David Prosser: If you're going to stiff us, Michel, at least tell us to our faces
Wednesday 10 November 2010
Outlook Policymakers get awfully cross when their will is denied: the indignation of Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, over the decision of Michel Barnier not to appear before him and his colleagues jumps off the page of the open letter he has sent to the European Commissioner for Internal Markets' boss demanding a change of course.
One might sympathise with Mr Barnier. The Treasury Committee's hearings have, in the past, had a tendency to become somewhat confrontational. And some on the committee do seem to regard its hearings as an opportunity for the wider world to hear their views, rather than those of the witnesses before them. The urbane Frenchman possibly had little desire to make the trek to London simply to be shouted at by grand-standing British parliamentarians.
Still, this really will not do. We find it rather too easy in Britain to slip into Europhobia, assuming that those who inhabit the corridors of power in Brussels exist simply to do us down. But concern about the European Union's democratic deficit is quite different to that hysteria. The Commission and its officials are not directly accountable to the citizens of Europe, over whose lives they wield such significant powers.
Mr Barnier's responsibility for regulating the European Union's financial services industry makes him a hugely significant figure for many people in this country. And Britain's financial services sector dwarfs that of any other EU member state so the decisions the Commissioner makes have more resonance here than anywhere else.
There has already been one run-in between Britain and the rest of the EU over the alternative investment management directive, which many in the City believes will damage its competitiveness. The row rumbles interminably on – as ever with the nuances of European legislation, the arguments are heard in private, in the modern-day equivalent of smoke-filled rooms, with the latest state of play emerging into the glare of publicity only occasionally.
Mr Barnier must see why many in Britain are nervous about his term of office as a Commissioner. Many of those fears will prove misplaced. But to refuse this opportunity to put his case – and to be questioned about it – to Britain's elected representatives hardly smacks of a man prepared to listen to the arguments.
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