Sean O'Grady: British have only themselves to blame for poor deal in Europe
Published 03/12/2009 | 08:16
It is almost as if Thierry Henry had walked off the pitch and pointed out, when it was not really, strictly, entirely necessary, that the Irish had just been humiliated by his Main de Dieu, and, what's more, he was pretty chuffed about it. Actually, Monsieur Henry had the good grace to admit that he was "embarrassed at the way that we won" and felt "extremely sorry" for the Irish who, "definitely deserve to be in South Africa".
Monsieur le President is not so delicate. Having comprehensively outplayed the British over the vitally important choice of a new Internal Market Commissioner (we got the non job of EU foreign minister instead) Monsieur Le President declared: "the British are the big losers".
Sarko asked the world: "Do you know what it means for me to see for the first time in 50 years a French European commissioner in charge of the internal market, including financial services, including the City of London?"
Well, Nicolas, we on this side of La Manche may lack a sense of style and have crude palates, but we can just about muster sufficient sensitivity to have a good idea about precisely how glad all over you must be these days.
What was that, Nicolas? "The agreement was sealed between Barroso and I three days ago. It's exceptional for France. And the second victory is that our friends the Romanians have agriculture. These are two posts the British will not have." Not that we thought the EU Commission and President Barroso was run by the French or anything. Perish the thought. France 2: UK Nil.
It all adds up, as the President of the Fifth Republic added, to a victory for the "French model" (no, not the one he's married to, though you never know) and a defeat for the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things. Waterloo in reverse. "I want the world to see the victory of the European model, which has nothing to do with the excesses of financial capitalism." One banker has called it "the biggest fiasco of British diplomacy since Suez". Wrong, seeing as the French were on our side in that one and were equally humbled, but you take the financier's point.
It's annoying. It's humiliating. It's breathtakingly arrogant, especially after HM the Queen had treated Sarko to tea and cakes at the Commonwealth Conference in Trinidad. It's unending, too. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer offered the European Commission yet more concessions on the way the City of London is to be governed, with a new gang of European regulators being granted additional powers over national bodies such as the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England. So, just to mention it, it may not matter who wins the turf war between the Bank and the FSA, as the real power will be wielded in Brussels.
Sarkozy is right. The British got a poor deal, and they have only themselves to blame. If you buy an overpriced rubbish French car from your local dealer (and you did, didn't you?) or pay through the nose for their Burgundies, you ought to ask yourself how you grew up to be such a mug.
Gordon Brown ought to be asking himself how this neo Napoleon, this pint sized de Gaulle, this pocket Charlemagne managed to outsmart him.
A little noted fact about the recession is that the French had the mildest contraction among the major economies. The reason is that the French, in their statist, dirigisite way, preserved an admirably balanced economy – a still substantial agriculture (thanks to the British taxpayer, naturally), a thriving defence sector (ditto), functioning regional centres, and plenty of manufacturing too. It contrasts unfavourably with the grotesquely distorted London-centric "growth" that the British enjoyed, for a while.
Yet, one suspects, the French fancy a soupcon of London's financial services action, if only to spice up their ratatouille of an economy. If the new French EU Commissioner for the internal market inadvertently nudges the hedge funds to move from London to Paris, or merely succeeds in whittling away one of the few activities, though badly flawed and damaged, where the UK has an international comparative advantage, we know who we ought to blame.
The culprit is not in the Elysée, jiving on the very grave of British pride, but brooding in that famously modest terraced house in Westminster. Thanks, Gordon, David and Alistair. What a team to put up against la main de dieu.