Like many British, I am deeply ambivalent about the long term ‘European Project.’ My difficulty is that I see the value, indeed the imperative, of Britain being part of a United Europe in perhaps 30, 40, 50 years. I believe a politically united Europe is the only way our distinct culture will survive and thrive economically to counterbalance the growth of the great Asian powers, the resurgence of Russia and the cultural infiltration of the United States. Chris Patten argues the case in clear laymen’s terms in his book ‘Not Quite the Diplomat; Home Truths about World Affairs’ 2006. But how do we get there? In principle we will need to move towards fiscal and political coherence sooner rather than later but the difficulty is we are so fundamentally different in our outlook on the way we conduct affairs in society at present that one can see the impossibility of signing up to a new treaty which drags us into fiscal alliance. We have clearly benefitted from not being part of the Eurozone in the current crisis, even though our economy is so closely tied to Europe’s.
Before the Eurozone was established the constituent nations created rules about the way they would behave. There were rules on deficits, borrowing, criteria for joining and so on which were then ignored, treated with contempt by Greece, Italy, Portugal and other countries and tolerated by France and Germany for the sake of the ‘bigger picture’. What confidence do we have that a new accord will be able to take account of the disparities in economic productivity of the constituent countries or be able to impose a sense of political responsibility in the Greeks and other southern European states? I cannot see how a new treaty will change much.
This is not to say that David Cameron’s stance was anything to celebrate; it seems to me that it was inevitable and possibly sad that we could not be part of something that moved us farther forward rather towards a democratic union rather than back. But I cannot see he had any other choice. We are not ready to cede democratic control to leadership outside these islands; mutual trust and understanding are absent.