I don’t know whether to weep or laugh. Eurozone leaders have turned a €50bn Greek solvency problem into a €1,00bn existential crisis for the European Union. Barack Obama cannot remember “whether it was Merkel, Sarkozy or Barroso” who told him, as grand hopes for the Cannes summit turned to dust, “welcome to European politics”. And David Cameron calls on the European Commission – the embodiment of “Brussels” bureaucracy and elitism that his government loves to hate – to prevent the 17 countries of the eurozone running the EU show in their own interests.
The danger of the current situation is that both the eurosceptics and federalists get their way as the union splits between core and periphery. The eurozone does need a stronger centre. That will enlarge the gap between ins and outs, ‘vanguard’ and ‘rearguard’. And the eurozone countries will seek to get their way in the wider EU, or go it alone.
For Britain, it is a fateful development. Governments have sought to prevent a two-speed Europe for 40 years. Edward Heath celebrated our entry into “the framework of a single community”. Margaret Thatcher embraced the deepest of single markets. John Major played with ‘variable geometry’. Tony Blair put it into practice by supporting stronger European foreign, energy and environmental policy from outside the euro. In every case the UK feared a two-speed Europe would leave us in the second division. And we have made the argument that the rest of the EU would be much worse off without us. British politicians must to make the case that Europe is better off with Britain on the inside as passionately as we argue that Britain needs a strong Europe. Read more