Why is the British commentariat so ignorant about the EU (updated)?
Update: Faisal Islam from Channel 4 has responded with civility (see below with my own reply) and I accept fully his assurance that he a) knows all about the ‘six-pack” b) didn’t mean what I was assuming he meant. I’m sorry that I appear to have misinterpreted what he was getting at. I leave this post up for informational purposes re: the SGP etc. (oh, and to show what a nice bloke Faisal appears to be).
Denis MacShane is cross about the British media ignorance of Europe:
I surf continental papers, and the difference between the range of arguments there and the single-voice clamour that it’s over and out for the euro and even the EU that we get from the UK press does not inspire confidence. I don’t know what is going to happen, but when the offshore-owned press, BBC and Sky all shout the same thing, I think I would go in other directions.
He has a point. Take this latest wisdom from Faisal Islam of Channel 4, in which he argues that Britain may end up leaving the EU if banking union, as opposed to fiscal and monetary union, threatens the City of London (an idea that George Eaton at the New Statesman was quickly keen to make his own). Of fiscal union, Faisal says:
A splenetic attempt at that (the Stability and Growth Pact) was made and then ignored in the first decade of the single currency. It is being reheated now as the “Fiscal Compact”.
This is just plain wrong.
The Stability & Growth Pact (SGP) is very much alive and kicking. In its name, a ‘six pack’ of regulations came into law on 12th December 2011. I have already covered what is in those regulations (technically, five Regulations and one Directive).*
Furthermore, a ‘two-pack’ of regulations, aimed at establishing surveillance measures for Eurozone countries in relation to the rules set out in the six-pack, are currently under debate in the European Parliament, with the Social & Democratic Group in the parliament making strenuous efforts to ensure that growth measures are sufficiently safeguarded within the surveillance processes. There is an important plenary vote next week.
This may not be big news, but it is important news, reflecting the change in emphasis towards growth in the last few months, and a serious ideological struggle at the heart of the three main competing EU institutions.
For a serious economic commentator apparently not to know that it’s even happening, and to suggest that the Fiscal Compact has in some way replaced the SGP (as opposed to being a pre-election stunt by Sarkozy, in the knowledge that the SGP legislation was in train anyway), is really quite poor.
Perhaps Faisal, and the rest of the commentariat, should read Though Cowards Flinch. At least we try to keep up with actual events, rather than what fellow commentators are saying **.
* For a very good summary of the differences between the SGP regulations and the Fiscal Compact (clue: not that many), see this Institute of International & European Affairs piece.
** Mind you, at least they’re better than Cameron , who yesterday admitted to being “baffled” by EU. He really just isn’t up to the job, is he?