As a liberal for more than a quarter of a century, one might not be surprised to find that I am less than crushed by the prospect of restraining the Eurosceptic right from its avowed intention of reducing the European Union to a free trade zone (and even then, free on terms favourable to us). Don't get me wrong, like most Liberal Democrats, I support the notion of Europe rather than the current reality, seeing the EU as something to be improved rather than necessarily expanded.
But William Hague's somewhat lazy justification for attacking the Euro does lead me to wonder why he is bothering. For example, complaining that the creation of the Eurozone without the imposition of closer tax and spending rules raises two questions. The first is, what business is it of his unless he fears that, at some point, we may have to enter the Euro ourselves (I leave readers to envisage the circumstances under which that might happen)? The second is, why would you suggest the necessity for a pooling of sovereignty that you wouldn't possibly accept yourself?
Besides, there are, and always were, rules. The problem was, and remains, can you actually punish breaches of those rules, and how do you go about doing so? Enforcing limits on the scale of budget deficits is (probably) entirely logical, but fining, say France, a wodge of Euros would merely increase their deficit. It is, if you like, the sovereign equivalent of telling a misbehaving teenager to go to their room - one shouldn't be altogether surprised when they turn around and say, "Make me!".
It was always my understanding that the creation of a single currency would lead to a gradual convergence of the economies choosing to pool sovereignty. It wasn't going to happen overnight, it wasn't going to be total - the economy is uneven across a country (north/south divide here, anybody?), let alone a continent. And to expect it to run smoothly denies the experience of history, as clever people find new and exciting ways of dropping the economy off a cliff from time to time.
But back to William Hague. I suspect that he is returning to his Eurosceptic roots, and taking an opportunity to put some clear blue water between the two elements of the Coalition. He knows that we're probably on the minority side of the pro and anti Europe debate, and that the Conservatives have little to lose amongst voters by blaming their inability to circle the wagons on us.
It is, perhaps an opportunity for us to talk about Europe for a change, to establish our credentials as a pro-European, internationalist political party, whilst addressing our concerns about democracy, transparency and sovereignty. We could, radically, talk about the pluses and minuses of our membership of the European Union. And yes, it may attract some flak, but for those who support our view, it provides a positive reason to vote for us.
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