Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Barroso: Shut the hell up

European Commission President Jose Manuel BarrosoIf there’s one thing absolutely guaranteed to put back the European Union cause in the UK, it’s having some unelected Brussels bureaucrat mouth off about how the country is “closer than ever before” to joining the single currency. Especially when you use ill-considered phrases like:

“I know that the majority in Britain are still opposed, but there is a period of consideration under way and the people who matter in Britain are currently thinking about it”

You couldn’t get a more prefect example of the kind of language that the eurosceptics can leap on to show the EU as being anti-democratic. The majority are opposed? Never mind! The mysterious “people who matter” will force it through anyway! It’s a conspiracy!

Christ… When is the Commission finally going to learn to conduct itself in a manner more likely to produce some positive reactions? It’s like French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s idiotic comments ahead of the Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum all over again.

Do they even have any PR people? Do they have any concept how to communicate a positive message? Hell, even the recent launch of a new communications campaign (see the current Parliament Magazine, p.6 – PDF) failed to attract any attention, Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom herself reporting that the event went “almost unnoticed”.*

And even ignoring all that, it’s still far, far too early to say whether Britain would be better able to weather the current economic storm if it were part of the Eurozone. Hell, it’s not as if the Eurozone’s managed to stay clear of recession, is it? It’s not as if there are rising fears of deflation in the Eurozone, coupled with a 7.7% unemployment rate in the region (official UK rate? 5.5%).

Until we see how the Euro and Eurozone copes with this, its first big economic crisis – and especially until we see how it does compared to the pound and other old European currencies – any claims about its stability (or otherwise) are just so much hogwash. Because, let’s face it, if the case for the Euro was already proven then it wouldn’t remain quite so controversial, would it?

So here’s an idea – instead of spouting speculative, cryptic nonsense that’s only going to hurt the cause of European integration by raising yet more suspicions in an already suspicious British public, why doesn’t Barroso just shut the hell up?

Yet another reason to support the Anyone But Barroso campaign.

* I actually think Wallstrom’s done a relatively good job as Communications Commissioner, considering. She’s certainly been making all the right noises on getting the people of Europe involved, was the first Commissioner to launch a blog (and convincing others to do the same), spearheaded the launch of the Debate Europe forum, experimented with EU Tube and has toyed around with all kinds of attempts to raise interest and awareness as part of her post-Constitution Plan D (“for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate”) initiative. That she hasn’t had a huge amount of impact outside the Brussels beltway is, I reckon, more due to entrenched opposition from within the Commission than lack of will on her part. And I’m not just saying that because she says nice things about me, honest.

17 Comments

  1. Well, why not allow everyone his daydreams, even if spoken out loud?

    There are now 15 eurozone member states; 16 from the beginning of next year, with 9 more legally committed to adopt the single currency (although Sweden has acted as if it had no obligation).

    In fact, there are only two member states which have opted out of the euro: Denmark and the United Kingdom.

    The Prime Minister of Denmark has said that he wants to hold referendums to abolish one or more of the four Danish opt-outs (including the euro), since he sees them as detrimental to his country’s interests.

    But as long as the British Government does not initiate negotiations of table proposals to join the euro area, the United Kingdom is free to sink or swim in more or less splendid isolation without outsiders making much of a difference.

    The anti-EU crowd have the right to express their opinions, but they mustn’t be the norm for all public discourse on European issues.

  2. True, but there’s a golden rule of internet forums that should apply just as much to the real world: Don’t feed the trolls.

    Barroso knows that the UK people have yet to be convinced on the Euro and that the UK as a whole leans towards euroscepticism (even while a good majority remain in favour of EU membership), so why say something that’s blatantly going to be interpreted in a negative way? It may well be true that some people in the British government are longing for the Euro, but by saying it all he’s done is given ammunition to the “keep the pound” brigade, which will make his dream all the less likely.

  3. Anyway, with a projected 8% budget deficit for the next couple of years, the UK does not qualify to join the Euro any time soon. (But then again: rules are made to be broken…)

  4. Nosemonkey,

    Your saying sounds very reasonable, but the effect is that you let the trolls dictate your scope for free speech.

