For a Prime Minister and former chancellor not conspicuously distinguished by Europhile tendencies, Gordon Brown has notched up an impressive number of cross-Channel Airmiles in recent months. Yesterday found him lunching with President Sarkozy in a strike-bound Paris, before moving on to Brussels for the European Union spring summit. When this meeting ends today, it may be a little clearer – though probably not much – how far the 27 EU members have managed to coordinate a joint approach to the economic crisis.
The signs so far have not been promising, at least not for the Prime Minister's hopes of finalising an international economic stimulus package in London. The French, and even more so the Germans, have been openly sceptical of such a deal from an early stage. Chancellor Merkel yesterday reiterated her determination to see what effect existing measures would have before committing herself to anything more. M. Sarkozy was believed to have delivered the same message over the Elysée lunch.
While resistant to calls to stimulate the global economy, most European countries appear amenable to a joint regulatory regime for banking and finance – even if, in the first instance, changes might be confined to the EU. As it happened, Lord Turner's proposed overhaul of Britain's financial services brought such joint action a step closer by recommending a pan-European body to coordinate supervision. EU governments also appear willing to sign up to oppose protectionism, though words, deeds and definitions will need close scrutiny.
There is still a fortnight before the London summit. And Mr Brown has a powerful ally for his stimulus plan in President Obama. But he would be wise not to aim too high. When it can agree, the EU – even without Britain – can be a powerful force. With the notable exception on one occasion of Germany's Finance minister, Peer Steinbrueck, the French and Germans have so far refrained from reminding Mr Brown of what has befallen the "Anglo-Saxon model" Britain once tried to foist on them. Britain is in no position to dictate terms; we need our partnership with Europe as rarely before.Reuse content