Britain and the EU: The Failure of a Forced Marriage
Was the outcome of the Brussels summit a bad one for the EU? Not at all. The British were never completely dedicated to European unity and the ongoing project of greater fiscal integration is better off without them.
It was to be expected. And now it’s official: The British have elected not to join the treaty governing Europe’s new financial system. Prime Minister David Cameron refused.
Does that mean, then, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have failed? Not at all. Only incompetent amateurs could have believed that London would join the attempt to overcome the European debt crisis together. European leaders in Brussels hammered out an agreement that marks the end of unlimited fiscal sovereignty — and that conflicts fundamentally with the British understanding of Europe.
The result of Thursday night — the 17 euro-zone countries joined by nine others pending parliamentary approval in three of the non-euro-zone capitals — is a success. A success for the majority of Europeans and for efforts to find a solution to the euro crisis. Any deal with the obstreperous British would have been a weak compromise, and one that would have allowed questionable economic practices to continue.
But from the very beginning, Great Britain’s participation in a united Europe was a misunderstanding. When the EU was founded, the British still hadn’t finished mourning over their lost empire. Europe seemed far away and Continental efforts at unification were seen by many among the British elite as little more than naïve idealism.
Despite such doubts, the EU became a reality, and a success — and it was economic realities that ultimately led London to join. Companies in the UK pushed the government toward Brussels because staying away was far too risky economically.
Still, the political classes in Britain never fully shared the Continental conviction that the European Union was an absolute political necessity following two destructive world wars in the 20th century. They never fully believed that Europe had to grow together, despite all the cultural, linguistic and societal differences.