While the news media in the UK in particular continues to engage in a solipsistic frenzy over News International and the phone hacking allegations, a far more serious and far bigger issue is looming - make or break time for the Euro and the European Union.
Those who damned News International should take note, because it is the BBC that for many years treated Euroscepticism, those who wanted the UK to retain the Pound Sterling and those who disliked the European Union as crusty old fashioned nationalists, who hadn't stopped fighting the war and had bemoaned the loss of empire. It was seen as a fringe activity by the BBC and ITN, as well as the serious leftwing newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent.
The problem being that it didn't distinguish between the racist, protectionist, far-left opponents to the European Union (see in the trade union movement and in the fascist BNP) and the free-market liberal opponents, who saw it as a project to create a federal super state that would enshrine a fortress Europe with generous welfare state, high taxes and high state involvement in the economy as a whole.
The broad consensus of the political classes for some decades has been to support the European project. There was always something for everyone. Those on the left loved enshrining trans-national regulations, floors on some taxes (e.g. fuel tax), the social charter and obligations on Member States to supply welfare, healthcare, education and housing to EU citizens across the board. The EU forever expanded its remit on regulation and spending, with grandiose projects for infrastructure, or in duplicating the US GPS system at multi-billion Euro cost. The EU became the negotiating body on international agreements on climate change and trade, and it generated a growing bureaucracy, with new directorates and functions to ensure consistency across Member States. Most of all, it presided over a generous centralised economic welfare state, by facilitating massive transfers of money to poorer Member States, but also sustaining the grossly destructive and inefficient Common Agricultural Policy which primarily benefited France, Spain and Italy.
The right tolerated the EU because it did break down barriers to trade in goods, services and movements of people among Member States. It also mandated some liberalisation in trade in different sectors, such as aviation, telecommunications and energy. Most of all, the argument that it was better to be "in" the EU to help set the rules and be part of a trading bloc with a GDP as large as the US, sounded credible.
However, what it all hid was the fundamentally socialist nature of the project in seeking to create a federal European superstate. The way this has all com to pass has been the abject failure of those countries that joined the Euro to manage the inevitable tensions when a single currency is across multiple economies with differing fiscal policies.
Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy have all "enjoyed" vast amounts of low interest rate credit for public and private sector investors (Greece had the state overspend, Ireland had private investors overspend on property). It has all proven to be ultimately unsustainable. You cannot keep borrowing to pay for consumption now in the hope you can borrow more in the future. This has been the model adopted by all of those countries, and also those which do not currently have much focus, such as Belgium and France (both of which have been rabid overspenders for decades as well).
The risk is that one of the countries will default, which is unexpected by their creditors because banks always assume countries can tax their people to pay back debts with greater certainty than companies can persuade customers to buy their goods and services. It has proven wrong.
Liberal democracy has meant that voters vote for the goodies that politicians promise them, most giving little attention for how it will be paid for. The effect of a single vote is tiny, and no voter is accountable for such stupidity as voting for a politician who will creat future bankruptcy. The politician him or herself is not accountable. The worst that can ever happen is to lose an election, leaving potentially billions in debt for taxpayers (not politicians) to pay off. The politician can retire in comfort, and even with some fanfare, as most voters and journalists wont dare blame them for years of profligacy and waste.
So the inevitable is now reached. Politicians can either support many cutbacks or tax increases, inflicting "pain" on voters, or give up, and the country defaults. The problem for this, is that it put the country effectively under the control of creditors, and in these cases, the IMF to provide emergency finance. The IMF then dictates a programme of austerity and privatisation.
Of course, the Eurozone countries don't want this to happen, so they are likely to offer their own taxpayers up as sacrificial lambs to pay for a bailout, in exchange for what is, in effect, the implementation of EU wide fiscal control. That means that Brussels, not the national capital, will decided on Euro member spending and tax, it fundamentally changes the constitutional relationship between the state and its people, and the EU.
I doubt that people in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain or Italy want the EU to decided on government spending and tax - which will herald the departure of any country facing default from the Eurozone. However, I also doubt that the people of Germany, France Austria or the Netherlands (to list Eurozone countries that will effectively fund a bailout) will support their taxes being used to prop up feckless socialist inclined Mediterranean countries.
So the choice becomes simple:
- Remain in the Eurozone and have your government fiscal policy centrally determined (removing a core part of state sovereignty); or
- Leave the Eurozone, recreate the junk fiat currencies of the past and inflate/devalue ones way out of debt (whilst facing massive capital flight and loss of confidence).
Neither option is going to be popular, but they are the inevitable consequences of decades of profligacy and the distortions of cheap credit through the Euro.
The only other alternative is for those who lent money to take a hit, a big hit. That means banks, insurance companies and pension funds. In essence, a punishment for thinking that lending to governments is a sure thing, when there was never any record of those governments running budget surpluses to pay down debt. Even if that does happen, it wont be enough. Quite simply, the EU and its bureaucratic incarnation, the EC, have been willfully blind and fundamentally incompetent in their gross evasion of reality. It continues with calls for increased budgets at a time when all Member States are struggling. The EC, the EU Parliament and those who maintain this facade are utterly contemptible. I've never been more satisfied in my vote for UKIP.
Allister Heath at wrote today's editorial at City AM on this very subject, and concludes:
There is nothing that will make a total EU takeover acceptable to Greeks and others, which is why they will soon want to quit the EU – and the German public will be deeply angry as it finally realises that everything it was ever told about the euro has turned out to be a lie. It will soon want out too. The EU has always worked on the basis that every crisis is good because it invariably provides an excuse to centralise powers. But the present nightmare could prove to be a bridge too far and herald the beginning of the end for the entire project. Fun and games are about to start.