AS inhabitants of an island state with a strong sense of identity, some people in the UK are wary of the European Union. Vetoed by De Gaulle throughout the 1960s and separated by 26 miles of English Channel, they see themselves as outsiders peering in.
So, when President Sarkozy said that the appointment of a French politician as the European Internal Markets Commissioner marked a defeat for the “Anglo-Saxon model” of capitalism, it was unlikely that the UK would top the new Commissioner’s list of favoured places to visit.
And yet Michel Barnier has been to London twice in the past month.
Indeed, during his official visit to Guildhall last Thursday, the Commissioner told European journalists that he considers the City to be a “huge asset” for the whole of the EU and that any regulatory proposals he makes will be in line with principles agreed at G20 level. With the global regulatory landscape facing a seismic shift, let’s take Commissioner Barnier at his word.
Brutally put, in coming years, we will need our European partners just as much as they need us. That is why the City of London runs an office in Brussels and why I and the Lord Mayor held a meeting with Commissioner Barnier and other senior City practitioners last Thursday to discuss priorities for future regulatory reform.
In today’s highly competitive and global marketplace, membership of the EU not only provides its Member States with increased access to European markets but it also enables Europe to create a trading bloc that can compete with the USA and the emerging Asian powerhouses.
It is for these reasons that the City of London has long supported the single market project and it is for these reasons that we will continue to work with Commissioner Barnier and our European partners to strengthen the single market.
However, the EU cannot exist independently of domestic political and economic concerns, and nor should it.
What is efficient or advantageous from a business point of view may not always be politically expedient or indeed practicable from a domestic perspective and each member state requires a degree of flexibility reflecting its own unique socio-political circumstances when implementing European legislation.
Furthermore, and whatever his title might suggest, it is not just circumstances within the EU’s borders that Commissioner Barnier must take into consideration.
The pace of G20 implementation can appear slow but if the EU moves ahead of its global competitors it will be placing not only Europe’s international competitiveness and future prosperity at risk, but the UK’s as well.
Last Thursday in Guildhall, Michel Barnier made it perfectly clear that he understands this important point. Let’s hope his actions speak as loudly as his words.
Stuart Fraser is chairman of the City of London’s policy and resources committee.