Letter from Simon Kelner: Further thoughts on the meaning of European life


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Just after eight yesterday morning, prime time for Radio 4's Today, there was a discussion about the financial crisis enveloping Europe.

On one side was Roland Rudd, spokesman for a pro-European business group; on the other, Lord Lawson, a former Chancellor and from the militant wing of the Eurosceptic tendency. Each expounded his respective position with vehemence and articulacy: Mr Rudd explained our dependence on trade with Europe and said that Britain ought to play a leading role in the efforts to get the euro out of the stew, while Lord Lawson said the single currency was a doomed project and Britain should have nothing to do with it. It was classic Today fare, but I don't know where it left us. At this point, I should declare my colours: I am pro-European and believed at the advent of the euro that, providing our criteria for entry were met, we should have willingly waved goodbye to sterling. Not being a renowned economist - as Tony Hancock might have said, I never bothered - my gut feeling was that if Britain was to play a central role in the future of Europe, we had to be part of its biggest single project. I am obviously not so gung-ho about the euro now, although it seems unlikely that our level of exposure to the financial troubles in Ireland, Portugal and Greece could be any worse if we were inside the eurozone. I respect Lord Lawson's principled position but, on hearing his anti-Europe diatribe yesterday morning, was reminded of that great scene in Life of Brian. What's the European union ever done for us? Ensured that the continent won't be ravaged by war again. Yes, well, apart from that? OK, what about greater protection for workers? Or more rights for the individual? Better care of the environment? More power for consumers? Free movement of its citizens? Greater co-operation in law enforcement? The creation of the world's largest internal trading bloc? Oh yes - and then there's pet passports, the ban on animal testing for cosmetics and the single market's role in bringing the continent's best footballers to Britain. I could go on. But I'll never convince those who believe, like Lord Lawson, that the whole European project was flawed from its inception and that Britain is ceding its sovereignty to an institution too fond of regulation, too centrally powerful and too unaccountable to its citizens. There are those who argue we should instead look west to a North Atlantic trading group. But what's America ever done for us?