Hereford Times Column: The Five President’s Report

Since my last column, I have chaired the first of my four public meetings on the EU referendum.  It was a cracker, with around 300 local people at the Three Counties Hotel and lots of thought-provoking questions put to In and Out campaigners.

My next meeting is this Saturday, 10.30 am at the Larruperz Centre in Ross-on-Wye, and there are two further meetings, in Peterchurch and Ewyas Harold before Referendum Day on June 23rd. 

All details are on, with lots of other information.

Come along!

Now, to business.  In the debate so far much has been made of the so-called “Five Presidents’ Report”, published last June by the European Commission.  The “Presidents” are the heads of different EU institutions, and the report focuses on how the EU can achieve full Economic and Monetary Union.  Given their seniority, it has to be taken seriously.

OUT campaigners have seized on this report as proof that the EU is hurtling rapidly down the tracks towards full political union, and that voting IN is a vote for further integration.  To IN campaigners, by contrast, the report is a sensible statement of measures needed to stop the collapse of the Eurozone and protect the single market.

What can we say about it?  First, it is striking—and perhaps a recognition of where real power lies in the EU at the moment—that alongside four politicians the authors include Mario Draghi, who runs the European Central Bank.  Imagine the fuss if something similar happened in this country.

Secondly, it is certainly true that European countries, whether in the EU or not, badly need better ways to share financial risk, in and outside the banking sector.  In my view the Eurozone will almost certainly need another bail-out, and a further financial crisis would be catastrophic; so these measures or similar are important.

Thirdly, the report focuses a great deal on coordinating Eurozone country budgets, i.e. national spending.  But here there’s a serious problem.  Coordination is one thing, but pooling and consolidating budgets—which is clearly where this report is ultimately headed—is quite another.

Spending and taxing go together; both require proper political accountability.  The EU itself does not (yet) have such accountability; that can only come from the peoples of the EU; and it’s far from clear that the peoples of the EU—including the peoples of Germany and France—will ever give it to them.