As Britain takes on the Presidency of Europe for the next six months this country should take little pleasure at the public bickering and thorough mess that Europe’s politicians are making of the current impasse over Britain’s rebate and the failure to modernise the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
I have long been arguing that Europe’s inward-looking attitudes are weakening its potential progress. China, India and many other nations worldwide are becoming economic powerhouses because they have recognised the need to operate on a global scale. The French and German co-axis has led to a protectionist economic policy for Europe which their leading politicians still wish to continue. It has led to deterioration in their national economies and, despite the success of the enlargement of the European Union, will lead to stagnation throughout the continent. Meanwhile China and India with 2.5 billion citizens between them are advancing rapidly into the service industry sector with an educated, motivated and fiercely hard-working population.
Strong economic conditions in mainland Europe are good for the UK’s business activity but the relative strength of Britain at the moment has been greatly aided by our decision not to join the European Monetary Union and to stay aloof from any idea of a United States of Europe.
Listening for many years to supporters of the Euro being adopted in this country, I was constantly amazed at how they saw no value in Britain being able to operate independently in the global market which has been growing far more substantially than trade within the Eurozone.
Britain’s rebate is a sideshow. The French attitude on the CAP is not. Just ask poverty stricken farmers in Africa unable to get a foothold in European markets for their agricultural products. The European Union has become woefully uncompetitive on the global stage. The free market economy continues to lose out to the social market model of the European Union and we are all the poorer for it.
As Britain takes on its Presidency there is much talk about the immediate crisis in all parts of the European Union but no one seems to be talking about what we are heading for in twenty years time. That is the timescale that should be addressed.
During the last fifty years the European project has kept itself together. The system still contains Commission; Council; Parliament and Courts of Justice. But what has happened is that the system has lost contact with its people. The unelected bureaucrats of Brussels have shown a complete disregard for all its residents and the recent losses of referenda in the Netherlands and France has come as a major shock to them – one can almost hear the politicians saying – how dare the population act like that – after all we have done for them!
Yet the truth is that change is crucial to maintain the vitality of the European free trade dream. We all have to live with the modern capabilities of movement and technology in the world. The ever-vibrant and innovative United States of America has become the major economic power in the world over the past century by opening up its commercial world to market forces. As life has got tougher in Europe so some of Europe’s leaders have embraced command economic principles and have watched the finances of their countries wither.
The Common Agricultural Policy is of major importance because its reform will be a signal to all of Europe, both its current 25 members but also those others wishing to join, that the EU is a not a free ride to prosperity. Our rebate is only relevant because we are bounding forward economically. Once again it is a victory, however pyrrhic, for the politics of envy. For once, such envy is being heaped upon a Labour government, itself prone to formulating domestic policies with resentment as their cornerstone.