Hell, this would have been an unpopular view at most stages in the last decade and a half, even when it looked like the eurozone was doing well. So it’s a brave British politician indeed to make the argument that Britain should have joined the euro – this week of all weeks… Hats off to London Labour MEP Mary Honeyball for having the guts to say it (emphasis mine – and emphasised because those are the bits I agree with):
“Although it’s by no means all set to go, it does look as if the 17 Eurozone countries are coming closer together and accepting the need for a central Eurozone authority look at budgets and fiscal policies.
“Britain as ever is not part of what promises to be the most important European project since the formation of the Common Market. Unfortunately 50 years or so later, we still don’t get it. Europe is where the future lies. If Britain has any hope of being more than a bit player outside our own shores, we have to be a leader in the European Union. Today that means being up there with France and Germany in the Euro. Very unfortunately we did not join, and this blog post explains just how serious a missed opportunity this will turn out to be.
“To add salt to the wounds, if Britain had joined the Euro, there is little doubt we would have been at the top table with France and Germany. Yes, we would have suffered from the current crisis in the Eurozone countries, but thanks to dogmatic Tory Chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister Cameron we are suffering a double dip recession anyway, even outside the single currency. The Euro was always a political as well as an economic project and the UK has comprehensively failed to grasp the political opportunity.“
As it stands, Britain is again on the sidelines, watching nervously as a whole bunch of its major trading partners hover on the brink with no power to influence them.
I’m certainly not as confident as Ms Honeyball that history will show Britain’s decision to stay outside to have been a mistake (I’ve never been fully convinced of the arguments in favour of joining – though I tend to like the basic *concept* of an EU single currency, I was never convinced that the euro was being set up sensibly). But the counterfactuals thrown up by the idea of Britain having joined the euro from day one are frascinating. Would the sloppy rules and lack of sensible structures have been allowed through if the more cautious Britain had been part of the discussions? Would the presence of another major economy in the eurozone mix have lent greater strength to the whole? Would the presence of the UK have helped prevent German dominance? Would the UK’s apparent preference for quantitative easing to tackle downturns have pushed the ECB into printing money? Or would it just have meant that Britain was even more economically screwed than she has ended up on the outside?