Albert Reynolds threatened to block EU enlargement if funding deal was not honoured

Taoiseach told John Major in 1992 he was prepared to withstand ‘German irritation’ about the plan

Albert Reynolds was prepared to vote against the enlargement of the European Union 30 years ago if large states did not honour a commitment to double structural funding for Ireland, newly released state papers show.

The lengths to which the then taoiseach went to secure the much-needed funding for the state is disclosed in declassified documents detailing his meetings with other European leaders during the autumn of that year.

It looked like other leaders in the bloc, then known as the European Community, were ready to renege on the promise made earlier in the year to double funding for Ireland to over £6 billion (€7.4 billion) because of a deteriorating economic situation.

In the event, Mr Reynolds secured a deal of £8 billion (€10.3 billion) in structural funds for Ireland in a European summit held in Edinburgh in December 1992. The deal was a big political triumph for Mr Reynolds and proved significant for the state.

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At a key meeting in Dublin on December 7th, 10 days before the Edinburgh summit, Mr Reynolds told John Major he would not accept anything less than had been promised to Ireland.

Mr Major wondered where the figure of £6 billion had come from. On being told it was based on the Commission’s original proposal, he commented that EU Commission president Jacques Delors was “generous in spending other people’s money”.

Mr Reynolds said if he didn’t get what he wanted, he wouldn’t agree to the enlargement of the European Community, a key aim for German chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Mr Major advised him not to try such a tactic, as “the Germans would come down on us like a ton of bricks ... Use of this lever by us would maximise German irritation”.

Mr Reynolds responded: “How am I to protect our position otherwise?”

His efforts stemmed from a plan by Mr Delors to double structural funds for the four poorest countries in the European Community – Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece. This translated to around £6 billion for Ireland, a sum loudly trumpeted during the referendum campaign on the Maastricht Treaty, which was approved by the Irish electorate in June 1992.

She was refreshing! A phenomenon! A very gifted person. It took me a full year to get to understand how to deal with her”

—  German chancellor Helmut Kohl speaking about former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher

To copperfasten the promise, Mr Reynolds arranged a united front with Greece, Spain and Portugal to ensure that the promised money was delivered at the Edinburgh summit the following December.

However, European currencies were then attacked by speculators and Britain crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. German economic growth also stagnated. This was due to the high costs associated with the reunification of the country.

A fortnight before the November general election Reynolds travelled to Bonn in Germany to meet Mr Kohl. They were critical of the recently retired Margaret Thatcher’s active opposition to the Maastricht Treaty. However, Kohl admired the former British prime minster.

“She was refreshing! A phenomenon! A very gifted person. It took me a full year to get to understand how to deal with her ... She was so variable – at one moment the Lady, next Eve, and then again brutal. But she respected you if you stood up toughly to her. She had a gift for tormenting people!”

As to the money for Ireland, Kohl admitted Germany was “in a very difficult position at present in regard to our budget”, and that the original Delors proposals could not be implemented. But he went on to suggest that he might be prepared to support something almost as generous – after all, Germany would benefit from economic integration and owed something to countries like Ireland which had supported reunification.

“I’m not sure if the majority of Germany would be behind me in my position on this area but I don’t care ... Europe can only go forward if there is social and economic convergence of the different member states’ economies, only if the gap between them is gradually closed,” he said.

Mr Reynolds said he was prepared to settle for the money being spread over seven years rather than five.

As they were leaving the meeting to go to lunch, Mr Kohl told Mr Reynolds that “the Irish are popular in Germany. There is, I believe, lots more we can do together. We have no historic problems with Ireland. This is an exception among our partners and is very important”.

Fianna Fáil did poorly in the elections on November 25th and lost seats leaving it well short of governing as a single party. With doubts over the level of European funding to Ireland, Mr Reynolds wrote to Mr Delors and rejected any attempt to backtrack on the promise of a doubling of funding.

“Any indication that Ireland was being treated less favourably in terms of increased funding than the other countries would be difficult to explain to the Irish people, who showed their strong support for the Community objectives in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty,” he wrote.

Mr Reynolds again wrote to Mr Delors, complaining about his latest proposals which would give Ireland a lower share of the new cohesion fund than the existing structural funds, which “would be impossible for me, at Edinburgh, to accept”.

In the event, the summit approved a deal which allowed Mr Reynolds to claim that Ireland would get £8 billion in European funding over seven years, a sweetener which helped secure an unlikely coalition deal with Labour that kept him in the taoiseach’s office, against the odds.

National Archives reference: 2022/1/393, 2022/1/394

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