Talking about last week’s European summit and Britain’s role in Europe, the head of the country’s pro-European conservatives is quoted, here, as saying “Britain must discuss a change of opinion towards Europe. I hope (for a change) because Europe without Britain is unthinkable for me.”
Alas, the leader in question is not a British Conservative showing some signs of sanity and defending the real interests of Britain. Instead the quote is from Michael Spindelegger the leader of Austria’s conservative ÖVP and the countries Vice Chancellor. Unlike the political landscape of the UK, in Austria it’s the conservatives who are often described as the most pro-European of the parties.
Austria currently has the lowest unemployment in Europe, growth has (up until recently) been healthier in comparison to much of Europe (including the UK), and (for the present) the country retains its AAA rating. The Euro has contributed to the country’s economic success and the collapse of the currency would potentially cause significant damage – as it would to the UK.
For many living Austria the Euro crisis has often seemed to be something happening elsewhere – a little irritating, far off, giving money away! However, the country’s debt figure is 73% of GDP compared to 60% only a few years ago and Italy’s troubles have brought matters closer to home as it is a very significant trading partner. The talk now is of debt brakes, taxation and cutbacks especially in the country’s extensive bureaucracy.
Thus Austria is learning that it isn’t quite the Alpine ‘island’ in the middle of Europe that frankly is the way you often feel living here. Getting to grip with the debt, ensuring unemployment remains low (tackling the issue of youth unemployment) and getting the Euro sorted (with or without some of the current club members), all whilst maintaining social cohesion would, I think, sums up mainstream opinion here in the Republic. The anti-euro, anti-Europe glee currently coming out of some sections of the UK body politic sounds particular strange from here given the importance of the European market to Britain, the lack of growth, rising unemployment, as well as the UK’s dependence on the outcomes of decisions from the Euro zone, the States and China.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not actually suggesting that Austria is a model that the UK should be following. In fact, despite Britain’s problems, Austria and other EU members could still gain from adopting some aspects of the Anglo-Saxon approach. It’s just that the little Englander stuff I’ve been reading in recent days reminds me of that rather interesting solution suggested in Tudor times for avoiding invasion from the Spanish Armada – send the English fleet north with ropes and grappling hooks, then tow the British Isles out into the Atlantic.
In all seriousness, sitting here on this ‘Alpine island’, the option of trying to get the Euro/EU back on track looks a much safer bet than putting up the keep out signs and rotting away in obscurity.