Saturday, March 10, 2007


Eurosceptics, most of whom are currently Tories, tend to complain that the current EU is nothing like the EEC that Britain joined in 1972, and they tend to blame Ted Heath for "lying". But of course in a system that worked on unanimity like the EEC, changes only happened because someone instigated the changes and then signed the Treaty that enshrined them, and that someone was Margaret Thatcher.

I am currently reading Margaret Thatcher's autobiography The Downing Street Years, and it turns out that the move towards the Single European Act happened because of a paper she circulated calling for greater political co-operation between the EEC states. She was initially prompted by the circumstances surrounding the Falklands War, where France had been a staunch ally, but other Europeans had wavered, and some like the Irish had been hostile. She felt that if a member of the community was attacked all the others should be in agreement to immediately support them.

Because her paper was a departure from the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, an Inter-Governmental Conference was held to discuss them, and naturally moved to discuss other ways in which co-operation could be extended.

She writes the following interesting passage on page 553 (Chapter 18):

I had one overriding positive goal. This was to create a single Common Market. the Community's internal tarriffs on goods had been abolished by July 1968. At the same time it had become a customs union, which Britian had fully accepted in July 1977. What remained were the so-called 'non-tariff' barriers. These came in a great variety of more or less subtle forms. Different national standards on matters ranging from safety to health, regulations discriminating against foreign products, public procurement policies, delays and overelaborate procedures at customs posts - all these and many others served to frustrate the existence of a real Common Market................. The price which we would have to pay to achieve a Single Market with all its economic benefits, though, was more majority voting in the Community. There was no escape from that, because otherwise particular countries would succumb to domestic pressures and prevent the opening-up of their markets. It also required more power for the European Commission.

The above is perfectly sensible. Thatcher in the mid-80's was a euro-phile. It's only when she went mad in the 90's that anti-europe mania manifested.

When euro-sceptics talk about how we shouldn't have to quote metric measurements on goods along-side the imperial ones, they are trying to reintroduce the "different national standards" that frustrate free trade. Under the current system, a manufacturer can produce in bulk and distribute the goods all over the continent. Under the euro-sceptic version, they would have the increased costs of producing different standards and weights for different countries. Ditto their complaints about common safety and health standards, and their complaints about the Social Chapter.

There is much argument about what the Labour and Tory parties have contributed to Britain. When the definitive book is written about the last 60 years, I believe that Labour's contribution will be seen to be the Welfare State, which provides a safety-net under people, providing education and health-care and eliminating the grim poverty trap that existed in the 1930's and before. New Labour then cracks the conumdrum about how to achieve Atlee's dream of full employment without stimulating inflation (something that was thought impossible to do before 1997 - see Lamont's comments about unemployment being the price worth paying).

The Tory contribution has been to integrate us into Europe and bring the EU and all it's benefits into our lives. Ted Heath skillfully broke down French resistence and got us into the club. And then Thatcher helps change the community and signs the Single European Act, which is a masterpiece of a treaty. John Major brings us Maastricht, which introduces the Social Chapter (and the euro, but this is of less importance to Britain as we have not joined).

The Tories should be as proud of their achievements on Europe as Labour is proud of the Welfare State and full employment. But curiously they are not. Which is a problem for them. Both the Welfare State and Europe are settled policies - the third rail of British life, as any political party that threatens to dismantle either of these policies finds themselves in opposition.

As things stand, only Labour promises to defend both the Welfare State and full-employment, and membership of the EU, including participating in the Social Chapter. The Tories are finally realising that the welfare state is here to stay (at least in their rhetoric - it's not clear that this has been translated into policy). But they still haven't got it regarding Europe. I'm also pretty sure the penny won't have dropped by the next election.


wozza said...

i think i'm a eurosceptic, but because i like things at a small level - every level of government should be as close to the poeple as possible.
It's not a "johnny foreigner" thing - i think local councils should have more power, and regional boards should be very much more powerful than currently for wider priorites.

I don't like the idea of the Euro, i think we should keep hold of our own currency, there are chronic issues with micro managing economies on that scale - look at Americas Rustbelt as opposed to New England etc. We can barely manage in Britain to keep things in check.

But, sadly, i think the Euro is inevitable in Britain unless Europe falls much further than it is already, the only question is wehn. Many Japanesses firms have made current and prolonged investment provisional on the basis we join the Euro.
It might be better for Britain in the long term to join (now it's a reality) but i think digging ourselves out of the next large bust when it comes is going to be far more difficult without access to our own interest rate.

I hold these positions as a man of the left, based on my views of local democracy and accountabillity and my opinions on best fiscal policy - if the dynamics changed within the Euro i would be open to reconsidering my opposition in principal - my suspicion of Governance many many times removed will remain though.


snowflake5 said...

Wozza, I don't think there is any chance of us going into the euro while Gordon brown has breath in his body!

Regarding the other points about localism. Localism is a really romantic concept (people being close to the people they elect and so on). But it also leads to a post-code lottery, and introduces inefficiencies. It's easier to find one smart politician who knows how to run things, than 2000 politicians who are of equally smart calibre. Localism will always mean that the majority do badly and a few areas do well, because the majority of politicians arn't that great! There's a reason things got centralised in the first place, and it's because locals complained and demanded it.

Countries like Italy are highly localised - and they arn't faring well in the globalised world at all.

And the reason that things like safety standards got centralised across Europe was because otherwise you got the "different national standards" that inhibit trade. Even issues like global warming are best tackled on a standard model across the EU, rather than on the basis of Britain doing things and no one else doing anything. That kind of "local" effort doesn't achieve anything.