In the run-up to the G-20 summit in London on April 2, a curious division has emerged. On one side stand the U.S. and Britain, both sounding like continental Europeans in their enthusiasm for deficit spending. On the other stand France and Germany, rejecting stimulus packages but eager to impose a new system of “global governance” on the world’s markets and nations.
As Sally McNamara has noted, Britain’s stance is a problem for the EU, which, as always, is seeking to use the global financial crisis to advance its aim of pulling Britain deeper into the EU and so weakening the transatlantic alliance. And Britain’s position is not strong: its banking system is in desperate shape, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has staked his remaining credibility on making a success of the summit.
It’s in this light that we should interpret the remarks of Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, after his meeting with Brown on Monday. Predictably, Barroso demanded that “Europe must speak with one voice in London.” But his comments later in the interview were more interesting. In an obvious effort to bridge the divide between the two sides, he urged all concerned to:
avoid the false choice between fiscal stimulus or improved regulation. The reality is that we need both and I believe we are seeing convergence within Europe and with our international partners on this.
And there you have the outline of the deal. Like all deals, it pretends to offer something for everyone: the U.S. and Britain will get a reference to their right to pass stimulus measures, and a vague statement that such measures may in some cases be appropriate for some states. And France and Germany will get the regulatory framework they desire. The Obama administration could then trumpet its protection of U.S. fiscal sovereignty and the vague endorsement of fiscal stimulus, while France and Germany got down to the serious business of not going deeper into debt and imposing new restrictions on Britain and the U.S.
That would not be much of a deal. Stimulus packages are a bad idea, but the U.S. already has the right to pass them: a deal that simply confirms this unquestioned right, in exchange for regulations that would restrict America’s economic freedom and diminish its political sovereignty, would really be something for nothing. Let’s hope that the unelected Barroso is as out of touch with the realities of international politics as he is with the publics of Europe.