Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lamont's Ending

There's an interesting, though ultimately wrong-headed, piece by Norman Lamont in today's Financial Times (subs required), examining the current EU crisis from the British perspective. As with so many people, Lamont doesn't seem to get what the Single Market entails. Lamont says that
Lord Brittan, the former European commissioner, warned British politicians not to be “triumphalist” about recent events. But a certain quiet satisfaction is surely in order. Enlargement has been a great British success and John Major deserves much of the credit for seeing that it was not just correct in principle but would also result in a Europe more in Britain’s interest.
Now, however,
the EU is a cost to Britain economically and must be reduced in various ways. The tapestry of Europe’s different nation states requires some over-arching architecture. But we have built the wrong sort of Europe with the wrong sort of institutions. We need to go back to the drawing board.
According to Lamont, the new plan for Europe would involve a complete whittling down of the Union's remit, with 'much of the past legislation being repealed,' and perhaps with all European legislation requiring a vote of all national parliaments before being passed.

At base, 'The single market, which still does not exist, needs to be made a reality,' but all other activities should cease.

Apart from the fact that, no matter what side of Britain's political lines they are on, commentators seem absolutely fascinated by France. I've already mentioned Will Hutton's comments on France. Like Hutton, Lamont has a good point to make on this, saying that
the Franco-German alliance is no longer an effective instrument for projecting French interests. Enlargement has reduced its impact and Germany is less prepared to be “the stirrup holder for the French jockey”, as one commentator put it.
That said, I think that, as with so many people, Lamont is spectacularly naive on some elements of Europe. As it happens, most of the legislation coming out of Europe (generally agreed, mind, by the Council of Ministers, not the Commission) is related to the Common Market. A common market does not just come about through the repeal of border laws and the like. It involves a significant intervention in current national markets, requiring changes in long-set standards and practices.

Indeed, common markets, be they national or otherwise, are exercises in the prevention of certain sorts of competition as well as the encouragement of other forms. For example, the Second Basel Accord will regulate the manner in which banks expose themselves to risk, so that no-one attempts to compete by taking on risks or by over-exposing their capital bases. This sort of deal is crucial to the construction of a single market.

Lamont seems to imply that the regulatory burden of Europe is a function of things like the Common Foreign and Security Policy. But that's just not the case. It's the single market that continues to drive European legislation.

Of course, Lamont is mostly right on one point, which is that 'Europe’s constitutional treaty is truly dead and will be difficult to revive without riling public opinion.' Apart from the fact that whoever called it a constitution in the first place should be fired, it is true that us Europeanists are well beyond the inclinations of our fellow citizens on what Europe can be. I suspect that many people, in responding to the waves of bullshit coming from active anti-Europeanists, forgot that the bullshit sticks because it resonates with some basic problems that European citizens have.

For one thing, immigration and globalisation have become conflated with the European project and Europe has been dragged down by the resultant backlashes. Second, Europe's leaders, in Britain and beyond, are reaping what they sowed in blaming Europe for economic and social problems that they had either created (viz an Italian minister calling for the return of the Lira) or push legislative initiatives onto Europe, vote for them in council and then blame Europe when legislation is passed in national parliaments. Third, many of Europe's peoples are rather jealous of their nations' integrity. Some strong leadership might have alleviated some of these woes (there is some real crap talked about sovereignty, with very little understanding as to either what sovereignty means or how it might be affected by EU integration), but that would have required a lot of imagination and a lot less riding on issues like immigration.

But the fact is that, although voting arrangements will have to be changed to fit Enlargement, the constitution is more or less gone. And it's a pity. If only this had happened over rubbish Nice and not over this preferable treaty. But them's the breaks.

So I suppose on this point Lamont is correct. Still, I don't agree with him on the direction the Union should take. My feeling is that we should continue with the 2007 englargment, give it a few years for everyone to adjust and for the Eastern states to catch up a bit (hopefully) and then see what sort of Union we have and what sort of Union we want. This isn't a perfect solution. For one thing, our diverse interests probably lie more with each other than they do, say, with America. While we are resting they'll be getting on with pursuing their narrower aims. Still, ad hoc coordination might be enough to keep European eyes on that ball.

One thing is for sure. The single market will not exist as a self-contained entity. It itself has and will bring enormous changes to the way we think about our world.

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