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December 16, 2011

French Opportunism and European Opportunities: Brendan Simms argues that Britain must encourage the rest of Europe to establish a complete political union - and build a new global architecture

Posted by Brendan Simms

Brendan Simms - Professor in the History of International Relations at the University of Cambridge - argues that Britain must help the rest of Europe establish a new unified state.

Do you know the joke about the two safari guests whose car breaks down in the midst of some very dangerous wild animals. They both get out and are soon confronted by an advancing lion. They make a run for it. The lion gains on them. Then one suddenly stops, takes off his backpack and produces a pair of running shoes. His friend looks at him in disbelief. He says:

You will never outrun him in those.
The other responds:
I know, but all I need to do is to run faster than you.
The implication, of course, is that the slower of the two will be devoured by the lion, while the other makes his getaway.

I was reminded of this story, when I heard that the head of the French Central Bank Christian Noyer had suggested - and his remarks were subsequently tweeted far and wide by the Bank - that it was Britain and not France which should next be downgraded by the credit rating agencies. There is some truth to the comparison of the two economies in regard to debt levels, deficits and growth, though not as much as he claims. But apart from being a deeply un-neighbourly comment, transparently designed to ensure that Britain is eaten first by the bond markets, Noyer's claim completely missed the truth of the situation.

Britain is not part of the Eurozone and is less exposed to Mediterranean debt, which according to some calculations amounts to 25% of French GDP. Moreover, it can inflate itself out of a hole through printing more pounds. By contrast, when the banks start collapsing along the southern tier, and the governments default, the three main French banks will fall with them, and Nicolas Sarkozy won't have the money to recapitalise them. The widespread expectation in Paris that they will then be bailed out by Germany, or that the ECB will print money for them, strikes me as unsafe, and would if realised precipitate a constitutional crisis within the Union.

France therefore faces two months of severe crisis on the bond markets, and it is far from certain that the state will be able to pay its bills from the end of January 2012. Noyer, by the way, would not even be better off trying to push the credit ratings of Greece, Spain, and the rest of the PIGS even lower, in the hope that they collapse before France does, because the contagion effect would merely hasten the French collapse.

All this will deeply affect Britain, of course, as the disintegration of the Eurozone and a deeper recession or even a depression, will drag Britain down too. This is well known. What is much less discussed, however, is the political and strategic consequences. If the euro falls, and the ties of Union slacken, the whole ordering principle of European politics will be overthrown. At the very least, Germany will gain in power, either through the re-introduction of the Deutschmark or through dominance of a tighter new common currency area. This would not be a bad thing if Berlin were prepared to take more responsibility for common European security and ideological positions, but so far she has shown little sign of that.

The Union, in other words, may be disabled at its centre. For this reason, London must take a deep breath and - having saved herself through her own efforts - help Europe to save itself by following her historical example and adopting the Anglo-American principles of closer union, debt consolidation and a robust common defence, by establishing a complete political union. The Germans will bring to the table their economic and fiscal power, the French their bomb and UN Security Council Seat, and the Celtic and Mediterranean fringe their debts, skills, markets and sunny dispositions. There are risks in following this path, but the alternative is worse.

This new arrangement will need to be embedded in a new global security architecture. The Eurozone would become a revamped European Union, though I would prefer the appellation "Democratic Union", as it would set the right tone, would recognise the fact that important European states were not part of the Union, at least for now, while there might be areas outside Europe to the south and east which will join the Union in future.

The new Union would join NATO as a single state with one army. The remaining members of the existing EU would repatriate certain legal and other powers, and then join the rump EU/DU in a European Community which would be a free trade area and a close military alliance. Britain and the EU/DU would then join with Canada and the United States to form the North Atlantic Confederation, with its existing military arm NATO.

The North Atlantic Confederation would then join with the other great democracies, such as Australia and New Zealand and possibly South Africa, to form a Democratic League. Membership of the League would be limited to democracies who are committed to the defence and export of democratic values worldwide. This would for now exclude some existing democracies such as India and Brazil, which are still in the realist stage of development. Such a re-configuration would help to stabilise Europe, integrate Germany, and harness the potential of the continent for the common good.

Dr Brendan Simms is Professor in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.

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