Europe needs to admit that it has a problem

Anthony Browne
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THE finger of blame usually points away, but sometimes we should turn it round, and point it at ourselves. As individuals, societies and countries we are more often than we normally realise the architect of our own problems.

Greeks don’t like paying taxes and love early pensions, and end up with a bankrupt government. The Italians like flamboyance, and end up with Berlusconi. As a society, we are very relaxed about welfare dependence, and end up with too much of it. We suffer spineless self-doubt about capitalism, and end up with incoherent anti-capitalist encampments blighting our city. Whether we like it or not, in so many walks of life, we usually get what we deserve. And the brutal fact is the EU – and EU leaders – are getting the crisis they deserve. They are determined to harmonise with one-size-fits-all policies like the euro, and end up with countries exploding to get out.

Nothing illustrates the problems we have as a union better than the way it is responding to the crisis. EU members are lining up to file for bankruptcy, and the European Parliament and European Commission respond by demanding a massive budget increase that EU countries must pay. The euro implodes causing global economic chaos and the EU shows a lack of leadership that ensures the crisis just gets worse. And what do EU finance ministers discuss? How to introduce a financial transaction tax. This isn’t fiddling while Rome burns. This is playing with petrol and spraying it all about while the world around goes up in flames. Forget the fact that this tax on pensions would ruin Europe’s competiveness, shrink its economy and cost a 1m or more jobs, and that the only good thing about it is that it has no chance of coming into existence. Rather, this is a pure example of the architects of the euro, who are the ones pushing this misbegotten tax, pointing their finger at others when they should point it at themselves.

The euro crisis was caused by the inherent contradictions of a one-size-fits-all currency, and the moral hazard of EU governments thinking they could borrow as though there is no tomorrow because someone else will pick up the tab. Instead of confronting their own shortcomings that have brought Europe to the brink, European leaders are trying to blame financial markets, which had nothing to do with it. This finger pointing extends to the UK – rude accusations are being noisily shouted at this “island in the Atlantic”, largely because we refused to sign up to the euro-mess.

You can see why George Osborne, the chancellor, got frustrated this week with his fellow European finance ministers, telling them they had better things to discuss than a new job-destroying tax that has no chance of not being vetoed. This would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. If EU leaders persistently refuse to confront the genuine cause of their problems, and instead scapegoat others, then they will fail to learn the lessons necessary to ensure we don’t end up here again. It is like an alcoholic who blames the wine shop for his drinking problem – until he realises it is himself who has the problem, he won’t be able to do anything about it. The European political system is in denial. It is time they stopped pointing at others, and instead pointed at themselves.

Anthony Browne is former director of Policy Exchange: