Euro Area Crisis: EUC Report — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:50 pm on 21st May 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 6:50 pm, 21st May 2012

My Lords, both the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and my noble friend Lord Maclennan have warned us against advising or criticising other countries in these matters. It always seems to me that one advantage of the privacy of your Lordships' Chamber is that we can freely give advice to the Government without much danger of it leaking out.

As the only other member of Sub-Committee A speaking today, I congratulate my chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on his lucid exposition of our findings. I also tell your Lordships that in the ever-changing kaleidoscope of events in the euro area that we faced during our inquiry, his skill as a chess master enabled him to guide us through and sometimes even interpret the irrational, usually contradictory and often ill conceived moves of the euro area.

I am neither a Eurosceptic nor a Europhile. If I presume to symbolise anything at all, I would try always to use a pragmatic approach and describe myself if anything as a Euro-challenger.

Never has it been clearer that the first commandment for a leader is to identify and then face reality. That applies in politics, economics and business; it applies especially to bankers and, above all, to central bankers. Do not let us forget that one of the main architects of our misery is that shrunken giant Alan Greenspan, with his failure as chairman of the Fed to face-and still less to act on-the reality that he had, in fact, identified in the three years that led up to the summer of 2007, when it became clear that everything would unravel.

The former name for economics was political economy, which underlines the crucial links between economics and politics. Even when the economic realities are revealed, political forces often conspire to frustrate the hope of solutions. I intend to devote my own brief comments to the situation in Greece and suggest a possible way forward for that country.

I should perhaps declare a rather remote interest in that my great-grandmother was Greek and her uncle was Capodistrias, who after he had represented the Russian tsar at the Congress of Vienna was, in 1827, persuaded to be president of Greece-and for his efforts was assassinated in 1831 within five years of taking office. It was ever thus.

It is perhaps relevant to remember that the British Foreign Office argued strongly against the liberation of Greece from the Turk on the grounds that it would undermine the Ottoman empire and thus destabilise the Balkans. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, "I told you so", may be echoed by diplomats of today. Of course, it was Lord Byron and his friends who ensured that the advice of the Foreign Office was not taken on that occasion.

Noble Lords will remember that it was Plato himself who argued against Athenian democracy of the fourth century BC on the grounds that demagogues could use it to prevent sound decisions. His analogy was a ship controlled by ignorant and quarrelsome sailors who refused to believe that there was any such skill as navigation and would write off a mere helmsman as a useless stargazer. His solution was, of course, the philosopher ruler. Whether either Mr Papademos or Mr Venizelos is up to such a role is not perhaps for me to judge. However, at paragraph 133 of our report we draw attention to the outburst of anger on the part of Greek politicians at the suggestion that there should be a budget overseer for that country. It seems to me that the danger now is that the second round of elections may again result in a preference for the rather destructive demagogues in the extreme right Golden Dawn and the hard-left factions forming the Syriza. There are rather frightening echoes in these economics and politics of how Hitler came to power 80 years ago.

It seems to me most unlikely that Greece can, or should be, bailed out yet again. I think, therefore, that it must leave the euro area, but I certainly hope that it remains inside the EU. Then what? There are two choices. The first is assumed, and that is the re-creation of the drachma as a new Greek currency. I believe that this would be a disaster for Greece. It would be a currency that no one would wish to lend or to borrow. The markets would ensure that it would be rapidly devalued and the Greek central bank would have to resort to the printing press.