EU Referendum

EU Referendum: les grandes lignes


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Sometimes jobs that should be quick and easy take a surprisingly long time. For instance, an attempt to find the latest figure for Greek GDP yields a variety of sources and a wide range of figures. We get the European Commission tell us it's €182 billion (2013), while the figure from Wikipedia (after conversion gives us €216 billion (2014).

Eventually, I found the Greek government statistical site (80 percent funded by the EU), and managed to track down the GDP figures – not that easy as the downloads are, irritatingly, in … er … Greek. Anyway, €182 billion for 2013 checks out. And the figure for 2014 drops to €179 billion. I'll go with that.

The point of my search was to draw information to make a series of comparisons. First, I wanted the EU and the eurozone as a whole. Those, according to Eurostat (another site I hate), are respectively €13.9 and €10 trillion. Then I wanted Germany, which is €2.9 trillion (all 2014), and then – out of left field - the turnover of the Volkswagen group. That's €202 billion for the same period.

Now we're in a position to make those comparisons. The Greek economy is 1.3 percent of the EU economy. It's 1.8 percent of the eurozone economy. It's only one sixteenth of Germany's economy and slightly less than that of the Volkswagen group (less than half the size of Walmart). Even the Irish economy is bigger (€185 billion).

This illustrates, with brutal clarity, quite how insignificant Greece really is – from an economic stance, at any rate. Mrs Merkel could, if she so desired, buy Greece from petty cash and still have change – not that she, or anyone in their right mind, would want to.

Sooner or later, their own insignificance will dawn on the people of Greece and their government. And, when push comes to shove, the people don't want to leave the euro and certainly don't want to leave the EU. Before it became a member of the EU and then the single currency, Greece was already a failed state. Without EU intervention, the state would have collapsed.

Thus, in February 2012 - when the circus was in full cry - I was warning people to keep their eye on the ball. Basically, they needed to ignore the "noise", the distractions, and focus on les grandes lignes - the main events.

Currently, I think the main function of the continuing Greek soap opera is to serve as a distraction, keeping people from watching events elsewhere too closely. Whatever the short-term outcome (and I've totally lost interest in what it might be), the situation will eventually come right, but only when the "colleagues" get their new treaty in force, scheduled for 2025 at the latest.

The fact that treaty change is back on the EU agenda proper is impossible to conceal, even if the legacy media are doing their best to ignore it, having almost totally succumbed to the hype over the Greek superdrama.

Despite this, Mr Cameron's current game plan is certainly coming clear as the Sunday Times reports on a "leaked note of a conversation" between him and another leader. This revealed that the prime minister has a "firm aim" to "keep the UK in the EU". He has "deliberately not produced a lengthy shopping list" of requests.

It seems like only yesterday when Cameron was pledging to achieve "fundamental" reform, which was to be finalised "in a new treaty". But last week he conceded defeat: no new treaty before the referendum. The game is changing before our very eyes.

One of the few politicians on the ball is Owen Paterson, who states for the record that Cameron's approach of relying on "valueless" promises of future treaty change is "not good enough". He accuses the Prime Minister of missing "an historic opportunity" to change Britain's relationship with Brussels.

Taking Cameron at his own valuation, Paterson notes that the "historic opportunity" to change the nature of the EU would have required "full-on treaty change". This, though, is beyond the scope of Mr Cameron. He is having to content himself with promises from the other 27 members of changes in the treaty to come.

Putting himself out on a limb, in comparison with the rest of the Party, Paterson dismisses this as "not good enough". He says that: "The prime minister is asking for very little of substance to change. He said we would get fundamental change. We're hearing now that he didn't even ask for it".

What readers of this blog have known for a long time is now being admitted at a high level in political circles, where there is the dead weight of inertia to overcome. "He is not trying to regain the power for Britain to make our own trade deals", confirms Paterson. "He is not trying to end the supremacy of EU law. He is asking other European countries what they will give him, which is no way to conduct a negotiation".

No one in the least expects the Prime Minister to change tack. The die is cast. This allows Dominic Lawson to observe that it is dawning on even the most loyal of Conservative Eurosceptics that Cameron’s promise to them of "a fundamental renegotiation" of Britain's relationship with the EU is a chimera.

Given this, Paterson adds that "some in the cabinet and many in the Conservative party" would be likely to vote "no". There is still the statutory caveat of "unless the prime minister changed tack", but the battle lines are firming up.

Once the dust has cleared from the Greek distraction, even the legacy media might begin to see the shape of Mr Cameron's new strategy. Fortunately, this has been well-signalled, and he has extremely limited room for manoeuvre. Thus, by focusing on les grandes lignes, we already have a fairly good idea of what is coming and how to deal with it.

What we most need now, though, is for our own side to scale down its attempts to lose the referendum. Then we might have some chance of winning, as Mr Cameron runs out of room.