John Stevens: What pro-Europeans of the Right want to hear from the Prime Minister
Pro-Europeans of the Right hope the Prime Minister will answer four questions in his speech tomorrow.
First, why is he ruling out British euro entry forever? What is so un-Conservative about believing that devaluations offer only capital-destroying fools’ gold; encouraging evading — rather than addressing directly — the causes of uncompetitiveness in the economy? That currency movements constitute an effective tariff and that a single money is a most, if not the most, powerful instrument for forcing an ever deeper single market? Or that the Central Bank should be truly independent? Or that there should be rigid limits set on the levels of government borrowing and accumulated debt? That, in short, the disciplines now being applied in the Eurozone periphery mirror the monetarist renewal pioneered (but not completed) here by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and that there is no serious alternative if the Continental economy is going to sustain wealth creation and welfare provision over the long term.
Of course, the Prime Minister might answer both these questions by reiterating what one must presume is his conviction that the euro is still doomed to fail, going down eventually to low growth and political instability. But then we should be clear that he is betting the central elements of both our domestic and our foreign policy on our partners failing in the central elements of their domestic and foreign policies. Is that really a bet worth taking? It is certainly not a bet worth advertising, though our partners and the markets will recognize our strategy for what it is soon enough. Is the UK economy robust enough now to take such strains? Is such really the path to sustained economic recovery, parading our readiness to devalue and our profound hostility to our Continental customers’ most cherished principles and ambitions.
Third, what precisely makes us so different from the Germans, the French, the Dutch the Spanish, the Italians, the Belgians and all the others, that we, alone, cannot abide the terms of membership of the EU, the euro and Schengen and the rest, which they accept? Are our much-vaunted peculiarities of geography, history and culture so decisive? The Pyrenees have been at least as significant a barrier as the Channel. The trauma of lost national greatness has been at least as bitter for La Grande Nation. The strategic dependence of Germany on the United States has been at least as great as ours. The global importance of Rome as the focus of Catholicism surely exceeds that of London as the focus of the Commonwealth. The imperative of avoiding the dominance of either France or Germany and being free to trade internationally has been at least as acute for the Netherlands and Belgium. Would one really say that our dependence on worldwide markets in financial services necessarily constitutes a greater barrier to European solidarity (especially as regards joining the euro) than Germany’s dependence on world-wide markets in machine tools and cars? Is a nation that sees itself best reflected in the NHS really closer to America than to the Continent?
Again, the Prime Minister might say that it is Britain’s unbroken record of democracy and our successful, solitary defence of it in the Second World War which sets us apart. Is that now really enough? Or rather, is that not to deny Our Finest Hour? Then we sacrificed much blood and our global wealth and power, our Empire, in the cause of saving European democracy and, more than that, European civilization. Surely having paid such a price for the pre-conditions of European integration, to turn our back now on the Continent would be a betrayal of our past as well as of our future?
And so to the fourth and most important question: why is the Prime Minister not demanding more European-level democracy? What is so un-Conservative about believing that international democracy is possible? For, think through the consequences of believing that democracy is only possible within the traditional nation-state. The growing alienation of the people from their representative institutions over the last thirty years is the consequence of economics having internationalised (and thus having grown in power) but politics having remained national (and thus having declined in power). A free society demands a proper balance between markets and electorates. Unless democracy can come to operate transnationally, it will die. The real historic importance of the EU is that it is the only extant experiment in international democracy. It clearly has a long way to go, but there is no better country than Britain to lead the way and no better political tradition than that of the Conservatives to set the pace.