Thursday, 22 September 2011

The continuing Eurozone crisis is an opportunity for LibDems to show leadership

There are only two possible results to the Euro-crisis: 1) collapse of intra-European trade, or 2) greater European integration.

The first has far-reaching negative implications for Britain, Europe and the world. The second indicates a massive area for future growth in our shared economy.

While the current political challenge remains to deliver stability and growth at the same time it's up to Britain to choose to find the political will and lead on the issue because continual continental dithering and endless domestic bickering will mean economic conditions stay in the doldrums until the Eurozone countries wake up to the fact there are no other options and they forge ahead on integration without us, leaving Britain scrabbling for crumbs from their table as per usual. If we want to set the terms of agreement and see the full benefits then we must resolve to fully commit to the process. Which means the real question is how much of the former are we prepared to accept before we move on to the latter.

As the only committed pro-European leader at Westminster, Nick Clegg is smart enough and sensible enough to understand this, but his frankness in offering regular reminders won't help him win popularity contests any time soon. So perhaps he should be bolder in challenging public opinion in order to reap the political rewards later - after all there's still time to get this strategy to pay dividends before the next election and most commentators argue he doesn't have much left to lose. Having the courage of your convictions is a virtue which he - and we - can make the most of.

While the real possibility of Greek default grows ever nearer Clegg appeared to lay some foundations for giving the European project a vitally-needed boost during his widely-reported speech to the LSE by indicating his favorability towards shifting the British position to be more active on European integration:
"In terms of the Eurozone, the real failure has not been the original concept of monetary union. It’s that the rules were never applied stringently enough. The Stability and Growth Pact was actively watered down in 2005, allowing members to wriggle out of their fiscal commitments to each other. Now we are seeing the effects."
"The single-most important question, the urgent question is what role can we play in helping the Eurozone avoid further turmoil, creating the stability needed for prosperity and jobs – in the Eurozone and in the UK too."
With rising consensus that the coalition's deficit reduction plan has assured stability while restricting ability to boost growth there is no time like the present to use the LibDem reputation as a long-standing advocate of European integration to our advantage and strike the note of clear differentiation which members and potential supporters alike are desperate to hear. While Conservatives have forced themselves into a dead-end on growth, Labour lack credibility on stability, yet neither want to talk openly about Europe and the way their actions combined in tandem to undermine the Stability and Growth Pact.

As Clegg said, "we'll do whatever it takes to return our economy to health," but while we can pull all the right levers at home to provide a temporary demand stimulus it must also mean creating the conditions for sustainable growth by increasing cooperation abroad and driving ahead with integration to complete the single market and guarantee the four basic freedoms.

We cannot put stability at risk by loosening fiscal policy now, but neither can we avoid integration out of a misguided sense of patriotic pride when growth is at risk. Perpetual focus on stability results in stagnation, yet myopic focus on growth leads to escalating volatility – only the LibDems can successfully balance these twin impulses and therefore we must speak up more forcefully in the national interest both of Britain and each of our European partners.


Crossposted at LibDemVoice

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