    Kosmopolito,

    In some cases the budget deficits can be turned around fairly quickly, if the the bust turns to boom, but presumably even Britain would have to participate in the exchange rate mechanism (ERM II) without devaluation before being allowed to join the euro area.

  5. (perhaps I am a troll here)

    Dont be too hard on Barrosso. His way of thinking is a gulf between the continental politics and the Angloshere politics. There they have the Enarques and a feeling that groups or nations (?) are what matters. Here and in the USA it is more on egalitarian decisions about governance and liberties of the individual.
    It isn`t Barrosso out of kilter with EU thinking. It`s Britain not being suited to this project.

  6. I think this epitomises the whole problem with our membership of the EU! The basic dishonesty that is evident in the suggestion the President of the EU and everyone else for that matter, should take a position that is neither open nor honest in an attempt to keep the EU of the agenda whilst integration is achieved by stealth.

    If the dream is to complete EU Integration, then be open and honest enough to admit that it s the final end point of our membership and prepared to make and win the argument with the public, instead of creating a caricature of EUsceptic arguments in order to excuse the dishonesty as some kind of necessary artefact in order that the greater elitists good? may be achieved.

    I speaks volumes that the dishonest anti democratic sneaky path towards integration is the one that has been chosen by EU integrationalists, who know that they do not represent the wishes of the people of this country, but are prepared nevertheless to ignore the clear wishes of the people of this country and to use any tactic to achieve their own dream of a united Europe.

  7. Ken Adams,

    Wonderful tarnish “stealth”, when Barroso is talking his head off about something the UK government hasn’t even started to enact and couldn’t achieve for many years to come, if ever, even if it found joining the eurozone to be in the interest of the British.

    Nosemonkey seems to have got the discussion he feared (and called for). Theoretical as the discussion would be, is there any meaningful debate anywhere about the relative merits of the euro and the pound?

  8. Yes Barroso is talking about it! that is fine, debate about the merits of the Euro V Pound is fine, but Nosemonkey is telling Barroso to shut up because it is going to hurt the cause of European integration, hence stealth.

    If there is ever a debate about Britain Joining the Euro it will be framed in the area of the benefits of the Euro against the pound, and not as a mechanism for further European integration or a device for transferring more sovereignty to the EU.

    The debate needs to be about Britain’s place in the EU and the desirability of becoming a non sovereign sub-state in a new nation state of Europe, and not about the various devices for achieving that goal whilst denying at the same time the goal exists.

  9. You see, Ken, I sort of agree. But…

    The reason he should shut up is because by opening his stupid mouth he’s actually screwing up his chances of success in his job – not by exposing secret talks and thus some grand integrationist conspiracy (as ALL areas of politics have secret talks about major policy changes, not just when it comes to the EU), but by a) (probably) scaring off the British government from considering this option further, and b) raising the spectre of the “keep the pound” business at a time of severe economic strain.

    If/when the debate over the Euro happens in the UK, it should indeed be over what is best – though not for Britain, as you say, but for the people of Britain. Likewise, when it comes to further EU integration, the needs of the state/country of Britain (or its constituent parts, if the Scottish nationalists get their way and split up the UK) are always, in my view, going to be secondary to the needs of the people of Britain.

    I doubt the vast majority of the British people, several generations down the line (which is the earliest your nightmare superstate has any chance of becoming a reality) would care less about being part of a greater whole as long as they are better off. Just as I, born and bred in the old Saxon kingdom of Sussex, couldn’t care less about being part of the new state of England.

    So yes, we need a debate. But sod the debate over sovereignty. What we need is a debate over what is best for the people. And that debate can not be had until we know the actual merits of the single currency versus the pound – which we still don’t.

    Should Britain be part of the Euro now? No – not yet. The pound has been doing OK – if anything it has been far too strong – and its current drop in value is likely to aid the country during the coming recession. This whole economic situation, in other words, may damage the case of the Euro. And not just in Britain. If the pound and the UK does better than the Euro and the Eurozone over the coming couple of years, other EU countries may also start to worry about the wisdom of chucking all their eggs in one basket.

