Seminar: Britain and the European Union

Are we heading towards a two-speed Europe and does it matter?

On 2 November 2011, a very well attended seminar was given by:

Anthony Teasdale, Visiting Professor in Politics, University of Buckingham; former Special Adviser to Chancellor Kenneth Clarke and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe; currently deputy chief-of-staff to Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament.

Graham Bishop, former chief European economist, Salomon Brothers; chairman of economic consultancy; author of The EU Fiscal Crisis: Forcing Euro zone political union in 2011? (2011).

Dr Olaf Cramme, director of Policy Network, an international think-tank based in London. He is also a member of the General Assembly of the Lisbon Council for Economic Competitiveness and Social Renewal, and co-founder and vice-chairman of Das Progressive Zentrum, a Berlin-based political think-tank.

Warwick Lightfoot, former international economist, Royal Bank of Scotland; former Special Adviser to Chancellors Nigel Lawson, John Major and Norman Lamont; author of Sorry, We Have No Money: Britain’s Economic Problem (2011).

Mr Teasdale started off the seminar by talking about Britain and Europe and the Euro Zone. What do we mean by a two-speed Europe? It was explained as an ‘à la carte’ Europe; countries travel at different speeds to arrive at a common destination, achieved through opt-in and opt-out policies and enhanced cooperation. The Euro Zone is divided into three circles and countries can migrate from one circle to another. In 2008, there was a changed perception; they didn’t speak of a two-speed Europe but a three-speed Europe.

As an economist, Mr Warwick Lightfoot talked about the Euro Zone, with its deficit (and surplus) problems. He thought the system unstable, but the instability of the current unions could continue for a long time. He expected the Euro deficit countries to remain in recession, but they would eventually be forced to accept fiscal discipline.

Mr Graham Bishop, a Liberal Democrat, and the most fervently in favour of a European state, began by suggesting that future editions of his pamphlet might dispense with the question mark. In other words he considered progress towards European fiscal and consequently political union as almost inevitable. At least one member of the audience found his ‘insider’ approach somewhat patronising.

The discussion was inevitably truncated because the speakers talked for rather a long time. So it was greatly to be regretted that no one asked how many of the four speakers were in favour of British entry to the Euro from the start; and what state Britain would now be in if we had joined. Given our experience with the ERM, and the present state of the Euro Zone, we can be reasonably sure of the answer to the latter question. My guess as to the answer to the first question is at least three.

Report by Mr Malcolm Rees