Max Hastings reminds us of the dangers of a strong but impressionable editor, clangorously proclaiming and trying to impose his instantly formulated opinions, and only revisiting the subject with sincere regret many years later.
Yet he must be happily welcomed back, and commended for his insight and his honesty, and encouraged to make a clean breast of it on other subjects too. And perhaps he could apply some of his demiurgic energies to solutions, and not just the palliatives he put out in the Daily Mail. If Europe can't get back to a self-replenishing birthrate and maintain a rate close to 50 per cent of the population in the workforce, achieve flexible labour markets and a tax system conducive to work and investment, it will perish, whatever political scaffolding is piled on top of it. The Commission is incapable of reform, and the constitution confected by Giscard d'Estaing and others is an abomination that cannot be amended to workability; it should be scrapped like those of the first four French Republics. The leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy, unfeasible though they may seem as individuals, should form an executive committee and try to write a new constitution and build from there, with member countries free to take back whatever jurisdiction they want, as long as a fair common market survives. But that does not mean a money-massaging, back-scratching and log-rolling slush fund dispensed by an infestation of pompous and unanswerable tinkerers in Brussels, therapeutically sublimating the frustrations of being from little countries.
Not a penny should have been spent propping up Greece or Ireland or Portugal. They filed false prospectuses on entry into the euro in order to monetise over-generously the national historic guilt of Germany and exploit Chancellor Kohl's sincere desire for "a European Germany and not a German Europe". Countries that fail should be allowed to default on payments and restructure debt as best they can; the battle must be fought at the level of the private sector banks that were suckered into bankrolling this innumerate fantasy. The shareholders go to the wall and the depositors and legitimate creditors must be protected. Europe has to overcome its phobia about social unrest and discontent, stop paying Danegeld to labour unions and small farmers, and pretending that all life is an annuity.
But there should not be a stampede to give the bum's rush Max proposes to the countries that have never had a hard currency in 3,000 years; doing so would raise the cost of a Mercedes-Benz in the United States by $75,000, which illustrates the hypocrisy of some of the German opposition. This whole tangle of problems will require finesse (not Max Hastings's strong suit). None of this will come as news to Max, who will recall hearing these opinions throughout his time at the Daily Telegraph.
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