I’ve never really been interested in European politics. I never got into it. But when David Cameron made the unprecedented decision to veto the European Treaty Deal in December, it became one of my most memorable political moments. Not because it mattered to me but I got to witness how a newsroom takes news like this. Everyone was wading into the debate about its merits and, honestly, I wasn’t moved either way. But I felt like I had to say something and the only way I could understand it was by using a football analogy.
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Britain, I know how you feel. In the playground, I never got picked to play football.
But you chose not to play. It’s cold out there. Standing knee-deep in European bailout mud is not your idea of fun. The two team captains, France and Germany, have run off to play. But they are playing with a square football.
That square football is the debt the eurozone countries are trying to repay. And to make matters worse, they want to repay it at the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo: EU leaders have agreed to penalise countries that overshoot a deficit limit of 3 per cent of GDP.
Unfortunately, the burden of their debt means they will end up looking like Neil Shipperley. The latest figures from the OECD database show that eight eurozone countries have deficits 1 to 9 points above the 3 per cent limit.
Is it really in every participating country’s interest to reduce their deficit so quickly? And given that each will have a different approach to deficit reduction, is it realistic to expect they’ll all be able to do it?
I don’t think it is. There can never be a truly united Europe when each country has such distinct economic and social characteristics. What works in Italy might not work in Greece.
The UK currently runs a deficit of 9.4 per cent – a heavy leather ball. But now, there’s no overbearing French or German coach screaming instructions about how to kick it. That’s liberating.
Britain can focus on reinvigorating its services industries. It can catch the attention of the Chinese and Indian kids to support its attacks. And in time, the Neil Shipperley nations will come to Britain, asking us to help spare them a ticking off from the Franco-German managerial team.