After the vote: the Tories and Europe

Early today, I pointed out some of the difficulties Europe could cause David Cameron in his early months as PM (should he form either a minority government, find himself leading a coalition, or win a majority tomorrow).

But what would a positive agenda for a new Conservative (or Conservative-led) government look like on the EU, given (i) the dreadful problems facing the Euro (a debt crisis from which sterling is not immune); (ii) broader strains in global strains (fall out from the financial crisis, growing competition for resources, nuclear proliferation etc.); (iii) the Conservatives’ historic ambivalence about the European Union?

Here are six pointers for Cameron, should he become PM.

First, get stuck into the Eurozone crisis aiming for (in order of preference): (i) A strengthening of the Euro with greater sharing of economic sovereignty among Eurozone members (but with the UK left on one side); or (ii) An orderly removal of the weaker economies from the single currency.

Even on the Euro, the UK has some influence as an honest broker, given its position as an interested party, but not a full player. Cameron should adopt this role wholeheartedly – reminding British voters that the disorderly breakup of the single currency would be absolute disaster for the UK economy.

Second, recognise the severe dangers posed to the UK by a loss of cohesion in European societies.

It is tempting, but foolish, to see a breakdown in social order in Greece as only being a peripheral issue, or to fail to take seriously signs of a loss of trust between ethnic and religious groups across a number of European countries.

Maybe this is just a passing blip, but if I was Cameron I’d accept that it only makes sense to talk about a resilient nation within the context of a resilient European neighbourhood. We live in an era where social movements hop borders with ease. The last thing the UK needs is to get sucked into an era of riots, strikes and violence within its communities.

This may be a low probability/high impact threat to British national security, but we all remember a time when global economic collapse was regarded as so unlikely it wasn’t worth planning for, don’t we?

Third, pursue a vision of turning Europe into an outward-facing platform for managing global risks.

As Alex and I have argued, globalization is in the early stages of what is likely to prove a ‘long crisis’. The UK has made a one-way bet on a rules-based international order and we need to fight for our interests in this wager (even though meaningful progress on most issues is going to be hard to achieve).

The world is now shooting the rapids. The new government must be a clear and consistent voice arguing for Europeans to start looking outwards, making whatever contribution we can to charting a course through turbulent waters.

Another era of navel gazing is the last thing the EU can afford.

Fourth, accept that the development of a multi-layered Union is now inevitable, with the EU running at different speeds and on different tracks.

This could be good for the UK, if we: (i) don’t sulk on the sidelines; (ii) see that a distanced-but-engaged stance will often make us a more attractive partner (e.g. for the French, as they seek to balance German hegemony); (iii) take an extremely active leadership role on policy issues that matter most to the UK, compensating for times when we choose not to get involved.

Finally,  become an intelligent advocate for subsidiarity.

It should be absolutely clear that Europe is yet to work out which issues need to be managed at European, national, or more local levels. But, so far, the Eurosceptic position on this has won few friends, coming across as unconstructive and lacking nuance to many Europeans.

But that could change if Cameron is prepared to reframe Euroscepticism as an ongoing search for a more balanced, flexible and adaptable union between European nations.

Carefully tuned, that message could resonate well with at least some of our European partners, while also helping Cameron triangulate divergent camps at home, including the pro and anti-European factions on his own backbenches.

[Read the rest of our After the Vote series.]