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December 16, 2011 / politicsbitesize

The bigger picture

European Union

It is always suggested that at a time of crisis people come together to help one another and society at large. For example, during the Second World War the experience of ‘pulling together’ against a common enemy helped the government of the day to usher in Welfare State reform policies that enabled access to education and health care for all, regardless of social background. Today, however, it seems that people are pulling together against their governments in order to redress the financial imbalances that societies are facing all over the world. The global 99% movement and worldwide trade union strikes in many nations are driving home the notion that if we all stand together then things might just change.

But whilst ‘standing together’ is the way for the ordinary folk on the street, it seems that since the financial crisis of 2008 countries banding together to help one another is far from the reality. On Thursday 8th and Friday 9th December 2011 a European Summit was called by heads of state in order that they might try to work out how to prevent the euro and therefore the European Union from collapsing. It was hoped that all 27 states that form the EU would agree to a treaty which would create economic unity in a crumbling Europe. However, as the request by David Cameron for the City of London to be exempted from European financial surveillance fell flat amongst his European counterparts, it was soon realised that an intergovernmental agreement between the 17 eurozone states was the only way forward. In the end, an accord was struck between them and the other nine EU member states.

The result of the British Prime Minister vetoing the new treaty is that Britain is now isolated from its closest neighbours. It also means that he has forfeited the British ‘seat at the table’ where all of Europe’s biggest financial decisions will be made in the future. Furthermore, his choice not to pull together with those in need during a crisis has resulted in a muted reaction from the markets, which affects the decision by ratings agency Standard and Poor on whether they should downgrade some of the Eurozone countries. And, although Mr Cameron originally agreed that saving the euro was in Britain’s best interests, it now seems that the vetoing of a treaty designed to save the euro is also in Britain’s best interests.

So what is in Britain’s best interests: to be in the euro or not? It is understandable that a country would want to preserve its most lucrative sector of society – even if that sector is in part (a big part) responsible for the crisis in the first place – but at what cost? As Lord David Owen points out:

‘In their defence, Conservatives say the PM was safeguarding the City. Would that he were. But the City depends on business from the EU member states, and pretending that we can ignore their input into the regulation of the City is obsessive and blind.’

By refusing to help the EU with the financial crisis David Cameron has placed Britain in a vulnerable position. What is needed at a time of crisis is solidarity between countries, not vetoes, and this view was borne out by Nick Clegg in a TV interview:

‘The PM and I clearly do not agree on the outcome of the summit … I made it very clear that I think isolation in Europe, when we are one against 26, is potentially a bad thing for jobs, for growth and for the livelihoods of millions of people in this country. What we need to do now is build bridges, re-engage and make sure that the British voice is heard loud and clear in the heart of Europe.’

The call to pull together in times of crisis hasn’t been so loudly issued by a Deputy Prime Minister in a long time – if ever. Ordinary people have made their voices heard and shown their solidarity by joining with the public service strikers at the end of November and continuing the congregation of individuals at the Occupy camps around the globe. Perhaps Cameron should look at their example next time and try to consider the bigger picture rather than just one square mile.

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