The extraordinary turn of events that have taken place in Europe this week has led to a certain amount of antagonism towards Britain in other parts of Europe. About a third of the visitors to this site are from outside Britain and this is a chance to try to explain why the British government acted as it did and why the British have such reservations about the EU.
One thing that really feels unpleasant to Britons is the contrast between what the EU is meant to be and how it actually behaves. We are told by those who like the EU that of course it is democratic. Each country is represented and, moreover, many decisions are subject to veto. But when it comes to the practice, it seems that the leaders of France and Germany have a private meeting in advance to decide what will happen. Then the rest are persuaded to accept their decision. It does not appear like even a consultation with the leaders of the other countries, let alone the peoples of those countries.
In theory, all countries have a veto. It is their guarantee that something they do not want will not be forced upon them. But now that Britain has used its veto, it is subject to insults and bullying. On the front page of the Daily Telegraph this morning is a photograph of Sarkozy ignoring David Cameron’s offer of a handshake. We in Britain have the impression that if we do not do what we are told, we will be victimised. We have the impression that the EU, in reality, is a bully and will be deliberately abusive and perhaps discriminatory against any country that dares to stand in its way.
I don’t supposed any country outside Germany and France likes this kind of behaviour. All countries and individuals like to be treated with some respect. In a civilised democracy, if we disagree, we agree to disagree rather than seeking to disparage and denigrate the others.
The British government was very happy for the Eurozone countries to develop stronger fiscal rules. It spoke in favour of this. But Britain has the most successful financial sector in Europe. The new regime being called for by France and Germany put the success of our financial sector at risk. Indeed, it seems extraordinary that countries which have failed to create financial centres anything like as successful as that in Britain should think they are qualified to create rules for such centres. The suspicion in Britain has long been that France and Germany are jealous of the success of the City and instead of seeking to emulate that success are instead taking the more negative approach of trying to destroy the success of others. Already EU rules have undermined the high position London used to have in the art market, much of which has now moved to the USA, Switzerland and elsewhere. It is as if Britain tried to create rules to damage the German automotive industry or French wine-making.
The irony of the situation is that this crisis in the relationship between Britain and the EU has happened when we have a British prime minister who is not hostile to the EU at all. He has only asked for the new rules to hold back from damaging the financial sector. That request has been refused. By refusing to agree to this, it feels almost as though Sarkozy wanted to pick a fight. I expect Cameron is rather sad about the outcome. But he was left with no choice.
The rules say that if there is a new treaty, it must be outside the EU because one member has vetoed it. The rest may go ahead. But if they then attempt to get round the rules and use the institutions of the EU to proceed, this will be another time when British people will surely feel that an agreement in the EU means nothing – that all must give way to a consensus herded into place by France and Germany. This is not treating Britain in a fair way and could well be resented. Any conflict that comes from that may inflame relations further.
Nobody in Britain wants a conflict with the EU. Some want to stay in and some want to leave. But no one wants conflict. All would like our view and any agreements that have been made to be respected. But if we are bullied and agreements are overturned, many in Britain will feel even greater misgivings about the nature of the EU than they do already.
- Under-prescription of drugs in Britain
- If you get cancer, it is better to live in France, Switzerland or probably any advanced country rather than Britain
- Britain deteriorates as Germany recovers
- Why are British doctors and nurses paid more than their eqivalents on the Continent?
- Britain spends less on cancer drugs per head than France or Germany