History has a way of repeating itself. Once again the nations of Europe are about to embark in an unprecedented process of integration, just like they did after the 2nd World War, and once again Britain chooses to remain on the side-lines, unable and unwilling to help shape the structures that are bound to affect its own economic and political fortunes.
The banking crisis that followed the 2007-2008 credit crunch and the sovereign debt crisis that is so intimately connected to it have not just exposed the weaknesses of the eurozone’s monetary union. They have also demonstrated the irreversible nature of the project, the economic and political investment its members have made and their wish to do “whatever it takes” to ensure the continuing success of the single currency.
Perhaps the pace of governance reform, the remedy prescribed to ailing eurozone economies and the way it has been communicated to the markets has not been the best at all times but the Eurozone and the EU has found themselves at a crossroads and all the signs show which direction EU leaders wish to take.
It is not just Ms Merkel’s announcement that she will soon present a blueprint for political union at the EU level. It is the realisation among European and global leaders of the systemic importance of the single currency and the need to couple economic and monetary union with fiscal and political integration.
That includes Britain’s PM Mr Cameron, who has become a cheerleader of the eurozone and the need for it to pool closer together. The reason for that epiphany is not the he suddenly saw the light of pro-Europeanism. Far from it, Mr Cameron remains instinctively anti-European, not out of political conviction but due to the prejudiced rejection of everything that emanates from the EU that is so strongly present in the right-wing, nationalist side of his party.
But Mr Cameron knows very well that the wellbeing of the British banking sector and by extension the survival of the British economy is closely linked with the European banking sector and economy, which British banks and the British economy are so integrated with. So he is calling for Eurozone leaders to do the dirty work for him, while at the same time refusing to put his money where his mouth is, to put it blandly. It’s hard to imagine how such attitude can eve go down well with his European partners, who find themselves being lectured to do something that will also save Britain from economic collapse, while Mr Cameron refuses to contribute to the collective efforts the European economy (Britain included) depends on.
But his self-serving parsimonious attitude aside, Mr Cameron’s decision to keep Britain out of efforts to reform the Eurozone and away of moves for closer European integration means that once again Britain is allowing itself to be left behind, just like it did after the 2nd World War. Britain eventually realised that its interests were better served within the European Economic Community (as it was called then). But it was a bit too late so when it finally came to joining it was unable to influence its shape and institutional structure, something it had to live with since then.
Once again Britain condemns itself to watching from the side-lines the creation of a more politically as well as fiscally and economically integrated European Union, a development that is bound to affect it as much as the current construct does. But Britain will be unable to participate in that new construction and when the inevitable happens and Britain decides to join it, just like it did in the post war years, it will have to live again with and within an organisation it had nothing to do with creating.
Nations that do not learn from their history are bound to relive it.
Chairman, European Movement