    Ralf – you see, I don’t think we canhave a meaningful debate about the relative merits of the pound and the Euro yet. Various economists who understand the whole thing have been trying for years, and still there’s no definite theory that proves the case one way or the other. Because there can’t be yet – as a real currency, the Euro’s less than a decade old and is only now facing its first economic crisis. It’s far too early to tell whether it works.

  10. It will be interesting to see how the euro copes with a real recession. Germany is the country to watch, fascinating response in Berlin to the EU’s UK-style economic recovery “stimulus” package last week.
    I am grateful for Barroso for his gaffe because it raises some very interesting questions indeed as to what the hell is going in the mindset of Gordon Brown. Why now?
    Sorry to cross post
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/bruno_waterfield/blog/2008/12/02/desperate_gordon_brown_eyes_the_euro
    The euro is an essentially political project, centrist public spending orthdoxy becomes holy writ, and this is what Markel has been defending with her hostility to Barroso’s spending splurge. Barroso’s comments show how the economic crisis is redrawing the political map – we should be grateful for the insight.

  11. Nosemonkey,

    We dont want to be in the EU because it is bad for Britain, or the people of Britain. Same thing.

  12. As Bruno points out the Euro is essentially a political project, it is designed to aid further integration. The stealth is accomplished by attempting to divorce debate on the Euro or any other subject from the overall picture of EU integration.

    If we do not want to become a region of the EU no longer capable of self determination then we should not be taking centralising intergrationalist steps that will end in that scenario.

    The whole idea behind this method of EU integration is that gradually we become enmeshed politically within the EU structure, so that eventually it becomes extremely difficult to separate our original nation state, which as you point our is also being dissolved internally.

  13. Well alright you wont have a passport for Sussex or Saxonland , but would you care if your British one was replaced by an Albanian one ?

  14. You ask:

    Do they even have any PR people? Do they have any concept how to communicate a positive message?

    The answer is pretty obviously No! In fact, the Barroso quote (and Kirchnre’s, and Juncker’s, et al) shows that a lot of the people at their level are hard pressed to avoid putting their foot right in it. I’d settle for them not changing feet every time they opened their mouth – actually getting them to the point where they can communicate a positive message (say, how the EU adds value in areas as diverse as healthcare and environmental protection) still seems a long way off.

    However, does all of this only apply to handling British sensitivities?

    As for the euro, I’m no economist and remain to be convinced. According to Eberhard Rhein:

    Thanks to the Euro, members of the Euro-zone have been able to weather the international financial crisis much better than those outside the euro-zone. Hungary and UK, not to mention Iceland, have seen their currencies coming under pressure for devaluation, as they lacked the solidity and solidarity of the single currency.

    No Urgency to speed up the expansion of the Euro-zone

  15. Mathew,

    We have to remember that a number of eurozone countries have been hit by the building bubble. Take Spain and Ireland. But it is possible that their situation would have been even worse outside the euro area.

    By shutting up, Barroso would have evaded renewed attacks from people with a doctrinary hatred of both the EU and the euro, but would anything be gained by self-censorship?

    I found it more worrying that Barroso aired his sentiments in a situation where the United Kingdom is moving at high speed away from the convergence criteria it would have to fulfil. Was Barroso oblivious of the state of the British economy or the EU’s rules?

    In addition, Labour has promised a referendum if it finds that Brown’s five criteria are met, and the Conservtives seem uncapable of constructive European engagement, so how and when could a meaningful general debate take place?

    Still, there are economists, columnists and other more or less independent people who can try to look at the merits of different alternatives. For them it is never too early to comment on the situation as it evolves, because there is no firm goal-post indicating when there is enough information.

    Sixteen EU member states have to date found the information earlier available sufficient for their decisions to adopt the euro. Should they have waited too?

  16. I think there is a deeper issue here – the newsworthiness of the EU for EU citizens.

    While the Commissions seeks a larger role in the public’s vision of the EU, the technicalities of the daily work of the Commission hardly lend to the headlines or public interest in EU affairs. Not surprisingly, bad press is the norm in the press of many member states (including France and the UK).

    I’m not an avid fan of President Barroso, but if anyone from Brussels can chip in on the pound/euro debate, it is Barroso. I believe the pound will remain for the next 5-10 years at least and the same challenges facing the pound face the euro as well.