Monday, December 13, 2004

Going all the way

Not so very long ago, many of us were taking the view that the opposition to the euro was narrowly focused to a dangerous extent. For, while the then business "Yes to Europe – No to the euro" campaign was building the ramparts against the single currency – with the generous help of Gordon Brown – the tide of integration was sweeping round it.

It was then that we dreamed up the picture – I don’t know who thought of it first – of the resistants being the ill-fated Maginot line, holding firm while the panzers of integration swept through the Ardennes.

And once again, or so it seems, the panzers are on the march – if they ever stopped, this time with another clever little scheme cooked up by the EU commission: the "Euromortgage".

Reported by The Scotsman website today, under the startlingly candid headline of, "Euromortgage Plan to Integrate EU Homebuyers", the commission is proposing that house-buyers should be able to shop around in the 25 member states for the best loan deals available.

This is the brain-child of the Forum Group on Mortgage Credit, set up by the commission, which argues that an effective single European market for mortgages could mean cheaper loans for all.

This would mean streamlining the EU-wide home loans sector to take away the potential pitfalls of borrowing abroad, with the idea being sold on the benefits to consumers of more choice and financial savings, as well as opening up a single market for lenders.

But it would also mean serious inroads into the monetary sovereignty of member states, who rely on being able to fine-tune interest rates to cool over-heated housing markets, and damp-down consumer spending when it threatens to get out of control.

This is an option lost to those member states which have already joined the single currency and the prospect of its loss is one of the most persuasive factors in the argument for not joining. With a single market for housing loans (and surely other loans would follow), even non-euro members effectively lose control of monetary policy.

The net outcome of such a move – and many others like it – is that euro refuseniks gradually lose many or all of the advantages of being outside the euro, while gaining none of the slender benefits of membership. The balance of the argument thus shifts, and the case for staying out is weakened.

Anti-euro campaigners will thus look out of their armoured forts one day and see the tanks parked up behind them, their guns pointing towards their exposed rears, leaving nothing else but to run up the white flags.

That is the trouble with partial campaigns. To mix metaphors outrageously, once you cuddle up to the tar baby, you have to go all the way. Like the impossibility of being a bit pregnant, as far as the EU is concerned, there is no such thing as a little bit of integration.

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