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6:20pm on Saturday, 10th December, 2011:

Where We're Headed


I remember when the Maastricht Treaty was signed back in 1992, I discussed what it meant with my wife.

We figured:

  1. The Exchange Rate Mechanism would fail, because floating currencies are subject to attack by speculators. Individual currencies would have to lock together in a single currency (monetary union) to fix this.
  2. The monetary union would fail, because European countries have different spending commitments and different economies. A one-size-fits-all interest rate couldn't work. Countries would have to make sure they all followed the same economic policies (fiscal union).
  3. Fiscal union would fail, because different countries have different political priorities. A left-wing government and a right-wing government have different ideas of how much they should tax/borrow and how to spend that income. With national governments pulling in different directions at the same time, the rules governing the fiscal union would be unable to cope. Only political union would overcome this, to make every country head in the same direction.
  4. Political union would fail, because Europe is too fragmented culturally. In the USA, if there are no jobs in one state then people can move to another state looking for work. In Europe, language is a great barrier. If you only speak Danish and English, or French and Spanish, that makes inter-state movement a much bigger problem. To fix this, everyone would have to learn a common language and nations would have to integrate culturally with other nations (cultural union).
  5. Cultural union could eventually succeed, but it would be a long, hard journey. Many people in Scotland are still not happy at being part of the UK even after several hundred years of mutual integration. How would they like having to speak French or German or Esperanto at work, watch TV programmes in the same language, receive all official forms in it?

The questions politicians should therefore have been asking back in 1992 (and to be fair, some did ask it) is: do we want our country to become a province of a larger country with an eventual loss of national identity?

The answer, of course, is: it depends. If the larger country is going to be at least as good as and probably better than this one will be by then, yes. Otherwise, no.

So what's the prognosis with regards to the EU? It may be heading towards a prudent German finance model right now, but come political union there's no guarantee that the Germans will remain in charge. If the Eurovision Song Contest is anything to go by, we'll be led by some culturally-defined voting bloc — Nordic or Balkan or Eastern European or anti-German or whatever. Screeches of outrage should the United States of Europe government decide to pass laws that damage German industry so as to increase competitiveness in Southern European would go unheeded. Yes, of course Germany would have a say in how the USE government conducted its affairs, but only as a province, not as a country.

Personally, I don't think the time is right for the European Project to get to stage 4). The constituent countries need more cultural integration first; right now, the populace doesn't want it, and will seethe with resentment when it's nevertheless imposed. Maybe if the politicians left it a hundred years and then tried...

For this reason, I'm actually quite glad that David Cameron wielded his veto yesterday and got off the train to the United States of Europe. I like what the brochure says the final destination will look like, but I don't believe it actually will look like that — not for a considerable time, anyway.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).