Politicians on the sidelines of the Euro crisis have been relatively free to think out loud. British Tories are having the most fun, getting fresh attention for diehard positions.
They’re didn’t like the century-long decentralization of their amazing empire and never accepted that political federations in North America, Europe, or elsewhere could ever govern as well as unitary states. The success of the European Union and its Euro-zone has been their longest frustration—since the American union climbed out of a civil war and saved their democracy in two world wars.
Old ideas can look fresh when first brought in from the cold. Prejudice can sound like dogged principle.
The European Union, under the cover of a multilingual bureaucracy in Brussels, is a mongrel federation of tax and work-loving northerners and hedonist thieves along the Mediterranean. The Euro-zone, they exclaim, is “fatally flawed” because it’s incomplete. And, if its flaws are seriously addressed with greater fiscal integration, it will be run by the Germans!
Every whim of the whimsical bond market buoys their contempt.
British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has been cowed into vacuity. He is now concerned that Germany’s Angela Merkel—who must raise additional hundreds of billions of Euros in Germany to calm the markets and save Europe’s commercial banks—may actually want a more accountable and more coherent EU in return.
Here’s Timothy Garton Ash’s summary of Cameron’s concerns:
Speaking at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, Prime Minister David Cameron evoked a Europe “with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc.” “We skeptics,” he averred, “have a vital point. We should look sceptically at grand plans and utopian visions.” This crisis offers an opportunity “in Britain’s case, for powers to ebb back instead of flow away … and for the European Union to focus on what really matters.” In short: less Europe.
This is the same wordsmith who claims as Prime Minister that he can close the gap between severe austerity and compassionate conservatism by bringing to life a “Big Society” of community activists.
Former British Labour Minister for European Affairs Denis MacShane provides the rebuttal.
“Euro speculators want to claim victory by seeing Greece forced out of the euro zone – followed by Portugal, Spain and Italy. A return to drachmas, escudos, pesetas and lire will be good for millionaire Brits and Germans with villas in southern Europe, where life was so much more agreeable when their neighbours were poor and used “Mickey-Mouse money”, as one British eurosceptic Conservative described the drachma.
“Only one force can stop the speculators from winning. That is the power of the democratic state organized in an unbreakable alliance with other democracies. More Europe is the answer to the disintegrating Europe we now confront.”
The pursuit of a European federation is, first and foremost, a political idea. It is not the surest way to make money or the best stage for a Britain or a German politician to play politics like a true Britain or a true German. It is certainly not a utopian idea.
It is amongst the skeptics you are most likely to find rosy memories and little Utopian visions.
The European Union was created to make it less easy and less profitable for nationalists to divide Europeans as they have so often done in the past. That prudential vision obviously still disciplines Europe’s decision-makers. It fends off so-called “skeptics” who would play dice with Europe’s future.