Favorite for Irish PM calls for bolder EU reforms

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party, the favorite to become prime minister after elections next week, called for an increase in the European Union’s budget and for Ireland to back more reforms put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The opposition Fianna Fail and governing Fine Gael parties, who have swapped power since the state’s foundation a century ago, share broadly similar policies on the economy and Brexit, the chief foreign policy challenge facing Ireland.

However Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, a former foreign minister, said on Thursday that Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s government had refused to step up and engage on EU reforms, particularly the “visionary reform” agenda of Macron.

“Fianna Fail believes that now is the time for Ireland to move on fundamental issues concerning the reform and strengthening of the European Union,” Martin said in a speech at an international affairs think thank in Dublin.

“Its budget is wholly inadequate for the task that has been set. Europe needs to break the cycle of destructive negotiations over the Budget and to create a larger resource. One percent of combined EU income is simply too small to make a difference.”

Asked which reforms he would back that Varadkar’s government opposes, Martin said his party was far clearer on the need for a bigger EU budget. Ireland is now a net contributor to the bloc’s budget.

Varadar, whose party has trailed Fianna Fail in every opinion poll since the poll was called two weeks ago, said last month that his government agrees with some elements of Macron’s push for greater integration, but not others.

Macron’s sweeping vision for eurozone reform has received a lukewarm reaction over the past three years. Ireland was among eight northern EU states that agreed a joint position in 2018 saying now was not the time for more reform while initiatives such as a banking union remained incomplete.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail oppose the idea of an EU-wide tax for digital companies, instead favoring the global reforms that are being pursued as they seek to protect Ireland’s low 12.5% corporation tax rate that has been a magnet for large multinational firms.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, Editing by William Maclean)