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Towards a dual-core Europe


Thursday 22 November 2012

My previous post played devil's advocate to suggest that the current EU summit about its long-term budget is, in effect, over the scraps of a budget that has already been almost entirely decided – and that will change little. And on two levels – of finance and policy – the devil's-advocate position may soon be vindicated, at the end of the summit. But there is, of course, another level: the political.

Consider three headlines from this morning's newspapers: Germany's Die Welt chose “Cameron could decide the future of Europe”; the UK's Guardian wrote “Britain is standing on a ledge, while Europe screams, ‘Don't do it!'” – and France's Le Monde did precisely that, writing “Messieurs Englishmen, stay”.

All of which clearly indicate that this summit could come to be seen as historic, depending on how David Cameron, the UK's prime minister, chooses to play his hand, or misplays his hand. It would be odd to come to a summit with so few millions or billions in play and yet emerge to find that the UK's exit from the EU has been accelerated. But, clearly, many feel that may well happen.

Timothy Garton-Ash in the Guardian does a good job of showing how the relationship between Britain and its EU partners has reached breaking point. And he does a fine job of putting the cat among the pigeons, by suggesting how both sides could abandon their clichés.

So, out go ‘more Europe', a ‘multi-speed Europe', a ‘multi-group', ‘multi-tier' Europe. In comes his notion of a “dual-core” Europe:

“If there were more political imagination on both sides of the Channel, we would work towards a Europe that has not one hard core but at least two. Germany, France and other eurozone countries have to deepen their monetary union, with a banking union and elements of a fiscal – and consequently political – union. For the foreseeable future Britain will not be part of it. It does not follow that the eurozone must be the hard core of everything the EU does. Why should it be?

“The hard core in which Britain should keep a leading role is the EU's foreign and security policy. Here, Germany rather than Britain is the awkward customer. Over the past 20 years Germany has built its own bilateral energy relationship with Russia and its own trade- and investment-driven special relationship with China. Last year Germany sided with China and Russia in refusing to endorse UN backing for the French- and British-led intervention in Libya. Most recently, Berlin vetoed the merger of EADS and BAE, which would have given Europe a global aerospace giant. Who were the bad Europeans there?...

“OK, why not have a division of labour? Why not let Britain take a leading role in a hard core for foreign and security policy, while Germany leads in the economic and monetary one? France would, of course, continue to play a very important part in both. Countries like Poland hope in time to do the same.”

It's worth a read, and it's worth a discussion.

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