This newspaper likes Great Britain. France hasn’t forgotten Britain’s role during the war. We respect her history and admire her culture. We know how much democracy owes her. And we’ll never have room, here, to list all the things we care about: from habeas corpus to the BBC, from Elizabethan poetry to John le Carré, from rock to the inventions of the sixties, from springtime concerts in London to Wimbledon, not forgetting Liverpool FC – the list of things we find appealing across the Channel is infinite, and would include a nice plate of fish and chips of course.
But Germany, France and most of the other EU members were right, in the dawn of Friday 9 December, to say no to London.
What it was about, once again, was saving the euro. This means changing the treaty which governs the way the 27-member Europe functions.
The plan is to fix more draconian budgetary discipline rules. London is afraid that will mean stricter regulation of the financial sector. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, threatened to veto this modification to the treaty unless it included an exemption clause for his country.
Most of the Europeans gathered in Brussels refused to accede to London’s request. The 27-member treaty won’t be changed. But a “17-member treaty” will be set up – without the United Kingdom, but including half a dozen other states among the non-Euro zone members.
Let’s be fair play about this. The Euro crisis isn’t the fault of the British. They bear no responsibility for the inability of euro-zone leaders to solve their sovereign debt problems.
But there is something logical, too, about the fact that the British are standing aside from a move towards greater economic and budgetary integration. They don’t believe in it. They don’t believe in the European idea. They are foreigners to the (nowadays somewhat becalmed) project which nonetheless now seems to us more essential than ever: forging a single entity which can exist as such amid the other great powers of the 21st century.
No one should regret what happened in Brussels. An ambiguity was swept aside. Deep down, the British (who entered what was then the European Economic Community in 1973) are only interested in one thing in the whole affair: the single market. The rest of the European project leaves them indifferent – when they are not frankly hostile.
The Brussels summit traced the outlines of better budgetary governance for the Euro zone. That is good. It is not enough. There needs to be a counterpart: directly or indirectly, the ECB has to be more active in solving the crisis.
The agreement is due to be finalised on Friday. Let’s wait and see before judging. For, as the British have shown us, the devil is in the detail.