This is not a moment for glee, but it does offer a chance to re-evaluated our relationship with Europe.
As Greek citizens lose their jobs, the German people empty their coffers and all of the European peoples fear an uncertain future, it would be foolish for British eurosceptics to look upon the gathering storms in Europe with glee. Greece’s attempt to defy economic reality will inevitably lead to painful repercussions for her people. Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland to a greater or lesser extent will sail in her wake.
Yet there is nothing more foolish than the European Union seeking to stay the course. This crisis, lucidly foretold by Eurosceptics for decades, is a natural consequence of the Euro. When states are linked by a common currency, yet can differentially rack up debt, a simple free rider problem is created. Greece has gambled on the Euro’s integrity, and now expects Germany to pay for her foolishness. Such a system is intrinsically unfair. Its maintenance through higher taxation, borrowing and the printing of money will only delay the Greek people’s rejuvenation from their fiscal catastrophe.
The president of the European Union Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has, along with others, proposed a more integrated European Union as a solution. This might mitigate the free rider problem, but only at colossal economic cost and only with the corollary of near-complete loss of political sovereignty for Eurozone members.
Any attempt to do this will soon require treaty renegotiation, a fantastic opportunity for Britain. We should recalibrate European Union and British relations along Swiss or Norwegian lines, or better. This would give a valuable precedent for other non-Eurozone states and provide us and the European Union with a more harmonious relationship.
The basis of any such renegotiation should be put to a referendum. The prospect of such a referendum can only strengthen the hand of British negotiators and would insulate the results of renegotiation from future political meddling. The European Union has never been subject to public ballot. The colossal political, financial, legal and moral changes the evolving European Union has brought to Britain have only ever been addressed in the minutiae of manifestos, which have then been quickly disregarded.
A generation ago, Britain did vote in 1975 on the European Economic Community, ostensibly then only a ‘Common Market’. However, the European Union’s engineers have only ever believed in ever closer union. If anything derails the European project, the solution can only ever be more integration. When closer union itself co clearly contributes to the maladies, it is madness to pursue the poison as if it were a cure. Yet this is the stated plan of European Union leaders.
This is a time for Conservatives to be vigilant. David Cameron, through strong leadership, can light a beacon for a Europe of localism and fiscal sanity. The British people wish only for a free trading relationship with Europe. We could secure not only a happier future for the British people, but establish a real alternative for suffering Eurozone states. Britain can forge a new and more prosperous European future, a future which can only be legitimised through a referendum of the British people.