Honesty or gamesmanship?


Flag EuropeBy Jon Worth / @jonworth

We’re on track for a multispeed EU and the UK government is OK with it. That is the main
conclusion for the UK from a week from a week when the Euro was, at least temporarily, brought
back from the brink with a 15 point plan for its rescue.

Oh, a multi-speed Europe. We’ve been there before. That would be John Major not committing
Britain to the Euro or the social chapter, and Blair and Brown essentially not budging from that

The change however, notably in George Osborne’s fascinating interview in the FT, is the
vocabulary. No more of the false notion, Tony Blair style, that Britain can be at the heart of Europe
or leading Europe, but instead a plea that Eurozone members better get on with getting the Euro
in order, and that Britain is not going to stop them. Bagehot in The Economist follows up, essentially summarizing Osborne’s position thus:

“(a) a big leap towards fiscal union is the only way of saving the single currency, (b)
Britain has a strong interest in the survival of the single currency, (c) Britain must play no part in
bailing out the single currency and will stand aloof from fiscal integration, thus (d) our national
interest now lies in allowing Europe to divide into markedly different zones of integration, with us on the outside”

Frankly, what other option does Osborne have? Faced with braying EU-phobes in his
own party, and a Prime Minister committed to ‘not one penny more’ for EU bailouts, an aloof, semi-detached position is the inevitable consequence.

Labour’s response has been peculiar, with both Ed Miliband and Alastair Darling urging the
government to do more. How precisely, as eloquently tweeted by Denis MacShane, is the UK supposed to do that from outside the Eurozone?

The danger, for Labour and for Britain’s ongoing relationship with the EU, instead lies in what
has emerged from a meeting this week between David Cameron and Tory backbenchers, much
of which was committed to debating EU matters. Cameron – according to a Guardian editorial – “pledged to use any post-bailout treaty change process to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU”. The Telegraph even reports that Osborne wants to roll negotiations about the EU budget into the whole thing.

So this is not just Britain allowing the Eurozone to solve its problems, but a way for Cameron to
try to extract concessions for baying EU-phobes in his own party, most probably in the areas of
employment and social affairs legislation.

Such an approach is going to get very short thrift from other EU Member States. I can just imagine Sarkozy smirking and saying how fixing the Eurozone is a matter of importance many times higher than the impact of a 48 hour working week on the NHS. Equally free market minded countries in the Eurozone – Netherlands or Estonia for example – are not going to take kindly to Britain trying to free ride in the Single Market.

Likewise Labour needs to be vigilant, taking care to separate out the solutions for the Eurozone
from the rest of the questions about the UK’s relationship with the EU, and to point out how it is
irresponsible for Cameron to connect domestic political concerns with the vital economic future of
our most important trading partner.

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