In arguing for the necessity of further integration of the Eurozone, Cameron and Osborne have also been positioning the UK on the periphery of European developments. This is consistent with the direction of the UK on Europe which, since rejecting membership of the Euro, has moved towards a position that is primarily concerned with benefiting from the single market whilst avoiding further integration. The logic of this for many Eurosceptics would be the ‘Norway option’ which would allow full access to the single market whilst avoiding the obligations (budgetary contributions, regulations and rights) of full membership.
Yet countries such as Norway and Switzerland are able to negotiate full access to the single market because they are rich countries with regulated labour markets and high social and environmental standards. The terms and conditions for poorer countries on the periphery of the EU are not always so generous. A serious danger for the UK arises for its ‘world leading’ financial sector if limitations are placed on Euro-denominated transactions outside of the Eurozone. In short, there is no safe place for the UK on the margins of Europe.
The question arises as to how the UK has got itself into this position. Evidently, a right wing Euroscepticism has construed an alignment between UK national interests and anti-Europeanism by presenting the EU as a chronic constraint on business. With varying degrees of extremism, the position that the UK economy is restricted by Brussels regulation and must be freed from its regulatory barriers to growth has been repeated ad nauseum across key sections of the political class. This is part of a national defence of the ‘Anglo’ model in the face of a European crisis. Hence, the UK is seen to be in a very different position to many other EU states that are unable to impose austerity, restore market confidence and regain political control over their economies.
The focus is on the separateness of the British model which will be returned to growth by domestic austerity and an unimpaired economy, a free market characterised by high levels of investment and enterprise will be restored. Yet the Europeanisation of the British economy demonstrates the difficulties of framing economic interests in such narrow nationalist terms. Interestingly, in the wake of Cameron’s veto over the Eurozone agreement, it took a Senior Credit Executive at Norddeutsche Landesbank to take issue with the UK government’s (mis)conception of the national interest:
Without the ability to transact business and vitally move staff anywhere in the EU, in a single market with free movement of capital and people the City would be finished… The business model of the City only works if it works for the European Union as a whole. In this sense the talk of “safeguarding” specifically British interests in the City misses the point, as the City can only maintain its ascendancy in financial services if the UK is a committed member of the European Union.
Clearly, neo-liberal policies have enabled the extensive interconnections between businesses across Europe that fundamentally undermines the national categories to which UK politicians remain committed. Increasingly national political events ripple out across Europe and national elites find themselves having to manage the domestic fall out. The British position is to isolate and separate from Europe and to retreat in to national neo-liberal austerity. Yet this is a position entirely at odds with political economic realities and reproduces a failed British neo-liberal capitalism.
A sustainable model of capitalism can only be achieved in the UK if British governments actively participate in shaping a new European political economy that prioritises pan-European growth. To have legitimacy, this project requires enlightened leadership and a popular movement for a European citizenship that privileges the equality, solidarity and diversity of all European peoples. If, as seems increasingly likely, the UK has a referendum on continued membership of the European Union there are stark realities to be faced and the outcome will have implications for generations to come.