Eurozone banking union could challenge the City of London

Monday’s extract from the latest tranche of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq, published in the “Guardian” is very telling on the Euro question.

According to Campbell, Blair was well and truly thwarted by Brown. What is more, Tony Blair feared “we were making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons”.

While the bickering, not to say in-fighting, between Blair and Brown as told by Alastair Campbell makes depressing reading, there is no doubt in my mind that Tony Blair’s instincts on the Euro were right, even in the light of the current crisis in the Eurozone.

When British commentators talk about the Euro they all, almost without exception, take a congratulatory, not to say patronising, tone. The UK is deemed to have done the right thing by staying outside the Euro. We are not, after all, embroiled in the current economic problems.

Except of course, we are. The recession is deeper here than elsewhere in the EU. Britain’s double dip recession matches the economic problems of almost any save the most deficient Eurozone country. Unemployment in the UK stands at 8.4%. This is higher than Germany at 5.4% and Holland and Luxembourg (5.2%). True, there are also very high unemployment in the Eurozone, especially in the member states facing huge problems such as Greece and Spain where the rates are in the low twenties. Overall, the Eurozone total in 11.2%, more than Britain, but not much more given that the peripheral countries are in such difficulties.

As readers of this blog know, I very much support what was the Tony Blair position on the Euro in 2003, the year Campbell features. In a world where economies are intertwined, it would have made a lot of political sense for the UK to join the Euro at that time.

The UK has once again failed to join the European project at the right time. Former Permanent Representative to the EU Sir Stephen Wall is quite clear in his excellent book “A Stranger in Europe” that Britain would have not faced many of the issues it found itself dealing with regarding the European Union if we had been there at the beginning rather than leaving it until 1973 to join.

The same, I fear, will happen in relation to the Euro. If a country is not there at the start they stand to miss out on crucial decisions, finding that the architecture has been put in place without their input. This is, of course, why the UK is uncomfortable with some aspects of the European Union, especially when it comes to agriculture.

The Eurozone seems to be going in the direction of some kind of banking union. This will obviously have an effect on the City of London. Being outside whatever kind of union emerges may well prove problematic for our financial services industry. We in Britain should ask ourselves whether we really want a powerful neighbour with a unified banking system which will be able to challenge, not to say get the better of, our most important industry.

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