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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The Euro non-debate

Dan Gelfand (see here and here) and British Spin have the rundown the British government's latest shenanigans over the Euro. This is mostly political, though Spin is thinking about the prime minister's motives:

Well, the PM clearly believes that entering the Euro will, in the long run, be the right move for the British economy. It will remove some currency instability, open up European trade further, and also persuade businesses that wish to trade in Europe that Britain is a good place to make stuff. It will also (and this is no small factor) allow Britain to exert more influence in the debate over Europe's future. This is not an argument about who gets top jobs, but about whether the EU becomes a flexible, market oriented, let ‘er rip kind of place, with a minimum of rules and the maximum opportunity for diversity, or a more dirigiste place, with strict rules that all must live by (rules set, for the most part, by France and Germany).

Really? The first part of the quote is pretty standard pro-Euro fare, but generally Britain has been poor at influencing institution design in Europe, except where it directly affects Britain's interests (the Maastricht opt-outs and the budget rebate, to name two). The whingeing and the delays, including this one over the Euro, don't help this; and Britain too often has to sign up to things that the French and Germans have pushed. (The main exception to this was the 1986 Single European Act, but Margaret Thatcher, in her recent book Statecraft, sort-of claims now that she did not realise what she was signing up to.) Also, The Economist noted that perhaps the single greatest thing that Gordon Brown as done as Chancellor of the Exchequer is to make the Bank of England independent; so far the ECB pales in comparison.

Then again, this is a debate, not really about the Euro per se, but about a referendum about the Euro. Sometimes I wish that they would just call the [expletive deleted?] referendum and get it over with. Polls are currently 2-to-1 against, but no matter; a no vote will not end this, especially in Europe, where, if you say no, they'll come back and ask you again at some point. (Norwegian voters must be credited for saying no to the EU three times, and the Swiss for saying no to first to the humbler European Economic Area and later to the EU, but everyone, including them, knows they'll be asked again sooner or later.) Just as the William Hague's "one policy" on Europe did not heal the Tory party, neither will a no vote on the Euro in Britain, unless its overwhelmingly against. (In contrast, a tepid vote in favour ends the matter.) Hence the delay and obfuscation, which will continue for a while--a very long while. Meanwhile the institutions go on, Britain within or without.