This week, Boris Johnsn writes about the Greek crisis in the Daily Telegraph. He begins:“I sometimes think we are missing the main point of this Greek crisis. We talk of deadlines and deadlocks and dénouements. We go on about the personalities and politics involved – and yet they are all irrelevant next to what has emerged as the one gigantic conclusion from which only a cretin would seriously dissent. It would make no difference to this conclusion, now, if the Greek government were a load of neo-Marxists in motorbike leathers or a junta of Frankfurt bankers.It doesn’t matter – for the purposes of this argument – whether the whole thing collapses tomorrow, or next month, or next year. They can “kick the can” even further down the road, or just watch as that battered object is finally steamrollered by the logic of the markets. They can keep the Greeks locked for ever in the procrustean torture of the euro or they can allow them suddenly to print billions of new drachmas on the back of cereal packets.
Whatever happens, nothing can change the fundamental truth: the Greeks should never have joined the euro.
They were mad to abandon the safety valve of an independent monetary policy, and they are paying for that folly in a daily and escalating human tragedy: of falling life expectancy, of rising suicides and mass unemployment; of medicines they can no longer afford, of operations cancelled and hope extinguished.
However it unfolds, the Greek catastrophe has exploded the central proposition of EU integration, the assertion that has been made time and again to the British people to secure their assent to new treaties – that the loss of national political control is always a price worth paying for overall economic gain.
That was the bargain, that was the trade-off – more or less explicit – when Britain signed up to the Common Market. We were told (though never very volubly) that there would be some loss of parliamentary “sovereignty”; and Mrs Thatcher again understood quite clearly that trade-off, when in 1986 she came to consider the advantages to Britain of the single market programme. She signed up, without much fanfare, to a very big increase in qualified majority voting. She gave up certain national prerogatives and independence, because like virtually every other UK prime minister, she persuaded herself that British citizens and businesses would benefit.
That is the Faustian pact of the EU. You surrender something precious in the form of national autonomy – and everyone is meant to be richer. Well, that has certainly not worked for Greece. That loss of monetary independence is now the main cause of their pain, humiliation and abject fiscal servitude. Loss of sovereignty has been a disaster for them.
Has it been much good for Britain – or indeed anyone else? How has the sovereignty-prosperity trade-off really worked out?
Let us look first at Britain, and the negative side of the ledger: the sacrifice of political independence. It is considerable. We have given up national determination over an amazing range of policy areas, from the hours worked by junior doctors to the right to strike international free trade deals; from levels of indirect tax to the composition of our sausages.
It has been recently estimated by the parliamentary authorities that about 65 per cent of all legislation passing through Westminster either originates in or is heavily influenced by Brussels.
I happen to think that this is not, in itself, especially healthy for democracy. The main reason why Ukip became so potent and so electorally dangerous was that when people wondered vaguely what their government could do about levels of EU immigration, they were amazed to discover that the answer was – nothing. That basic power, to decide who you were going to allow to settle in your country, had been given away.
Over decades, British politicians had given away powers that weren’t strictly theirs to give. They belonged to the people; and when the people asked for them back, they were told that the heirlooms were now locked in the silver cabinet in Brussels.
It was that sense of a loss of control that caused voters such fury – even people who were actually quite willing to be persuaded of the benefits of immigration. That is why Ukip got 14 per cent in the polls.
And yet I still think the British people would wear all this – all this loss of “sovereignty” – if the material gains were shown to be worthwhile. But can they? How has this experiment really worked out?
In the run-up to that 1992 single market, the EU published the Cecchini report, prophesying untold riches for the continent. By harmonising standards and blitzing national objections, the single market would unleash a frenzy of cross-border deal-making and dynamism. To a certain extent, that did indeed happen. But was it really attributable to Brussels?
And over the past 20 years, European growth has lagged way behind other regional economic groupings – Asean, Mercosur, Nafta – none of which has these elaborate sovereignty-sharing arrangements, with a peculiar parliament and court and a vast and ever-growing corpus of supranational law.
Indeed, you could surely argue that it is all this supranational regulation and legislation – so easily promulgated, so impossible to remove – that is now holding Europe back; one of the causes of endemic low growth and high unemployment virtually everywhere in the eurozone. The whole tendency of politics today is towards localism and devolution; and if we are going to give power to the nations and regions and cities of the UK, then surely it is time to give back powers to the countries of the EU.
The Greek debacle has immeasurably strengthened David Cameron’s hand in the run-up to the referendum, as Jeremy Warner pointed out on last week. The euro crisis has shattered the myth of euro-irreversibility, and shown the hollowness of the assumption that “shared” sovereignty leads to greater prosperity.
It is becoming ever clearer that the opposite case can be made – that economic growth will, in fact, come with devolution of powers back to people and parliaments. The time is approaching when Britain will need to set out its case for reform – and the case for boldness is growing by the day.”