There is something vaguely disturbing watching a Brussels European Onion summit from afar; especially when the topic is how to waste even more of my money. Watching a few with an awful lot of money in offshore tax havens (the Euro-Aristocracy) instructing a few others on huge tax-free salaries (the Onionistas of the European Omission) how to spend my money leads me to paraphrase Oscar Wilde; it is the unspeakable in pursuit of the too-taxable to save the hides of the responsible.
Der Plan to save the Euro, well-intentioned and necessary as it is, effectively re-orders the political map of Europe and confirms once and for all who really calls the shots; Berlin. London? Nowhere, as usual.
I am writing this missive beneath the eaves of Cervantes’s home on a sun-draped street in central Spain with Chancellor Merkel now cast in the role of Don Quixote and trying-to-be-re-elected President Sarkozy as her faithful squire Sancho Panza. In fact, Der Plan is a stroke of German genius; the Euro-Aristocracy will get the banks to bear much of the cost of the Greek tragedy whilst simultaneously using my money to save the banks. Those who have been calling for decisive leadership have now got it – German leadership. Come next week the Onion will be under new management – German management.
Here in Alcala one sees the real human cost of this crisis on the proud, honourable and decent people of Spain who have come so far since they rid themselves of Western Europe’s last tin-pot dictator Franco back in 1975. Der Plan will leave the heirs of Philip II with little alternative but to abandon principle and accept what they are given – orders. They are too deep in debt to do otherwise and the soon-to-be new government will be forced to take the cheapest option on offer. It is a sign of things to come
Der Plan, I am told, will also contain the German joke. The powers of the European Omission will be extended to ensure proper management of national budgets. I told you it was a good one. Physician, heal thyself, I hear you utter in despair. It is like putting an arsonist in charge of the Pentagon. Oh sorry, we tried that. Not that Germany…and, er, France. has any alternative and neither Berlin…nor, er, Paris see this as a power grab. It is leadership that has been thrust upon them, but such is life. Nor will said leadership come cheap…either for Germans or the rest of us in the Onion-zone.
Der Plan could also prove a tad tricky for the British, particularly if London ever again wakes up (unlikely) and realizes that just because some woman from Lancashire is in ‘charge’ of EU foreign policy Britain does not control Europe. British PR-Meister David Cameron, has promised the British people a referendum if there are treaty changes pursuant to this stitch-up, er, sorry, Plan. Concerned about a vote in Parliament he even got arch anti-Onion William Hague to suggest that the British Parliament might be a ‘distraction’ for the PR-Meister at this time. Don’t you just love the Euro-Aristocracy?
Many commentators, including your faithful blogonaut, have characterized the choices facing the Eurozone as state up or break up. To Brussels or to de-Brussels; that has been the question. In fact there is a Third Way (oh no, not another one!) hybrid integration, which is the second German joke. It goes something like this. Germany will lead the way towards much deeper and intense political and economic co-operation between the larger member-states of the Euro-Onion-Zone, supported by Sancho Panza, er sorry, France. If they can get away with it the little onions outside will be offered ‘guarantees’ about future access to Berlin, sorry, Brussels. However, in return they will also agree to pay to fix the Euro, although every effort will be made to avoid telling their taxpayers. Quietly, the European Omission will be invited to push towards deeper fiscal onion with a particular emphasis on using the crisis to promote political integration via the smaller European states (they are all broke anyway).
PR-Meister Cameron might thus be induced to go along with the second German joke and present it to the British as a ‘technical’ adjustment of little import to the British thus, of course, not requiring a referendum. The British people might after all get the referendum answer wrong; just like their Danish, French, Dutch and Irish confreres before them. It will be of such little import to the British that a series of other minor ‘adjustments’ will follow soon thereafter. The Omission, freed to bring more power unto itself, will issue a whole array of entangling Directives of financial regulation mainly aimed at the City of London. This will strengthen Frankfurt at the expense of City and eventually break the all-important link between the City and Wall Street. A special relationship will be established between Germany and the European Omission that will then lock German leadership into the Onion. That cannot be good for Britain, nor Paris, as the latter soon finds itself replaced as Sancho Panza by the Omission, nor indeed for Berlin.
In fact, I have no particular problem with the leadership of Europe of a modern, democratic Germany. It is a fact of power life. However, what is at stake in Brussels concerns the checks and balances that need to be in place to ensure sound leadership. Britain’s effective absence from influence over this crisis is leading inevitably to a re-ordering of state and institutional power in Europe that is not in Britain’s or in anyone else’s interest.
Palmerston’s first dictum of British foreign policy was simple – London must do whatever necessary to prevent a dominant power on the Continent of Europe. It is time the British remembered that – crisis or no crisis.
But do not despair. There is always the European Parliament there to prevent any abuse of power. Baarf! Baarf!
Perhaps I should be quoting Goethe!
Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast. Photo credit: Getty Images.