Clever Roger Bootle. The City economist has done it again – picked one of the most vexed subjects of our age, put the boot in, shaken up the pieces and put them back together again with brilliant, albeit radical solutions.
This time Europe is Bootle’s kicking can. From the title of his new book, The Trouble with €urope – Why the EU isn’t working, how it can be reformed, what could take its place, you know exactly from where the kicks are coming. But he takes you through the arguments in one of the most thoughtful accounts that I have yet read about the European question.
What Bootle does so sensitively is set today’s problems into their historical context. Who remembers now that Germany lost seven million people during the Second World War, about 10 per cent of its population? In contrast, about 800,000 French people died, and the British lost 400,000. What these numbers explain is why the Germans have been the most enthusiastic supporters of le grand projet.
For Bootle, the trouble with Europe is the political principle behind the EU; and that, unless changed, this principle will always override democratically elected governments. It’s that this undemocratic institution has emasculated nation states and locked them into the euro straitjacket. One that has made them poorer: over the past 15 years eurozone growth was just 1.5 per cent and the region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Even in Germany it’s the corporations that have become wealthier, not the workers.
Only fundamental reform can change this. The UK must continue pushing, says Bootle, and if changes can’t be achieved to allow different levels of integration and relations between states to be loosened, then we should exit. A Brexit wouldn’t be risk-free, he says, but the UK could prosper outside. He also thinks that the euro could still break up, leaving all sorts of permutations: either Greece, the UK or Germany could leave or there could be a North-South split. He was right about the ERM imploding, so he might be right on this too.
Anyone with half a brain knows that reducing the dialectic about Europe into a For or Against fight-off is plain stupid. If David Cameron wants a grown-up and nuanced spat ahead of next year’s election, then all of Bootle’s print-run should be bought up and given away free to the nation before we go to the polls.