We are natural allies. When push comes to shove, the Dutch and their governments have almost always preferred the alliance with the British above one with either the Germans or the French. It is less than two weeks that we saw a great photograph of Mr. Cameron and Mr. Rutte, our Prime Minister, talking with each other on board of a train and in complete accord with each other.
Last Friday Mr. Rutte emerged from the Europe top looking cool and collected. Asked about the English position, he simply said: ‘They asked too much’. And just like that, the alliance was over. And not just with the Dutch. Even the Hungarians did not go with you in the end. If there has been one country in favour of a large EU, it has been Britain. You pushed for it, even though many would have preferred a slower integration. With 27 countries, you probably thought that would dilute the power of the other big countries. And now you are the country outside the group. Who do you think to impress with that? What are you doing it for?
In the press, the reason that was mentioned most was the way London as a financial centre was threatened by extra oversight measures. Cameron came as the champion of the City. Really? If so, that starts of as a public relations disaster. All too obvious in the eyes of the European audience the City has not mended its way since the banking crisis of 2008. The champagne started flowing again, bonuses were given, many of them earned with betting against Greece and other weak countries. Even if, like me, you recognise the need for a well-functioning open market for financial services, the City still seems a place that has not learned its lessons. And on behalf of that City Mr. Cameron comes riding into Brussels? I am really, really worried that it will turn out to be more than a public relations disaster. Early Friday morning I tweeted that ‘if I were a banker I would start making my career in Frankfurt instead of London.’ Immediately I got an affirmative response. Reading the media over the weekend, I am worried that the move by Britain’s government will in the end have more impact than Black Monday had. Britain can do without the Pound; London cannot do without a City.
In a way you played into the hands of the Germans when you played this financial card. The fear of the Germans is ultimately not about inflation, it is about ‘moral hazard’. Certainly Frau Merkel’s outlook is Christian-democratic, not liberal. It is about taking care of the next generation, not just of tomorrow. Aligning yourself with the City underscored that the British are not facing up to that hazard. In a way it emphasised that this is a battle of two rationalities: a political rationale versus a financial market one. If so, Britain placed itself on the wrong side in the eyes of the main parties, along the way making it possible for France to strengthen its ties to Germany. By not being a member any more of the EPP, Mr. Cameron was not there when the real discussion were held at the EPP meeting in Marseille in the two days leading up to Brussels. Representatives of the Dutch Christian-democratic party delegation mentioned intense exchanges while in Marseille. Your point of view could not be expressed. Mr. Cameron set himself up for a disappointment that could have been prevented.
The struggle for Europe and the role of the Euro as its coin is far from over. There is a realistic scenario in which Britain watches while the rest of Europa sinks in a monetary abyss. Damage will still be severe, but the British will probably be spared the direct impact of a defaulting European economy. But that is poor comfort when we all realise how interconnected our economies and legal systems have become. I would dearly have Britain around in order to save Germany from its own rectitude. Austerity may save wealth, it does not create it. But for the moment I do believe Frau Merkel will have history at her side. And if that helps to solve this crisis, I think that is a good thing too. But the truth is; the Netherlands will always need the alliance with Britain to foster free trade and stay true to cross-Atlantic policies within the European context. And speaking from my own perspective and as I’m convinced many of my countrymen, Britain has always been seen as much more of an example to us than any other country. I cannot help but feel that early Friday morning Mr. Cameron walked away from that.