Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Euro - A Non-British View

According to the British press, the Euro hardly exists anymore. European countries - or as they like to call it - the "Eurozone" are destitute, people staging angry protests, imploring their leaders to abolish the Euro. I have a few things to say about that.

First of all, Europe is not a zone. Just because Britain would not (or could not - remember those desperate John Major days when even hyper-interst inflation would not help) join in, does not make anybody else a "zone". It's like Cuba calling the US the "Democracy-zone".

Secondly, more importantly, and probably totally outside the British "zone" of imagination: Europe isn't a sort of Poundstretcher shop where you go if you want something cheap. Europe is first and foremost a dream. Why should "The United States of Europe" be less feasible than the "United States of America", the beloved and only wished-for partner Britons would be happy with. (Shame, the US is both broke, and doesn't give a hoot about Britain.) So, why is "The United States of Europe" such anathema? "Oh, it would never work... the countries are too different". I see, but Florida and Alaska are quite similar are they? Red Necks in Minnesota really gel with New York metropolitans, do they? So that's not it. It is of course, as ever the fear of a powerful Germany. The perma-bind of British thinking that finds it impossible to get beyond the mindset of the Yalta conference.

Few memories are more off-putting than a hysterical Margaret Thatcher screeching "No, no, no". Even the unspeakable Ian Paisley had more dignity with his infamous "Ulster says no"slogan.

But why always say "No" to everything which doesn't automatically translate into some grubby "And now we're quids in" thinking? Britain's attitude to the Euro is unfortunately typical of its general world-view. Like suspicious peasants who hate anything that smacks of idealism and has an intellectual underpinning, they nevertheless would like to go on a profiteering spree. When it looked as if the uniquely strange British housing market - with its hyper-inflated prices for something objectively worthless - could be extended into the Eurozone, Brits were not above to doing a few deals. Busloads of wannabe-Euro landlords turned up in far-flung countries like Bulgaria, gobbling up off-plan housing that never materialized. British pensioners flocked to bungalows in Spain, hoping to make a killing via the Euro. A very British way to participate at the wrong end of something which is outside their grasp.

So the Euro is going through a difficult patch? So maybe it could have been forseen that Greece and Ireland didn't have the economic muscle of Germany and France? Big deal. Big intellectual insight. The Euro - being a common European currency is the first step towards a united, peaceful, and non-antagonistic Europe. A Europe without squabbling, internecine warfare, and tribalism - all of which are not just wrecking Britain atmospherically, but are also responsible for its abysmal economic performance. Saying "No" to everything is easy, but it is neither attractive, nor admirable. It's just sad.


  1. Perhaps you should think before waving the German flag as a sign of support for the Euro - there's plenty of information that Germany plans a motion to return to the Deutschmark in light of the Euro's instability.

    At least that will be one more thing Germany and Britain have in common.

  2. Hmm, now, no-one's more pro-Europe than I am but I think you place a little too much faith in your fellow Europeans - at the Brits' expense. I've argued until I'm blue in the face against the U.K.'s reticence to join the euro but this "difficult patch" will cost European governments and the IMF 750 BILLION EUROS to solve. So far, the member state governments are all pitching in and pulling together - but for how long? Here's an op-ed from yesterday's Le Monde - admittedly by a right-wing politician - saying we need to scrap the euro to save Europe. http://ow.ly/1PuXc When times are hard, as they are now, it's quite difficult to persuade a voter in a country where unemployment is currently running at about 10% (France) that they should pay to prop up a government (Greece) that cooked the books to get a bit of euro action. I'd like to believe in your vision of a united eurozone (even the French call it l'eurozone, although la zone has very negative connotations in French) but I'm afraid at some point, France and Germany are going to get very tired of bailing out southern Europe, and the differing interests of the various sovereign states will prevail. I hope I'm wrong.

  3. Thanks for this very measured and informed comment, rhino75! I, too, share your concerns - and it would be foolish to argue against the arguments you so eloquently present. It's just that I sometimes get very tired of "I could've told you so" attitude which is so prevalent in Britain. Yes, it is a bad time for the Euro, yes it may all go pear-shaped, yes it probably will... But I think it's worth pointing out that it was an effort to create a more united, open, and equal nation-state based on neigbourly friendship. Maybe that dream was always futile.

  4. I know, and I totally understand where you're coming from. I spend a lot of time, particularly with U.K. family, trying to a) add some balance to their view of Europe and b) show them that they have a lot more in common with their neighbours than they do with the U.S. We've just got to keep spreading the message!!

  5. Before I continue I think it is in the interest of fairness that I make a couple of things clear: firstly, that I have no real grasp on Eurozone (I hate the term, too, but for now I will go with it) economic policy and, secondly, that I have no long-term experience of living within it.

    I share your ideal, Margit, of a "united, peaceful, and non-antagonistic Europe", of a Europe "without squabbling, internecine warfare, and tribalism" but I have to reconcile my idealism with skeptical thinking and, as of yet, I am unconvinced (I am very much open, and hoping, to be challenged here) that the evidence is there to suggest that England (or Europe, more importantly) would be a better place if we were to exchange the pound for the euro.

