Divisions in the EU
When partnerships are under strain, facing a crisis may either bring people together or deepen divisions.
For the moment, the Eurozone crisis has exposed and emphasised the alienation of the UK from many other member states and from the EU’s main institutions.
The current drama derives from an international financial crisis that far transcends the EU. Its trigger was the ‘sub-prime mortgage crisis in the USA. The collapse of the housing and construction market there, with the financial institutions that traded on these markets, quickly showed up parallel fragilities in Ireland, then Spain. Yet the first manifestation of the crisis in Europe was that born of a banking ‘bubble’ in Iceland, with corresponding failures of government regulation. As the devastating implications became clear, there emerged into the daylight gross failings in some national economies in the EU (such as Greece and Italy) combined with a deficient structure of cooperation among the governments of the EU and a lack of sufficient regulatory powers at the EU level. These have naturally weakened the Euro, whose fate is till far from clear.
Given the UK’s own pressing economic difficulties, the British Government’s relief at not being part of this particular mess, and its determination as a non-Eurozone country to keep its distance, is understandable. No British Government, of any ideological character, could simply neglect the fierce sense of national sovereignty, or the power of the popular press that defends it so shrilly. Faced with a set of measures he could not defend in the Westminster parliament, Mr Cameron rejected the proposal to amend the Lisbon Treaty itself. ‘What is on offer isn't in Britain's interests so I didn't agree to it.’ It turned out, however, that ‘Britain’s interests’ were more or less reducible to the interests of the City of London, after he failed to secure guarantees that exempted it from international regulation.
For other EU member states, this is only the latest in a series of UK rejections of collective EU decisions. At Maastricht (1992) the UK rejected not only future membership of the Eurozone, but also the ‘social chapter’ on employment practices. Nor is it a member of the Schengen Area that ends border controls between states, and which includes some non-EU countries - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Later, the UK rejected that part of the Treaty of Lisbon (2009) that requires the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU into British Law, once again because of the Charter’s provisions on labour law.
Now, the necessary steps to defend the Euro must be negotiated through separate ‘inter-governmental’ deals among the other 26 member states, the UK being a mere observer. Every decision will either have to be forced through by a caucus of the powerful states (highlighting the dynamic that the entire ‘community method’ was designed to avoid) or will be subject to endless and possibly fatal delays. Though the British Government cannot possibly wish the failure of the Euro, its opt-out has made rescue more difficult.
Though there is probably neither an early nor a painless ‘solution’ to the Euro crisis, Mr Cameron’s combination of nationalism and minimally regulated free-market capitalism, especially the capitalism of the finance sector, may be the worst possible non-solution.
Frank Turner SJ
Jesuit European Social Centre