The Breakfast Table

What Do Brits Want?

Dear Mary,

Even though I disagree with it, I find your idea of Europe much more coherent than that of any other euro advocate I’ve come across. The standard British pro-euro position (including that of the government) is to deny that the single currency has any great constitutional implications. We can retain the existing institutions and have them do more or less the same thing they are doing now. The only difference is that we’ll have one money and one central bank. As a matter of fact, I don’t think this view is wrong in principle–a politically minimal single currency is actually the one I would like best. But two things make it most unlikely. One is that outside Britain most of the EU’s leaders want political integration even more than they want economic integration–indeed (like you?) they see economic integration mainly as a means to that end. The other is that the sort of European economy that would be needed to sustain a politically minimal single currency would have to be far more market-oriented than the one we have got, and there are few signs of any desire to move in that direction. As things stand, then, people in Britain who think they can have the euro without deep and ongoing political change as well are mistaken.

You aren’t making that mistake, as I see it. Instead we disagree on what are actually the bigger questions–whether it is right to build this new political identity for Europe, and whether Britain should be part of it. My main objection to your vision is that I do not see any popular support for it. You are calling for a constitutional upheaval that has no foundation of legitimacy in the public mind. Incidentally, I think this objection is true not just for Britain but also (even if to a milder degree) in most of the rest of Europe as well. As far as I can see, the people of Europe (including Britain) do not feel that their interests are now so tightly interconnected that it is natural and sensible that they should be ruled by one government. Even if they did, you could imagine bitter quarrels over the redistribution you favor; but if they do not start with that basic sense of shared interests, what you propose is surely asking for real trouble. When people feel more European than British, or French or German, then political union might make sense. But they don’t, yet, do they? I know I don’t.