My Lords, I am also tempted to stray a little from the committee's report this evening, although not before paying tribute to the excellent work of its members and also adding my welcome to my noble friend Lord Boswell of Aynho in his new position.
It has not been a very good week for political classes and elites, and I am told that it is only Monday. Over the weekend, NATO's strategy on Afghanistan seemed to have been taken over by the Grand Old Duke of York-lost in confusion, trying to remember whether he was supposed to be marching up or down the hill. Then, of course, we had the summit discussions on Europe, where the only consensus seemed to be that Europe is in a terrible crisis. Europe is in chaos, and things will get worse.
I commend the committee for its report. I take to heart its opening lines about the need for leadership. As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, himself has so ably set out, we have seen so little of that-so many of Europe's leaders seem blind and bereft of ideas. You can hear the mantra falling from the lips yet again, "One last push and it will all be over,". We in Europe seem to have learnt nothing for almost 100 years.
I listened in amazement over the weekend to President Barroso. I beg his pardon, because I mean him no personal discourtesy, but his statement was like tugging at the tulips to see if the roots were still intact. Your committee spoke of-I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, also quoted it, although that is as far as I will be going down the path with her this evening-a need for effective and proactive leadership from the EU institutions and member states. Where has that been?
Over the weekend Mr Barroso's response to the need for leadership was to say that,
"there is only plan A".
There is no plan A. It is a meaningless concept. There is nothing but a fog of indecision. Europe's leaders talk about Greece, the euro and binding undertakings, but they refuse to address the key issue: the increasingly incoherent fiscal and political system that underlies and is undermining-indeed destroying-the euro.
I have always wondered why Europe should need three expensive Presidents-not just Mr Barroso, but two others as well-and of course two even more costly Parliaments. They can only come up with one bankrupt idea: plan A. But perhaps there is a plan A*. We heard it again over the weekend: a strategy for growth. Why did I not think of that? Where have I been? I must have been a stonkingly dull pupil all these years. If platitudes could come to our rescue we would have floated off the rocks long ago and would today be singing from the top of Mount Olympus.
Plan A, plan B-whatever plan has so far been devised-will not do. This cannot do. The people tell us that, which is why in country after country since this crisis began Governments have been swept from office-all of them thrown out, with one exception: Estonia, where a Eurosceptic centre-right Government somehow managed to increase their majority. I draw no general rule from a single example, as much as I am tempted to, but the evidence of every other election is surely compelling. Those who are responsible for the crisis have been called to account.
As I gaze across the battlefield of Europe, littered with corpse after political corpse, I have to wonder about Brussels, about the system and about Mr Barroso and his colleagues. Why is he-and the rest of them-still there? How many of them have been asked to resign or apologise or accept their share of responsibility for the chaos? Not a single one. They seem to inhabit a parallel universe of different rules, while Greece is condemned to paralysis, stagnation-and perhaps salvation, but those in Brussels demand still more, 7% more. Those whom the gods wish to make mad they first seem to send to Brussels.
The stakes are terrifyingly high. I was taken with the warnings of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, the other day. He is not a man whose insights I have regularly praised in the past, but he talked about his fear that economic failure could lead to political extremism and chaos in parts of Europe. That was echoed by my noble friend Lord Maclennan. He is surely right to give voice to those fears. There is so much at stake. Instead of prosperity, Europe will get bankruptcy. Instead of peace, Europe could be filled with burning barricades. Instead of parliamentary democracy, we could all too easily find tolerance being trashed in country after country.
It requires leadership to see a way through this tangle. I welcomed very warmly what the Prime Minister had to say over the weekend. His words were wise-perhaps not welcome in every quarter but sometimes it is necessary to shake the tree to get at the fruit. He said that the people will decide, and in Greece they will do that in the form of an election that will be seen as a referendum. The people must decide-not the political classes, who by and large have offered nothing but arrogance and indecision in heroic measure in recent years. It is the people who will suffer the consequences of failure, see their jobs taken from them, their pensions smashed and their hope and ambition for the future taken from their children. This is not a decision that can be left in the hands of politicians with gold-plated pensions, even gifted philosopher kings such as those praised by my noble friend Lord Marlesford; it is a decision for the people to make.
I therefore take to heart the Prime Minister's words and the inexorable logic of his argument, which is that what is good for the Greeks must be even better for the British. I look forward to those Greek elections and hope that they will clarify some issues, just as I look forward with even greater anticipation to the referendum that must at some point surely follow in this country.