Adrian Hamilton: Our policy towards Europe? Do we have one?

World View

Share

As David Cameron, attends yet another EU summit telling everyone else what their policy should be, perhaps this is the time that someone retorts, "Fine, but what are you offering?" Good question. Just what is our policy now towards Europe? The answer is that we have none.

Think of it. We are in the midst of a crisis affecting our most important trading partners and nearest allies. The Prime Minister and his Chancellor believe, and keep telling us, that our future depends on a resolution of the euro's future. The City of London is deeply worried as we seem to be becoming progressively isolated from the Continent. Our manufacturers, those who are left, say they cannot invest because they cannot forecast the market. The Governor of the Bank of England, charged with the health of the financial sector, throws up his arms in despair because he says he cannot tell what is going to happen.

Worse, through casualness as much as deliberate policy, we now find ourselves without allies or even sympathisers in Europe. Mr Cameron has managed to put the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, against him for leaving the centre right grouping in the European Parliament and proving so unhelpful on her treasured Fiscal Pact. He has offended the new French President by snubbing him when he came to London on his election campaign, put off the Latin countries by dismissing them as spendthrift and disenchanted the new members from Eastern and Central Europe by taking no interest in them.

At a personal level he has no friends. At a political level he has no supporters. And to cap it all, there is a Labour Opposition terrified of sticking its head above the parapet with an alternative policy because, just like the Government, it lives in fear of opinion polls showing a deep public distrust of Europe, while the Conservatives' coalition allies, the Lib Dems, seem equally nervous of making this, their most fundamental commitment, into a policy priority. It's no good telling Europe to get its act together while we not only haven't got ours together, but don't even seem to have an idea of which act we should be playing.

That is our disgrace. Our good fortune is that the eurozone members have just managed to totter on without falling apart. We may berate them for irresolution, but we can be thankful that they haven't managed to come up with a decisive plan which would almost certainly leave us isolated and most likely would contain much that was inimical to our interests.

The latest summit won't be the moment this happens. But it may well be the moment it starts to happen. The duty of any British government, europhile or eurosceptic, is to work out the direction of European policy-making and see how we can best further our own interests in the evolving situation. We have no cards. Cameron has seen to that. But we do have opportunities.

One is in the field of banking integration. In the face of determined opposition from Germany to any mutualisation of sovereign debt, the area of common deposit guarantees and direct purchase of bank debt is being seen more and more as the best route towards a more immediate solution to the eurozone crisis. The British government has so far set its face against joining any such common banking regulation and support. But, interestingly, the City of London seems far less worried by the objections which stopped the government joining Ms Merkel's fiscal pact.

Given the scandals of Barclays and the technical chaos of RBS, we are in no position to lecture the rest of Europe on the virtues of Anglo-Saxon finance. But, equally well, the popular hatred of the banks would make it far easier for London to join in a Europe-wide endeavour of tighter regulation, and even a banking levy. The City of London needs the eurozone as the backyard to its front as a global centre. Now is its chance to show what it has to offer in return.

At the same time, Britain could also play a role in the gathering debate between France and Germany on political as well as fiscal integration. France may be centrist, but it loves not Brussels. Germany may be federalist, but it arouses too many latent fears amongst its neighbours (a factor only exacerbated by Chancellor Merkel's total lack of sensitivity in dealing with fellow eurozone members) ever to be able to push a federalist solution on others.

Mr Cameron keeps promoting the idea of closer integration as the answer to the eurozone's woes, but all Britain's interests must be in the development of a looser confederal Europe. President Hollande's election gives us the chance of promoting it.

Last but not least is the question of democratic accountability. The trouble with Germany's push for integration is that it lacks it. The UK, for all its apparent willingness to tear up the constitution to create a Second Chamber without a referendum, does stand for democratic scrutiny and legitimacy. On that we have plenty of potential allies, from Northern Europe as much as South. All we need to do is to show that we care and get in there and take part.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fund, London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fu...

Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Multicast, Low Latency

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Mul...

Network Infrastructure Engineer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Infrastructure Engineer (...

Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Multicast)

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Mult...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition