Nytt

Mens «alle» regner det for sannsynlig at Hellas vil forlate eurosonen, kan det være vi har større overraskelser i vente. En meningsmåling Economist løpende foretar viser flertall for utmelding av EU. Stemningsbølge? Gjesteskribent er Ruth Lea, og også hun anbefaler utmelding. Holder noe på å skje? Hvis Storbritannia går ut av EU vil ikke EU være det samme.

I norsk debatt som mange andre steder later man som om det er problemer med visse medlemmer av eursonen, som vil finne sin løsning. Kanskje det også er problemer med eurosonen, men nå har jo Angela Merkel og Nicolas Sarkozy blitt enig om en budsjett- og skatteunion som skal rette opp skjevhetene. Eller?

Mye tyder på at krisen i EU stikker mye dypere, og at den ikke kan vurderes uavhengig av velferdsstatens krise. Den slipper Norge å snakke om, fordi vi har penger nok. Men det har ikke andre land, og for dem er velferdskrisen høyst påtrengende.

Det var ikke for ingenting at mens Jens Stoltenberg i sin nyttårstale snakket om ytringsansvar, snakket Helle Thorning Schmidt om kriseansvar.

Da David Cameron valgte ikke å bli med i den nye budsjett- og skatteunionen på møtet 8. desember, ble han mobbet og hånet som en outsider, en som ikke ville være med å leke, og som i fremtiden kanskje vil bli holdt utenfor.

Men hvem er det som er utenfor? Kanskje er det Storbritannia som med sitt sterke finanssenter og atlantiske bånd har bedre føling med hva som skjer?

EU er i for stor grad blitt byråkratisert og omgjort til en sosialdemokratisk superstat. For mye penger går til overføringer og støtte. Budsjettet svulmer, og det finnes ingen accountability, ingen transparens eller ansvar. Bare dette siste er et alvorlig krisetegn.

Ruth Lea er en høyt respektert økonom. Hun er tidligere sjeføkonom for Lehman Brothers og Mitsubishi Bank, og har en rekke tillitsverv. Hun har vært mye brukt som ekspertkommentator på CNN. Når en person som henne er så klar i sin vurdering – sier det noe om at erkjennelsen har kommet langt. Hun er ikke alene om å mene dette. Det er ikke bare en fløy av toryene, det er solid forankret blant fagfolk som vurderer hva som er best for Storbritannia.

Lea sier britene heller bør inngå frihandelsavtaler med NAFTA-landene og Commonwealth. Hun mener tiden har løpt fra det indre marked. Det koster for mye, ikke bare i overføringer for staten, men også for næringslivet som må følge EUs regler.

Interessant nok er hun også mot EØS, som hun rubriserer under det indre marked, men stikk motsatt Senterpartiets grunn. Landbrukssubsidiene er en av de områdene Lea mener viser at EU ikke følger med tiden. Det koster for mye, og det holder de fattige landene nede.

I Norge har EØS-medlemskapet vært opplest og vedtatt, men kanskje det går an å se på det med helt nye øyne? Leas vurdering er tankevekkende. Vi må være forberedt på store forandringer.

Ruth Lea:

When Britain joined the EEC in 1973, the trading environment and the world economy were very different. There were arguably net benefits from membership of the customs union as tariffs were high and the EEC was then an important part of the world economy. But tariffs are now low, international trade is conducted under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) umbrella, trade between non-EU and EU countries thrives, and Europe is in secular relative decline. Any benefits are diminishing by the day.

Meanwhile, the opportunity costs of being part of the customs union grow by the day as Europe falters. As a member we cannot negotiate our own trade deals with favoured partners—the EU’s trade commissioner does it on our behalf. Perhaps this would be satisfactory if Britain’s interests coincided with those of the EU. But too often this is not the case: for example, the EU’s protectionist stance on agriculture (which incidentally damages poor countries). Britain, with its unique international links, should leave the customs union and negotiate its own free-trade deals. America and the Commonwealth countries would be an extraordinarily good place to start. We have much in common with these countries, their demographics are favourable and their growth prospects are healthy. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), comprising America, Canada and Mexico, is a bigger trading bloc than the EU27.

The EU’s customs union is just one «leg» of economic union with the EU. The single market is the other. Yet even European Commission estimates suggest that the costs outweigh the benefits. Günter Verheugen (commissioner for enterprise and industry, 2004-10) was reported in the Financial Times in 2006 as saying that the costs to business of complying with European legislation could be up to €600 billion a year.1

Yes, the benefits appear to be less. The commission estimates that «over the last 15 years the single market has increased the EU’s prosperity by 2.15% of GDP. In 2006 alone this meant an overall increase of €240 billion, or €518 for every EU citizen, compared to a situation without the single market.»2

The downsides of membership of the single market have been brought into renewed focus recently because of the increased threats from the EU to the City of London. The Economist recently wrote: «The thrust of many proposals coming out of Brussels looks harmful.»3 This is certainly true. The British government should be able to veto the financial transactions tax, but when it comes to the regulations, decided by qualified majority voting, it has little chance of stopping the onslaught. (Britain has just 8.5% of the votes in the Council of Ministers.) There is only one conclusion. If the City is to be saved from the EU’s regulatory zeal, Britain must leave the single market. There really is no alternative.

There is little doubt in my mind on the basis of the customs union and the single market alone, never mind the EU’s agricultural, fishing and energy policies, that the economic costs of EU membership outweigh the benefits. There are several independent cost-benefit analyses that would support this.

Perhaps we should not be that surprised. After all, according to Hugo Young: «The Treasury … remained officially against British entry. That is to say, its judgement of the economic consequences was negative, and it submitted a paper to that effect.»4 The Treasury was overruled. And the irony is that we were joining the EEC for «economic» reasons.

There are options for Britain and its relationship with the EU—options that the Foreign Office should now be working on. We could stay in the EU and try to repatriate powers or we could still try to «reform» the EU in our own image. But neither of these options has a chance of success. And even if we shed the rest of the obligations of EU membership, I have already ruled out continued membership of both the customs union (as Turkey) and the single market (as Norway).

A far better starting point is Switzerland’s relationship with the EU: outside the customs union and outside the single market, but with a close mutually beneficial relationship based on free trade and bilateral agreements. Switzerland is actually more integrated with the EU27 for trading purposes than we are. Switzerland’s close economic ties are a strong rebuttal to the loose talk that «it really would be very difficult to trade with the EU, if we left» or, sillier still, «they wouldn’t trade with us»—even though «they» have a whacking trade surplus with Britain.

There is a bright 21st-century future for Britain outside the constricting confines of the EU, with its outmoded customs union and costly single market. We could have free trade not just with the EU, but also with the Commonwealth and NAFTA (for example) as bonuses. Why are we staying in the EU?

1. «Uphill battle against Brussels bureaucracy», Financial Times, October 10th 2006.
2. Available from www.ec.europa.eu/internal_market/
3. «Save the City», The Economist, January 7th 2012.
4. This Blessed Plot, by Hugo Young, Macmillan, 1998.