Say that again - you love Europe, but you want nothing to do with it

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The Independent Culture
TWO UNSOLICITED missives dropped through the door yesterday. One was cheaply produced and the other was glossy. The cheap one was from a body called the East Hampstead Association, and sought my support for their campaign against local traffic calming measures. As far as I can see, these experimental measures, by closing off several rat-runs, will significantly reduce fast traffic flow close to three junior schools, and make the streets around us considerably safer, particularly for children and particularly during the rush-hour.

But this was not the issue that the East Hampstead Association (of which I had never heard) was concerned with. Its salmon-coloured leaflet asked me: "Do you really want to have these very restrictive changes to our environment imposed 24 hours a day to counter commuter traffic from 8.30am to 9.30am and from 5pm to 6pm?" Yes, I replied. If it means my children are less likely to be knocked over by a double-glazing salesman from St Albans, I do.

Ah, the EHA averred, but did I know that several (named) roads would "become major thoroughfares" under the scheme? I looked at the map, and decided that they wouldn't. But why, then, was the EHA so keen on rejecting the plan? There is one road (with not many people living on it) that will definitely suffer from increased traffic under the plan. And it is from the residents' association of just this one road that the EHA seems to have metamorphosed.

The glossy mail-drop came from an organisation calling itself NewEurope, and was adorned with little yellow eurostars. Its advisory council includes such moderates as Lord Healey, Lord Prior, Lord Owen and Mary Ann Sieghart of The Times.

(The Times was, of course, the newspaper that counselled readers in 1997 to vote for the most Eurosceptic candidate; arguably the least successful bit of canvassing since Vanessa Redgrave went on the stump for the Workers Revolutionary Party back in the Seventies).

Essentially, NewEurope proclaims itself as being a group of Eurolovers who just aren't into single currencies. In that sense they wish us to understand that they have nothing to do with Mad Mags or barmy Bill Cash. But they think we should wait before we adopt the euro. Or they think we should never adopt it. Or they think that the euro should be abolished. Frankly, I can't tell which one of these they believe in, but whichever it is, it still means "no" in anyone's language.

First, it'll be bad for us, economically. Our "flexibility will be thrown away". Our "low costs of labour" (due to our minimal provision of work benefits) would be compromised. And we might have to raise taxes (like the Germans) to pay for the introduction of benefits. Actually, I had thought that this was what Healey had spent his entire career trying to achieve, but I was obviously wrong.

This week, of course, Mr Blair has been in Milan trying to persuade his European socialist partners (or attempting to reassure British business) about the need for labour market flexibility a l'Americaine. But even if he failed, the transmission system that imports their "inflexibility" into our miraculous workplaces isn't at all clear to me.

But NewEurope has many more arrows in its quiver. There is the danger of inflation as we seek to reduce our interest rates to European levels and "paradoxically" there is a simultaneous danger of higher interest rates. The pound is, of course, too strong (making us less competitive), but the euro is too weak (making them less stable). Oh, and remember that stuff they said just now about inflation? Well, Europe is too worried by that.

"The problem," says NewEurope, "may not be inflation but deflation. Not boom but slump." Even such contradictory economic dangers are as of nothing set against the "political dangers of instability and of insurrection".

Insurrection? Yep.

"Would the Spaniards," asks NewEurope, "acquiesce in higher unemployment levels as a result of policies pursued miles away in Berlin?"

The Spaniards were presumably chosen by the pamphleteers for their natural excitability, but even so the history of the EU and of the IMF seems to suggest that the answer is "yes". The Spaniards seem to think so anyway. And this is the great conundrum. How come all these other countries are so blind to the insurrectionary, economically catastrophic consequences of a single currency? Why will the others (including the passionate Dons) accept a loss of sovereignty?

Because: "One government for the whole of Euroland is an understandable and legitimate goal given their history," asserts NewEurope, "but Britain has a different history."

Germany has the same history as Spain and Ireland, whereas ours is more like, say, Sweden's? What idiocy. Now name me a European war involving France and Germany since 1871 that we have not also been drawn into (though some Tories tried their best in 1938, I seem to recall). Our history, in fact, shows that we are in this together.

But NewEurope is not done yet. It now deploys the Scottish gambit. We are going through a constitutional change, and membership of EMU would, it says, "open many new arguments: separatists in Scotland will claim that independence becomes far easier once they are within the single European currency zone."

This is a bizarre and rather anti-democratic argument. We should, apparently, stay out of the euro lest the stupid Scottish people decide to vote for the SNP as a consequence. And here's another paradox: on the one hand we are told that all identity is lost within Euroland, and on the other that it dangerously enhances confidence in national self-determination on the part of small countries.

And finally: "Our capacity for military action would be different if we were in the euro currency." Because: "Any economic sanction we incurred as a result of independent foreign and defence decisions would impact on others in Euroland." More than it does already? What twaddle!

And it is, for all the yellow stars, essentially the same twaddle, modified by history, that has been deployed against close relations with Europe, so disastrously, from the start of the EEC. But no island is an island. This is a big, dangerous interdependent world, in which speculation can ruin an economy almost overnight.

Even NewEurope admits that "a large single currency zone could bring advantages to its participants provided that over a period of decades, individual economies can remain in stable relationship with each other." Well, good, let's help build that relationship then.

But we'll have to do it over the protests of the frightened, conservative people who have wielded power in the old world, and don't want it changed. Neweurope indeed. East Hampstead Association indeed. They take us for fools.

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