By Peter Wilding
Yesterday in Reims Cathedral Angela Merkel and François Hollande met on the 50th anniversary of their countries’ reconciliation, kissing each other as Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer did in 1962. “Our friendship inspires Europe. We don’t want to teach others a lesson. We simply mean to lead by example,” said Mr Hollande. But while he defended solidarity, Merkel called for unity. Ms Merkel said that “We must complete economic and monetary union at a political level. It is a Herculean task, but Europe is capable of it”.
Not according to Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, who in an interview with Deutschlandfunk, underlines that Europe’s biggest problem is not the euro but the disagreement which prevails among Europe’s leaders, underlining that the EU is not confronted with a North-South divide but an ideological split. In a commentary in La Stampa, Marco Zatterin stresses the gap is widening between Northern and Southern European countries. The International Herald Tribune confirms that Europe’s problem is the lack of public confidence in the European project itself because the achievements for peace that have taken place in the last 60 years are now in danger due to the eurozone crisis. According to ETV, The Guardian columnist and professor of European studies at Oxford Timothy Garton-Ash repeats this demand for leadership by saying that the factors keeping the EU together have worn out and the Bloc needs to quickly find a new unifying idea.
But leadership is not going to happen today at the EU Finance Ministers’ meeting. “However many bail-outs, the eurozone will soon be in the twilight zone,” a Daily Telegraph headline reads. Progress on aid to Spanish banks, the Cypriot request for support, the Greek programme, as well a common supervision system for European banks and the use of funds from the EU’s support mechanism are likely to disappoint because both Finland and the Netherlands may impose their veto on the European Council’s decisions. The Wall Street Journal reports that the finance ministers’ meeting could determine whether the euro slides further this week after hitting a two-year low against the dollar on Friday.
The only real force keeping Europe together now is the fear of what would happen if the eurozone collapsed. In an opinion piece in Le Figaro, Guy Sorman compares the EU to a “fire station: the heads of government meet only to extinguish fires. The very fact that the summits are increasing is a worrying sign that institutions do not work.” Advocating for a new Europe, he says the only existential threat against the European Union is a lack of political ambition.
Because Dave can’t provide European political leadership, cue then a slew of UK headlines ratcheting up the pressure on Dave to hold a referendum. This can’t be confortable as tomorrow the PM has Mr Hollande to lunch at Downing Street. Let’s sort this, once and for all says the The Sun:
“It is time for the Prime Minister to stop running away on Europe. Either he is a brave and principled national leader or he is a man of straw who does not deserve to win the next election. The issue of Britain’s relationship with Brussels won’t go away however much Cameron wishes it would. It MUST be settled. This dithering cannot continue. The Sun’s readers know that. The Tory Party knows that. The whole nation knows that. So today, The Sun calls on Cameron to give Britain a referendum on Europe to decide once and for all whether we stay in or get out.”
Grist to The Sun’s mill is added from the Daily Mail – Tory MPs urge Cameron to seize back EU’s powers over justice and workers’ rights – which reports the Tory Fresh Start groups’ demands getting Britain out of European rules on working time and the EU arrest warrant. Also, the Daily Telegraph, reports Francois Hollande ‘to ditch EU budget ceiling’ in move that will cost Britain £3bn that Britain faces tax increases or spending cuts of £3bn as Francois Hollande prepares to ditch the EU budget ceiling freeze.
But all this, as Tomas Borges said unflatteringly but poignantly of the Falklands War, is ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’. As Bill Emmott points out today in The Times, talking of taking back sovereignty:
The point is that a crucial part of British policy since 1945 has been that of setting up, and joining, international organisations to agree upon common rules for various activities, to foster co-operation rather than conflict, to increase collective security, or to promote freer trade. All of them involve the pooling of sovereignty in exchange for an expected benefit — rather as the FA joined Fifa to play in international tournaments and to all follow the same rules of football. We could be independent and set our own rules. But it wouldn’t get us very far.
For a market to work, he pointed out two centuries ago, it requires common, widely accepted rules, and a means of enforcement of those rules. You could make the rules just the rather basic ones of a free trade area, limiting the use of tariffs or obvious non-tariff barriers, but leaving businesses to have to abide by separate regulations in each national system in the area in order to sell in each country.
The point is made all the clearer in the Sunday Telegraph; Is Norway’s EU example really an option for Britain? The question is posed because Norway’s relationship with Brussels – it is a member of the European Economic Area, but not the EU – is seen by some Eurosceptics as the perfect model.
“We are the most obedient of EU members, rapidly implementing directives to the letter, yet we have no say in them,” said Marit Warncke, who heads Bergen’s chamber of commerce. “We are sitting outside in the corridors, instead of being at the decision table.” Nor is membership of the EEA without costs, she points out. Through it, Norway contributes €340 million a year to the EU – despite neither being a member, nor having any voting rights. “But we need to be more engaged in Europe for our own good – and Britain should not even consider leaving.
“None of us can just sit here alone and eat fish.”
Which is a pretty good way of posing the existential question that the Brits will eventually have to answer sooner or later.
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