The Folly of Europe Bashing

The Chunnel isn't going to disappear. This and other reasons why Jennifer Welsh refuses to Europe bash.
By: /
September 19, 2011
Professor in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Somerville College

Bravo to John for challenging those who blame the EU and its imperfect institutions for the crisis that has erupted in the Eurozone. Like him, I wouldn’t deny for a moment that the decision-making structures in Brussels, and the political leadership in individual European capitals, could do with some improvement. But once again, the banks are managing to hide in the shadows, as those who are democratically accountable take all of the flack. Yet it is the reckless behaviour of the former that has played such a large part in leading us into the current chaos.

In Britain, Europe bashing seems to have become a bit of a blood sport. It’s as if commentators in the broadsheets and on the airwaves believe that the Chunnel can somehow be blown up, allowing Britain to return to the safety and security of 'splendid isolation.' Have they forgotten that the UK’s trade and investment are now inextricably bound up with the economic fortunes on the 'continent'? If the Eurozone goes down the tubes, so too will the UK economy. So let’s cool it with the schadenfreude. We are all in this together.

If there is one silver lining in these months of doom and dread, it is the thought that banks just might have to emerge from those shadows, to experience the spotlight of accountability. There was a time when the big banks in Europe, and particularly in the UK, played an important social function in protecting and educating those who knew little about managing money. A pensioner who I spoke to the other day told me a story of when she opened her first bank account, a momentous step which was accompanied by a meeting with the bank manager to discuss the importance of balanced budgets. How could any of us, with a straight face, endure a similar kind of lecture from a banker today?

Photo Courtesy Reuters.