Britain and the EU summit: Europe’s great divorce
WE JOURNALISTS are probably too bleary-eyed after a sleepless night to understand the full significance of what has just happened in Brussels. What is clear is that after a long, hard and rancorous negotiation, at about 5am this morning the European Union split in a fundamental way.
In an effort to stabilise the euro zone, France, Germany and 21 other countries have decided to draft their own treaty to impose more central control over national budgets. Britain and three others have decided to stay out. In the coming weeks, Britain may find itself even more isolated. Sweden, the Czech Republic and Hungary want time to consult their parliaments and political parties before deciding on whether to join the new union-within-the-union.
So two decades to the day after the Maastricht Treaty was concluded, launching the process towards the single European currency, the EU’s tectonic plates have slipped momentously along same the fault line that has always divided it—the English Channel.
Confronted by the financial crisis, the euro zone is having to integrate more deeply, with a consequent loss of national sovereignty to the EU (or some other central co-ordinating body); Britain, which had secured a formal opt-out from the euro, has decided to let them go their way.
Whether the agreement does anything to stabilise the euro is moot. The agreement is heavily tilted towards budget discipline and austerity. It does little to generate money in the short term to arrest the run on sovereigns, nor does it provide a longer-term perspective of jointly-issued bonds. Much will depend on how the European Central Bank responds in the coming days and weeks.