Last week saw the top US military commander, General Martin Dempsey, adding to the commentary about the European crisis. Voicing his concern about “the potential for civil unrest” as Europe’s financial crisis continues to unfold; one could be forgiven for thinking they were watching an adaptation of a Jeffrey Archer novel!
General Dempsey said it was unclear if the latest steps taken by EU leaders would be enough to hold the eurozone together as 26 of the 27 EU countries forged a tighter fiscal union. Only the UK refused to sign up to a new treaty, citing national interest. His concern is born out of the fact that the US military has more than 80,000 troops and 20,000 civilian workers in Europe, many of which are based in Germany. Not to mention the international project to develop the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, which potentially could be put in jeopardy if European national defence budgets were cut.
So what of the UK? The anger of European commentators has been widely reported at the UK’s decision not to join a tax and budget pact to tackle the eurozone debt crisis. Many Germans are outraged by British Prime Minister David Cameron’s move. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, head of the Germany’s FDP group, part of the European Liberals, goes as far as to say it was “a mistake to let the British into the EU”. Writing in the Italian La Repubblica newspaper, Alessio Sgherza says that the summit “sank… because of the old but still unresolved division between… pro-European and Eurosceptic states”. Meanwhile Daniel Cohen-Bendit, joint leader of the Greens in the European Parliament has labelled Mr Cameron “a weakling”. Yvan Duvant, writing to the BBC from Olargues, in France, says that as the UK is slowing down the move towards EU integration, it should leave the union altogether: “What’s the point of keeping this country in the EU? The British people should put pressure on their government to quit. Maybe the British would do better without the EU. Europe will definitely do better without the UK.”
These are very stark comments for businesses and especially our financial sector. Being seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution is at best, unhelpful, and at worst, could severely damage international trade with what is the UK’s largest trading partner. Even the British Bankers Association warned that the Government could now find it harder to secure the best deal for the financial services sector on an ongoing basis. In a time of such uncertainty and a climate of hostility what will count are personal relationships. British businesses are going to have to work even harder with their customers in the eurozone if they are to ensure that the national decisive approach is not translated into an anti British goods and services campaign, where those businesses in the eurozone actively seek to buy from within their own community – to the detriment of the UK.