Jack Straw: ‘It Would Have Been A Disaster For Britain to Join the Euro’
The European: The negotiation for the long-term budget 2014-2020 has been abandoned without any outcome. What is your position regarding that matter?
Straw: I think the Labour Party is right to go for a cutback. The circumstances are very different now from what they were in 2005. The Commission is demanding serious cuts in many member states as a condition of bailout and all member states are practicing severe effort of restraint. You can’t have the EU expanding its budget. It’s simply unacceptable. It implies an institutional arrogance which is unacceptable.
The European: Some people would argue that the increase of the budget is a kind of solidarity with poorer regions.
Straw: I know, they always argue that. There needs to be a lot of changes: in the common agricultural policy, for example.
The European: Britain has always been more Euro-skeptic than other countries. These days there seems to be a new wave of Euro-skepticism?
Straw: There is some considerable skepticism about the European project. Now that’s not a sentiment exclusively felt here, by the way.
The European: Where is this Euro-skeptisism coming from?
Straw: It has two causes. One is the chronic problem of unnecessary interference by the institutions of the European Union in domestic affairs of the member states. There’s a real frustration with these European institutions and the culture inside them. Frustration at the failure of these institutions to do what was promised, which was to implement a proper program of subsidiarity. First you look at the Laeken Declaration, which the European Council agreed to in December 2001, that talked in terms about how to reduce the interference by Brussels to ensure that much more power went back to individual member states and democratic governments. Then you compare that to what has happened in the last eleven years. The reverse has taken place. The other cause is the crisis of the Eurozone. It has been exposed that the introduction of the Euro was a political decision, which defied all known economic laws. You don’t need to be a skeptic or an enthusiast for the EU to understand that it is almost impossible to run a single currency outside a single country. Unless some of those outside the single currency are willing to see their sovereignty go. If you want to keep the Euro together, you now have got to have not only a monetary union but also a fiscal union.
The European: You talked about the lack of confidence in the EU institutions. How can that be restored?
Straw: I think it’s by doing less and by doing better. It goes back to the issues of subsidiarity and interference.
The European: You suggested a reform of the European Parliament.
Straw: Yes. First of all, if you want to save money, have the parliament in one place, not in two. It’s just ridiculous. I think the most sensible place to have it would be Brussels, but if they want to have it in Strasbourg: okay. There are other federal states which have parts of their institutions in different places. In South Africa the parliament is in Cape Town and the federal government is in Pretoria. Germany has its constitutional court in Karlsruhe. I also think the European Parliament would work better if it were composed of representatives of the national parliaments, which is what it was originally, until the late seventies, early eighties. There isn’t a European polity and there won’t be.