Britain must decide whether it wishes to be in or out of the EU if it is to develop a rational national consensus on how it engages with Europe. This is the sentiment behind the pro-Europe former Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson’s call for Britain to commit to a referendum on membership of the EU. In his view, a federal Europe is inevitable and if the bloc is to have a meaningful role in the twenty-first century it must have wholesale economic, fiscal and political union. However, any UK referendum should only occur after a closer fiscal union emerges in the Eurozone. This ‘Eurozone mark two’, which he admits is far off, could stave off a break up of the Euro but would require a level of integration that populations from Athens to Madrid may be unwilling to enter into.
Mandelson’s call for clear debate is a refreshing intervention in the arguments currently raging about the future of the European project. Britain has been riven by deep divisions amongst its population on how to engage with Europe. The European political elite must now wake up to the fact that such division is being mirrored across the continent in member states. From London to Berlin, politicians have to start probing what a rebooted Europe may look like and be honest with their populations about the tough choices they will have to make for things to work. Mandelson urges that any fiscal compact would require solidarity on a scale not yet seen and a use of resource to undertake structural economic reforms across the community that would dwarf the postwar Marshall fund. He states that Germany has so far benefited form suppressed exchange rates and massive export surplus, but must work to correct imbalances as the cost of mending a badly designed Eurozone. Whilst in other states; “it will require the courage and discipline to present both painful austerity and structural economic reforms for what they are: not something that is externally imposed by Brussels or Berlin but as a sovereign choice dictated by national circumstance and necessity.”
Elections in Greece and France suggest politicians are not yet ready to face such debate. Campaigns are being framed by the nation rather than within the context of EU. Whilst the population faces economic hardship the likes of Francois Hollande are attacking national austerity without focusing on the mechanics of the Eurozone and Nicolas Sarkozy retreats into a nationalist shell. In Greece, Evangelos Venizelos of Pasok highlights the choice between austerity or mass poverty. The population remains unconvinced, as the fascist Golden Dawn looks set to enter the Parliament of the Hellenes. Such politicians are bound by a transnational currency but seem unwilling to engage their populations with the transnational policies to match, intimidated by the success of populist parties and figures such as Marine Le Pen they pander to old arguments. The political class has failed to outline a coherent vision and their populations are paying the price for their indecision. If Europe is to move forward they must do so.