    Any discussions involving England adopting the single currency have now to take place under very different terms and, from the outside, England would be foolish not to use any discussions to push an agenda of a union with very strict civic attachments. You rightly mention that the euro is a necessary first step (and I am fully aware of the fact that I would probably be making this argument regardless of what the first step had been), but I don't think the idealism can, pragmatically, be fully reconciled by a Europe that is hamstrung by the individualism that betrays its' youth (relative to the USA) and disastrous global circumstance.

    Regardless of anti-nationalist sentiment, I think it is proper to ask if it is prudent to join up with the Eurozone without any strong civic regulatory framework in areas including, but by no means limited to, common taxation, public sector terms, pensions, health care etc. A fully united Europe in this context would have to manifestly alter its' lexicon and ditch words like 'state' as any form of individualism would have to be shelved, in the short term at least, in favour of common civic policy.

    In my view this is exactly where the ideal collapses. I have to declare that I am entirely ignorant of the terms under which a euro-bound state is obliged to accept, but I do not think it is the responsibility for one nation to fund the grotesque excess of others (which is an argument for civic unity, not Daily Mail/Bild hysteria). Although it somewhat goes against the European ideal, Angela Merkel was wrong, in my view, to pass on the responsibility of Greek cynicism to her citizens. Common public policy should be a must for England to join what appears on the outside as a loose ensemble in which members can can realistically do what the heck they want in the national interest while asking its' colleagues to pick up the tab when it goes wrong. While I lack the economic expertise to justifiably argue that common public policy would have at least cushioned some of the damage, I certainly do feel that it would do a lot more to contain public unrest.

    I strongly believe that England should join the Eurozone but the case has to be made not on cultural, but pragmatic terms. Rightly or wrongly, that is how to attack nationalist sentiment and until there is strong evidence that it is going to work where everybody (not just Germany and France) take their fair share of the economic kicking, the majority of English voters just won't go for it.

  6. Uli, firstly, thanks for your extremely considered and well thought through reply....makes my own piece feel a "wee" rant-like...ähmmmm....To your point on pragmatism versus a civic-cum-cultural stance on pro-Europeanism: I feel that it is precisely in the area of civic values ( or policy) as you put it that the UK would have the most to gain from consensual societies such as Germany of France. Think of Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris, or the Palmengarten in Frankfurt, positive oases of calm and tranquillity, innocence even. How far is this from the fractured picture of a Friday night Britain? I feel that the antagonism that is inherent in the anti-European current flowing through the UK is something that would disappear if notional symbols of national pride, such as the currency, would disappear. My views....feel free to disagree!

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  8. Oh, I wholeheartedly agree.

    I did not wish to infer that England should join with, say, Germany and France on the condition that they should adopt our values, far from it (you have undoubtedly picked up how I feel about connecting the words 'English' with 'values'). Furthermore, I don't think I made it very clear that I would gladly put forward the pound (as well as other notional symbols of national pride - such an ugly term) in exchange for complete integration with the European Union.

    I think it is important, however, to be aware of the who it is that needs to be convinced. In recognition of what is a massive constitutional stride for England to take, there has to be sufficient evidence put forward that the country is entering a fairly regulated union and not taken for a ride (although I can't see for what gain somebody would take England for a ride right now).

    I don't think that dropping currencies (the significance of which I am fully aware) is enough to build a stable, prosperous union. National constitutions, in my view, have to take significant hits to pull together so that nobody is seen to be getting presented with the bill for something that they are not themselves entitled to. I don't think that is fair, nor do I think that it is in the spirit of the union.

  9. I agree it definitely has to be about more than just having a joint currency. And maybe that wasn't even the best way to start... And now, that it is quite clear that the currency thing may sink the whole idealistic shebang, it is time to look at other cohesion-introducing measures!

  10. British policy will, regrettably, be written using the "told you so" lexicon, therefore anybody that is in a position to present a 'yes' proposal is not only handicapped by the nationalist attitude of the hoi polloi (and, more importantly, its' media advisers trying their hardest to roughen the edges of any kind of social integration), but also the fact that the troubles that the Euro is facing as a symbol of incapability rather than a more pragmatic look at the potential of the relatively youthful Eurozone.

    It brings me great sadness and embarrassment to say that I cannot ever see the day in which the English will loosen their nostalgic grip on Britain's place in the world and accept the fact that nobody else actually cares as much about England as they desperately believe (believe is the only word that we can use here) that they do. I genuinely do hope to be proven wrong, but I just cannot see it...

  11. I think if the EU worked more like the USA than the former USSR, the British would be happier with it.

    (Just a random thought from someone who is Latvian and British.)

  12. Margit may find your comment measured and informed Rhino 75, but as a European (and pro-EU) person, a British person and an English person, I personally found it to be patronising and offensive.

    I'm not for one minute pretending Britain is perfect but these comments appear to have taken on a 'Brit-bashing' theme (or does Ulrike think all British people are English?) with no allowance for the fact that there are people in Britain who agree with your views on Europe. There is a complete lack of balance in the views expressed and I can only think that if a Euro sceptic were to read this, they would have their fears confirmed meaning, Rhino 75, that you have unfortunately failed in your quest to 'spread the word.'