Two-speed Europe leaves the UK stuck in the slow lane

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The Independent Online

Amid all the uncertainty about the details of yesterday's eurozone deal one thing is clear: Europe is becoming not just two-speed, but two-tier as well.

The closer fiscal union among eurozone countries, which Germany demands as the price of the bailout, means that in future the EU will effectively be made up of two separate blocs.

Those inside the eurozone will have to integrate their economies and entwine their finances while those outside the zone, like Britain, may have their interests ignored or jeopardised as a result. Under qualified majority voting, the view of the 17 euro nations will always trump those of the 10 "outsiders" who are (like Britain) in the EU but not in the eurozone.

One area where this could happen is in finance. Britain gets far more revenue from the financial services sector than say France or Germany. So far Britain has been able to effectively fight off EU proposals that could damage the international competitiveness of the City of London.

But that may change as the eurozone bloc becomes more united in its own economic interest. Why, for example, should the City be the primary trading locations for the bonds of European sovereigns in the new euro order?

Equally France is pushing for summits to be restricted to euro-area leaders, who would meet to discuss "European economic government" within their inner core. That could result in weaker competition rules or an industrial policy to subsidise "European champions" against UK interest. The real danger from a British perspective is we become marginalised in the new set-up: a member of the EU but not a player. And like last night's deal we may not even be in the room to stop it.