December 16, 2011
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent veto of a stronger European monetary union should not have surprised anyone familiar with British history.
Cameron, cheered on by the powerful anti-Europe wing of his Conservative Party, thwarted intense efforts to create a super-European fiscal authority to prevent the unraveling of the EU’s embattled common currency, the euro, that threatens the future of the union.
Prime Minister Cameron was following Britain’s five-century old tradition of preventing the rise of a united Europe under a dominant power. Maintaining a fragmented Europe was seen by Britain’s ruling class as vital to preserving their nation’s international commercial and military power.
Britain’s often xenophobic conservatives have long warned that closer membership in the European Union would dilute their nation’s unique character, undermine its self-image of power and importance, and curb its freedom of action.
It would also endanger the famous “special relationship” with Washington that provides the US key military bases in Britain and a loyal, eager-to-please ally.
The US-UK axis provides a sense of power and importance, however exaggerated. Besides, for many British, the ““wogs” still begin in Calais”.
Cameron’s veto also played to a less evident but perhaps even stronger emotion: Britain’s abiding historical antagonism towards modern Germany. Or, as old imperialist icon Churchill nastily observed, “Germans are either at your feet or at your throats.”
As the euro crisis drags on, it is increasingly clear that Britain’s old foe Germany, is fast emerging as Europe’s leader. Britain may end up at Germany’s feet.
Much of Europe is already on its knees imploring Iron Chanceloress Angela Merkel to rescue it. She is waiting for bond markets to sufficiently scare EU politicians into really cutting their profligate spending.
“Zucht und ordnung” (discipline and order), that favorite Teutonic slogan, is Europe’s new marching orders from Berlin. Stern German treasury officials were barking instructions at Europe’s unruly politicians like old German army sergeants.
Europe urgently needs German financial discipline and order. So do the United States and Britain. However true, the Brits can’t stand being treated like unruly colonial natives by the overbearing Germans.
Britain’s wildly anti-German tabloid press, led by the Germanophobic Murdoch clan, has been baying at the Germans and constantly dredging up World War II.
“That’ll tell off those horrid Huns,” a lot of Brits are congratulating themselves.
But Cameron’s veto could leave Britain isolated in the cold North Sea, with increasingly less influence and business in Europe, left to play Ye Merry Olde England theme park for overweight American tourists.
Poor old Britain reportedly can’t even fire its nuclear weapons without the US first turning the key.
Britain’s sulk also showed something more alarming. Finance – money-lending and paper-passing – now accounts for 10% of Britain’s economy. London has long been a wild west Dodge City for unregulated financial buccaneers and shady operators, not to mention one of the world’s leading tax havens for the obscenely rich and shady.
In the US, finance is now the nation’s largest industry, accounting for over 20% of GDP. Manufacturing has shrunken to only 12% of GDP.
The City of London was petrified it might fall under serious European financial regulation – worse, German! -and actually pay some taxes on its none-productive activities. So the money-lenders showed their clout by pushing Cameron to abandon Europe, even if it injures Britain’s national interests.
Wall Street already flexed its muscles by thwarting prosecution of the fraudsters and gamblers who brought on the 2008 financial disaster, defending 15% top tax rates for millionaire hedge fund managers, blocking efforts to cut America’s banks down to a safe size, or investigating the nefarious Goldman Sachs.
Britain’s Tories would rather lash their leaking boat to the financial foundering US than work with the EU to build a viable union.
They prefer to keep invoking the faux glories of Churchill – whose relentless anti-German crusading in two wars led to the collapse of Britain’s empire – rather than facing today’s urgent problems.
One bright light in all of this: the more the overvalued euro sinks, the better off will be Europe’s export industries. Germany has already benefitted from this drop. If France and Italy can hang in and cut spending, they too will benefit and, eventually, prosper.
copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011