Friday 9 December 2011
If a victory, then only a pyrrhic one
So David Cameron got his victory and so did the Eurosceptics in his party. While they are undoubtedly busy celebrating, Labour only managed some pipsqueaks from the sidelines. And the Liberal Democrats are practicing public loyalty to their coalition partner by exercising a stony silence on Europe.
But this is a serious issue and we should not leave it to the Eurosceptics. If you believe the UK papers, the Euro is bagged and tagged. Yet, they are wrong. The Euro will survive because the political spirit that sustains it, European solidarity, cannot and will not go away.
As the Eurozone countries are struggling to find the right mechanism to address the economic imbalances between them, the spectre of a Euro breakup was raising its ugly head, but it was never a plausible scenario for anyone who knows what Europe feels like on the continent. That is something many Brits forget. Europe is a feeling as much as it is a political project. And there is no politician in the Eurozone who can ultimately wrest herself free from the main thrust of the European spirit: mutual solidarity and closer integration.
To maintain that the Euro would survive was a questionable account as long as the economic crisis made it difficult for Merkel and others to dish out enormous sums to countries like Greece, Italy, Ireland and Spain. But pay they will. And that is why the gradual but steady distancing of Britain from the European integration project amounts to nothing less than the biggest foreign policy mistake of the last decades. As Europe finds a solution to the Eurocrisis and embarks on closer integration, it will strive to reform and strengthen substantially the European institutions that can deliver fiscal oversight, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
The result will be that Britain will fail to have a seat at the table to influence the direction of future European integration. Thatcher’s legacy, to nail the Tory colours to the mast of a trading and tariff zone, will come to haunt Cameron. Europe will go the other way, towards fuller integration and Cameron will be hostage to the veto he so courageously wielded yesterday. The uncertainty of Britain’s position in the emerging Europe of the future will mean that business and the people of Britain will suffer in the long run. Cameron may celebrate today, but his victory will turn out to be a pyrrhic one.