Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the EU

I previously posted this video of the PBS Newshour interview with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, British Foreign Secretary: 'We Should Be in Europe but Not Taken Over by Europe' 12/12/2011). But it's worth a bit more unpacking.

This portion of Hague's interview says a lot about Britain's lack of leadership in the EU over the years and more particularly about the bad faith of the current Cameron government toward the European project:

Well, Europe going forward, to me - if it goes in the right way - becomes larger, for a start. It includes the countries of the western Balkans and Turkey, actually, as members of the European Union. It emphasizes trade, both within its own single market and in a greater number of free-trade agreements with the rest of the world. Because the only way forward now for Western economies isn't government spending -we've reached the limit of that - and it isn't any monetary policy, other than what the European Central Bank can do. It is trade. It is the growth of enterprise. It's encouraging small businesses. It's opening up freer trade with the rest of the world. That is our vision of the way the European Union should be going. And Britain will continue to push that very hard. [my emphasis]
He puts two key points out into the open:

First, Britain now openly declares its view that the EU is and should be primarily a vehicle for neoliberal "free-trade" policies. The purpose of the EU from the start has been to promote peace and secure democracy in Europe. The economic integration, including the currency union, was always supposed to be a means toward the political ends. If Britain sees the EU as essentially nothing more than a big free-trade zone, then it really does reject the basic principles of the Union and they shouldn't be in it.

Second, trying to expand the Union further for the moment is a near-suicidal move. Which is entirely unnecessary, since Germany and France have gone very far toward insuring the end of both the eurozone and the EU with their foolish austerity politics and failure to come to grips with what would have been necessary to save the euro. But support for rapid EU expansion is something that Britain has pursued for years now, both to limit the pace of political integration and to keep in line with American foreign policy, whose main priority for the EU is to keep it weak enough to be unable to become a power strong enough to challenge the political hegemony of the US in world politics.

And he makes a point that may play well as propaganda for the American audience but is deceptive:

In Europe but not run by Europe has always been my mantra, if you like - has always been the course that I and my party [the Conservatives] have followed. So some people will say that. Others will say, oh, this is the beginning of isolation and so on. Neither of these extremes is true. The fact is that in Europe there are overlapping circles of decision-making - some countries in the euro and some not. We're glad we are not. ...

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I think that's the second time you've said you're glad you're not in the euro. And you seem to say it with special glee, if I - if that's right, or energy?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, I say -

JEFFREY BROWN: Even with what's going on now, do you think this is exposing fundamental problems within the euro - eurozone?

WILLIAM HAGUE: The reason I say that particularly forcefully is because 10 years ago, when I argued in Britain that we should not join the euro, these same charges were made then that are made now: "Ah, you are isolating Britain in some way. You will lose influence in some way." Now it would have been a catastrophe for us to join the euro, and people can now see that clearly. And so we should have the same confidence in making our own decision now as we had then. Certainly the euro has fundamental problems, which do need to be addressed. If you create a single currency, inevitably you have to create some political mechanisms that follow that up - some greater fiscal controls among the countries involved, if you're going to make it work. That is what the eurozone countries are now trying to address.
Clearly, under the current conditions and rules of the currency union, Britain is demonstrably better off not being part of the eurozone.

But what Hague isn't saying is that the story of the euro also very much reflects Britain's less than full commitment to the European Union. If Britain had as serious as they claimed to be about making the European project work, they would have made active proposals to allow Britain to become part of the euro under terms that would have addressed the weaknesses of the current union, especially the role of the European Central Bank (ECB) as buyer of last resort of sovereign debt and the need for "eurobonds" based on the collective credit of the eurozone countries that could be used anywhere in the eurozone. Britain did not attempt any such thing.

Nor did they advance proposals that might have made a more workable constitutional arrangement for the EU that would have created or moved substantially toward a fiscal and transfer union during more prosperous times, which could have enabled the EU to sustain the political and economic shocks of a depression situation like the current one.

Even at the summit last week, Britain made no proposals that would have facilitated the changes within the current eurozone that might have saved the euro: the ECB as buyer of last resort, eurobonds, a fiscal/transfer union.

They certainly did not challenge the "Merkozy"/Herbert Hoover austerity economic dogma that is current destroying the EU, the eurozone, economic recovery and (in Greece and Italy) democracy. Because the Cameron/Hague government is completely committed to the same fool ideas about expansionary austerity.

Instead, Cameron went to the summit to get additional deregulation on behalf of the British financial lobby, scarcely pretending to care about the urgent crisis of the euro.

Finally, Hague leads of the section of the interview shown above this way:

There are huge concerns about the European economy, of course, here in America and in Britain there are huge concerns. But this is not a question for us of being isolated. On the whole range of global issues, and there's the European Union at work, the United Kingdom remains in a central and driving role. All the issues I've been discussing with Secretary Clinton this afternoon. But we won't sign up to everything, we won't sign up for everything that's not in our own interest. It wasn't in our interest to join the euro, definitely not. And it's not - it wasn't in our interest to sign up to the treaty that was on the table last Thursday night. [my emphasis]
Hague is Britain's chief diplomatic, so we have to assume he was choosing his words carefully there. There and elsewhere in the interview he frames Britain's role in the EU as one of cooperating when it is convenient from a narrow national-interest point of view.

But this is duplicitous. The EU is a transnational organization which explicitly surrenders national sovereignty to the larger EU organization. Cameron's proposals for new loopholes for Britain in the EU treaties is a recognition of that very fact. EU financial regulations are binding on EU members including Britain, not just on eurozone members. That's why he pushed for exemptions. One reason many critics are now faulting Cameron for his go-it-alone policy begun last week is that the EU doesn't need treaty changes from Britain to change financial regulations that affect the British financial industry Cameron was intending to protect.

So Hague blathering about how "we won't sign up for everything that's not in our own interest" is diplomatic smoke-blowing. Cameron didn't walk saying that he thought the summit's austerity economics and the ignoring of the needs of saving the euro were neither in Britain's interest nor that of the EU as a whole. He left because they wouldn't give them special new breaks on the regulation of Britain's financial industry.

Britain's diplomacy at the EU summit was neither strategically well-conceived nor tactically well-executed.

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