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Did the German parliament approve the Irish budget in 2011?

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TheJournal.ie, Ireland

17 May 2019, Updated: 24 May 2019

Did the German parliament approve the Irish budget in 2011?

The leader of Irexit Party and European election candidate, Hermann Kelly, has said that the Irish budget should never again be approved by the German Bundestag before it is seen in the Dáil, the Irish lower house.

The claim, made in an video from RTÉ released as part of the national broadcaster’s European election coverage and subsequently shared on Twitter, has been used by Kelly to justify his party’s core policy of an Irish exit from the EU.

But is this claim true? Did the German parliament approve the Irish budget before the Dáil?

Where does this claim come from?

Each of the 59 Irish European election candidates has recorded a one-minute long video with RTÉ in which they pitch themselves to voters. In his video, Hermann Kelly says: “Never again should we allow the EU to impose 64 billion bank debt upon us or that the Irish budget is approved in the German Bundestag before it’s seen in the Dáil.”

Kelly doesn’t give any more context to this claim. However, it is one he has made before. In September 2018, he said: “In 2011, the Irish budget was approved in the Bundestag instead of the Dáil. The country was run by the Troika, they decided the economic policy of Ireland.”

The evidence

In 2011, Ireland was still reliant on funding from Europe and the IMF following the financial crisis.

In November 2011, TheJournal.ie, which is producing this fact-check, revealed that Irish financial documents containing details of the upcoming budget had been distributed among German parliamentarians. At least one significant detail contained in the plans presented to the Bundestag budget and finance committees was that Ireland would raise VAT from 21% to 23%.

The documents were dated 28 October, meaning that documents containing details of the Irish budget were circulating among German parliamentarians weeks before the budget was due to be announced on December 6.

The news provoked a significant furore. Gerry Adams, then leader of Sinn Féin, said: “This is another example of how the sovereignty of this state has been handed over.” Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called it an “unprecedented situation”. The Irish government lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission regarding how details of the 2012 and 2013 budgets had been circulated in the German parliament.

However, as TheJournal.ie reported at the time:

While the German situation obviously has much to do with the Irish fiscal situation – where the government is completely reliant on emergency funding from Europe and the IMF, which is given subject to terms and conditions – it’s not necessarily a ‘German’ thing.

So any preconception that may be out there – that Germany is given the important data before we are, simply because Germany is the main contributor to Europe’s bailout funds – is not accurate.

How did the documents end up in two German committees?

The details of the budget had been shared with all 27 of Europe’s finance ministers ahead of an Ecofin meeting – a summit of European Union finance ministers – that was scheduled to take place before 6 December and the presentation of the budget to the Dáil.

As part of Ireland’s €67.5 billion bailout plan, EU finance ministers had to regularly meet and sign off before any funding could be released to Ireland. This required access to Ireland budgetary details. As TheJournal.ie noted in 2011, “the timing this year is a little bit awkward” because it did necessitate details from the upcoming budget being shared with other European states before the budget day in the Dáil.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel faced significant and somewhat unique challenges from the German parliament during the eurozone debt crisis. In particular, the budgetary committee closely scrutinised the agreements being reached to provide funding to states like Ireland.

Like other parliaments, the Bundestag is not solely an elected chamber made up of representatives who pass new laws. It is also made up of various committees that scrutinise the federal government and investigate various policy areas and issues. Unlike Ireland, where parliamentary committees are relatively weak, German parliamentary committees are quite powerful and play a significant role in overseeing and approving government business.

Kelly’s core claim is that the German Bundestag approved the Irish budget before the Dáil. In 2011 Wolfgang Schauble, like other EU finance ministers, would indeed have received details of the Irish budget. Where Germany differed somewhat from other EU member states during the bailout programme was the significant influence of parliamentary committees in deciding whether the country would approve bailout loans to states like Ireland. Under German law, the committees had to receive documents relating to such loans in order to approve the release of aid.

These committees are made up of a large number of members of parliament, with 78 of the Bundestag’s 620 members sitting on either the budget or finance committees.

As TheJournal.ie stated at the time: “When Ecofin meets in two weeks it won’t be Wolfgang Schauble that’s making the decision [to approve Ireland's next tranche of loans] – it’ll be the finance and budget committees of the German Bundestag.”

The briefing documents shared with all 27 finance ministers had then been passed to the Bundestag budget and finance committees in order for them to make a decision on whether to allow the German government to grant Ireland bailout funding.

Did the Bundestag approve Ireland’s funding?

This depends on how you interpret the claim that the Bundestag had to approve the Irish budget.

In this instance, every member of the German Bundestag did not vote or approve the Irish budget in the same way that the Dáil typically would. Instead, two committees – albeit containing a large number of parliamentarians – were provided with details of the Irish budget weeks before the Dáil.

When contacted by TheJournal.ie regarding his claim, Kelly emailed back two articles from the BBC and the Financial Times. The BBC piece does not state that the budget was approved by the Bundestag, but instead says that “the document… was seen in a finance committee of the German parliament”. Similarly, the Financial Times article states that “confidential details of Ireland’s next budget were given to the German Bundestag” but does not use the word “approve”.

Verdict

In 2011, Ireland was mired in a financial crisis and heavily reliant on EU and IMF funding. Because of this, European finance ministers were receiving significant details of Ireland’s budgets and financial planning in order to inform decisions on whether to keep providing financial support to the country.

The German finance minister was among those officials across Europe who received details of Ireland’s budget in October 2011. Due to Germany’s parliamentary and democratic procedures, Schauble was required to share Ireland’s budgetary details with German members of parliament in order to gain committee approval to release funding to Ireland.

The claim that the German Bundestag approved the Irish budget is not entirely false. Two committees, made up of a large number of German parliamentarians, did have access to details of the budget before Irish TDs. These committees also did have to oversee the German government decision to release funding to Ireland and did make this decision by relying on details from the upcoming Irish budget.

However, the German parliament as a whole did not vote itself to approve the budget. The decision by the committee, while it did scrutinise the budget, was to give approval to the release of bailout funds to Ireland by the German government as opposed to approving the substance of the budget itself.

As a result, we rate the claim that the Bundestag approved the budget before the Dáil had seen it: MIXTURE.

As per The Journal’s verdict guide, this means: There are elements of truth in the claim, but also elements of falsehood. Or, the best available evidence is evenly weighted in support of, and against, the claim.

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