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European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 4:15 pm, 3rd June 2010

Indeed, that is true, but I have a wide range of tastes in music, including opera and classical. My son is even educating me in heavy metal, but that is a rather new field for me, I am afraid. I was very interested in what the hon. Member for Hove said, and I congratulate him; I am sure that he will make a fine contribution to the House over the years.

I want to speak about the eurozone and its current problems and to reflect some of the points made by my hon. Friend Ms Stuart. The eurozone is facing disaster at the moment-a disaster that some of us predicted some time ago. However, the eurozone is not the European Union, and it is quite possible to imagine the European Union without a eurozone. Indeed, I think that that is likely to be the future provided that the EU itself does not start to fragment as a result of the eurozone's troubles. I also want to emphasise, as I have time and again in the past, that Europe is not the European Union, or the European Union is not Europe; eliding the two terms is a mistake. The European Union is a political construct that has been imposed on, or adopted by, several of the nations of Europe, but it is not Europe. Europe is a place that, like Andrew Bridgen, I love very much. In a few weeks' time, I shall be surrounded by the vineyards of Provence, no doubt listening to Mozart and drinking something very decent. I love Europe in every sense, even in struggling to speak French, but I am deeply critical of the European Union and think that the eurozone is a terrible mistake, as is proving to be the case.

The eurozone is in crisis, and a very predictable one. Some 20 years ago, I wrote a paper-I used to write many papers on the EU and its economy-predicting the exchange rate mechanism debacle before we actually joined, and I proved to be exactly right. People thought I was prophetic, but anyone with a moderate knowledge of economics and a little foresight would have seen that the ERM was going to bring about a disaster. In fact, it led to the defeat of the Conservatives in 1997 and the election of a Labour Government, so for the Government side of the House it was indeed a disaster, but, unusually and unexpectedly, it brought benefits in terms of a Labour Government.

Strong currencies derive from strong economies, not the other way round. If one tries to impose a strong currency on a weak economy, it will not survive. There are great examples of this around the world. The best one in recent years is perhaps Argentina, where people linked the peso directly and rigidly to the dollar for a period, which caused terrible mayhem inside their economy. Eventually, after some 10 years, when the economy was almost wrecked, they were forced to devalue to break that link. As a result of that devaluation, Argentina is now bouncing back, no doubt helped by its splendid wine industry. I am sure that the competitive edge that the wine industry has had because of devaluation has helped the Argentine economy to recover.

Weak economies within the eurozone will have exactly the same problem, and we will not solve it without those countries departing from the eurozone. The first would be Greece, but others would follow. I will come to some of the problems with that in a moment. From time to time, I have met Irish politicians and suggested that their only solution is to recreate the punt, devalue and rejoin the sterling zone instead of the eurozone, because we are Ireland's major trading partner-it is essentially part of the larger economy of the British Isles. Ireland would benefit greatly from such a decision.

Some people think that it is unrealistic to expect countries to leave the eurozone, although Angela Merkel suggested, some eight or nine weeks ago, that it should not be impossible for countries to do so. She was then roundly condemned with a fierce reaction from the French, who thought that that was an appalling thing to say, and she has now drawn back from it. However, there are those who believe that in the long run the Deutschmark will be recreated, or that there could be a Deutschmark zone that might include Holland and Luxembourg, but not much more.

The problem is that if Greece goes, the other PIGS countries--Portugal, Ireland and Spain--will also eventually depart the euro. The problem that the French and German Governments have is that their banks are heavily exposed in lending to those countries, which would immediately devalue and start to become very competitive with stronger nations in northern Europe, particularly with the French. The French would immediately have a problem competing with Italy and Spain-their next-door neighbours--and would then eventually leave the eurozone and devalue. That would leave the German economy on its own, effectively with a currency that in real terms was much more highly valued because the others would have been devalued.

That takes us back to what Keynes suggested in Bretton Woods. He wanted a world in which there would be stable but separate currencies and said that those countries that get into a big deficit should be able to devalue and, indeed, those countries that run big surpluses should be required to revalue. Indeed, the German economy was built for decades on an undervaluation of the Deutschmark, which is, in a sense, what has given it its strength and has enabled it to become effectively overvalued within the eurozone. Other countries cannot compete with Germany-indeed, we cannot compete with it, which is why, I think, we devalued. Despite the devaluation, we still have a massive trade deficit with Germany, but we are starting to improve and recover, because we had that opportunity.

Because we are outside the eurozone, we have the ability to devalue-depreciate-our currency as appropriate and to choose our own monetary and fiscal policy. Those policies are interrelated-we have relations with the countries in the eurozone-but, nevertheless, we have a degree of freedom in managing our economy that countries inside the eurozone do not. If we try to impose strong currencies on weak economies, such a problem occurs.

If we do not allow those countries to leave and dismantle the eurozone, we will see massive deflation. One cannot just expect countries such as Greece and Spain to cut their deficits and deflate their economies massively and, indeed, get rid of protection for workers, so that wages are driven down. That would merely make their economies much poorer and weaker, increase unemployment and be no good at all. The logical thing for those countries to do would be to withdraw from the eurozone, start to direct demand towards their own economies and spend time behind the effective barrier of a depreciated currency, rebuilding the strength of their economies in a realistic way.

That is what is needed in the eurozone and that is why the eurozone is deeply flawed. It has to be dismantled and we have to build a Europe based on economies that have separate currencies, which are like shock absorbers between economies--they have to be able to adjust. If they cannot do so, those economies will be in serious trouble for a very long time. Indeed, there could be serious social unrest, the like of which we have not seen for a long time.

In a sense, I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston was saying. We ought to look forward practically. Rather than indulging in Schadenfreude-pleasure in the pain of others-and saying, "I told you so," we should take practical steps to persuade those countries to think about dismantling the eurozone, recreating their separate currencies and progressing from there onwards in a much more practical and sensible way.

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