you for? I'm sure you saw our latest report, repayments going back on time, it's been tough but we're getting there!

HANS
Good. Paddy I need to talk to you.

PADDY
Of course. What's the story?

HANS
I've been talking with the rest. We've all come to an agreement that will help us all better manage our finances so this mess doesn't happen again.

PADDY
I see...and that is?

HANS
I need you to set certain targets for your finances. If you get past a certain level of debt, I will be forced to fine you. So you must constantly work to keep your finances in order, as must all of us.

PADDY
I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. Look Hans, I just want to pay my way and look after myself from then on.

HANS
And how did that work for you the last time?

PADDY
But I've learned from my mistakes!

HANS
Have you? Paddy, I have no problem with you minding your finances once you've paid us back and continue to hit your debt targets. If you do well, we can loan each other money like we did before and both succeed together again. I just want to make sure you continue to do well and give you a plan B in case something should go wrong.

PADDY
And if I don't?

HANS
Then you're saying that you can't pay your own way. You're on your own. If things go wrong again in the future, don't come running to me.

PADDY
But I don't even know if Pierre is going to go for this Hans. This union we have isn't working as well as we all thought it would in the beginning.

HANS
Pierre will agree if he knows what's good for him...

PADDY
He's not alone. The Greek...Stavros might reject this. He changes his mind every day!

HANS
Do you want to end up like Stavros? He feeds his family from a soup kitchen these days.

PADDY
No. Of course not. But can we not have time to think about it and see if there's another way?

HANS
Paddy, this has gone on long enough. I have kept my house in order and have to pay for your mistakes out of my own pocket.

PADDY
(Mutters)
You weren't complaining when you were loaning us money left, right and centre and raking it in with the interest...

HANS
What's that?

PADDY
Nothing.

HANS
Good. Now you need to make your mind up. Yes or no, it's very simple.




And so the question is, essentially: should Paddy agree to the rules of Hans and the rest of the...I dunno...fictional gang (imagine them like the kids from 'Saved By The Bell', except they've since grown up to be accountants, with varying success) that mean he must keep within a certain level of debt if he wants to have any chance of getting a loan in the future, should things go pear-shaped again? Or should Paddy reject their idea and look after his own finances once his loan is paid off, but leave himself without a Plan B and possibly bankrupt if it all goes sour?

These people are the reason you're poor today.
It's a question of control, I suppose. Would you rather control your own finances and have no fail safe, or have to live by the financial rules of someone else who can bail you out if necessary?

Further on from that, keep in mind that the Irish government is controlling our finances. If you vote No, then you are basically saying that you don't want to have Ireland's finances dictated by targets set by Germany and the other European powerhouses (who will ultimately look out for themselves above others, at the end of the day). But, at the same time, do you trust the Irish political system if we choose to tell Europe to fuck themselves? (If you don't, then you'd be better off voting Yes)

Keep in mind, also, that we are currently at the mercy of the EU/IMF. So we already have to hit certain targets set by Europe, and have done ever since we were bailed out at the end of 2010. Have you felt more financially secure living in Ireland over the past 18 months or so, compared to the previous two years before that? (We've been in recession since 2008) If you have, vote Yes, and if not, you're in the No camp.

As you can see, it's not a straightforward question. There are pros and cons to both scenarios so neither is an ideal solution. It just comes down to what solution you're more comfortable with.

It's up to you and how you feel. Polling day, again, is May 31st. So, in the meantime, educate yourself further on the matter to decide how you feel.

Remember, if you found this article helpful, please share it. And if you've any constructive corrections or amendments you'd like placed here, feel free to add them in the comments section below and I'll put them under consideration. If you've any other questions, you can get me on Twitter almost anytime or via email at Rick@AMTLive.ie.




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