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Saturday 19 May 2012

Putting Himself In A Full Nelson

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson is one of those interesting chaps: presentable, often agreeable, generally knowledgeable, while being a wilful contrarian and on occasion unable to make sense of his own argument. Moreover, this lack of coherence is something he is apparently unable to see for himself. This is superbly illustrated by his latest punditry on the Euro crisis.

Nelson gets one half valid item into his text, the idea that Greece sees the EU as a means not to return to military dictatorship (the Generals were ousted in 1974 following their disastrous attempt to impose enosis on Cyprus, which precipitated the Turkish invasion of the north of the island), given that the country joined the EU after just seven years of democratic rule.

But he then goes wrong by telling that this is why Greece wanted to join the Euro. It wasn’t: a major part of the rationale was to impose some discipline in an area where persistent inflation had been a bugbear for many years (one Pound Sterling bought around 280 drachma in 1990, but a decade later that amount had almost doubled). But Greeks kept on marking up prices every year and not paying their taxes.

And the same – wrong – reasoning is applied to Spain and Portugal: the latter ended the period of the Estado Novo in 1974, with Juan Carlos ending the Falangist regime in Spain soon after Franco died the following year. Both countries had been parliamentary democracies for quarter of a century, with no sign of the dictators returning, before the Euro project began.

But Nelson keeps his biggest non sequitur for last: the idea that there are just too many different styles of politics and governance for the EU’s constituent nations to be compatible. This is his clinching argument against the single currency, which he characterises as “lunacy” and a “tragedy”. There were, after all, literally hundreds of states within Europe as recently as 500 years ago.

But, so what? There weren’t any states in what is now the USA. Or Australia. Or New Zealand. And many others were not states as we would know the term today – including many of those 500 in Europe. Ultimately, many survivors were swallowed up into larger states as Italy and then Germany were unified at the end of the 1860s. They then had no problem with their own particular single currencies.

And the vastly different parts of the United States all operate within a single currency area. Many have different tax regimes, different laws, and even different languages, even if English is the language of law and commerce. Whenever those on the right assert that single currency areas cannot work across different cultures, languages and legal jurisdictions, they always selectively edit out the USA.

Thus Nelson ties himself up in a very full one. No change there, then.

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