Is this the end of the world as we know it?

It's certainly the end of the eurozone as we know it.

If there was ever a time for apocalyptic titles, well, this is it. Politicians, journalists, market participants, commentators, academics and pretty much everybody under the sun have engaged in an unofficial competition for who is going to come up with the most depressing prediction of what the not-so-distant-future holds for the eurozone and Europe at large.

If these doomsday predictions are anything to go by, our world will come crashing before our eyes very soon. Maybe, but it is not all that bad. This is indeed the end of the eurozone as we know but I believe we should all feel fine.

What is about to end is the perverse system of guarding a monetary union with peer pressure alone. The Stability and Growth Pack was an inadequate tool for governance, based on intergovernmentalism. Supranational institutions like the European Commission and Eurostat were left powerless to enforce discipline (or even question Member States' statistics).

Proposals are already on the table to strengthen the governance of the eurozone and empower the Commission to scrutinise national budgets, warn about the build-up of imbalances and challenge Member States that break the rules. But more needs to be done; not least the creation of a European treasury with the appropriate authority, know-how and firepower to make fiscal and economic policy common for the eurozone as a whole.

The intergovernmental model of governance has taken focus away from the collective good of the Union and put the emphasis on EU Member States' competing national interests. What we need is independent and supranational institutions, taking decisions beyond narrow national interests, with the good of the EU as a whole in mind.

In a similar vein, the idea that monetary union can prosper without fiscal union has run its course.

The emergence of imbalances and the loss of competitiveness are features of all monetary unions, including the US or the UK. To reduce the chance that these imbalances occur, scrutiny of fiscal policies and national budgets must be accompanied by the integration of labour, social and tax policies in an effort to form not just common economic policies but also a truly common European economy.

But when imbalances do emerge a system of transfers must be put in place to afford the embattled part of the union time and space to implement the necessary policies that will allow it to regain competitiveness. Those transfers will be conditional to the applications of the appropriate policies and can only happen in the context of a comprehensive fiscal union, with the rights and responsibilities that implies.

Furthermore, the European Central Bank must be liberated from its purely price stability remit. A strong and stable eurozone requires an central bank that monitors the build-up of imbalances across the economy and the financial services sector and is able -- and willing -- to function as lender of last resort when solvent member states and financial institutions find themselves in liquidity problems due to a systemic shock in the markets.

The creation of a fiscal union and the strengthening of the central bank will allow for the issuance of common bonds without the risk of moral hazard. Member Sates won't need to rely purely on the discipline of markets when they have to abide to the discipline of eurozone institutions. At the same time, the eurozone will not run the risk of constantly falling pray to the un-picking of its weakest link by the markets.

Last, but certainly not least, this Huxleyian Brave New World should have at its core democratically legitimate and accountable institutions. If we are to move closer to fiscal and economic federalism, governed by the independent and supranational institutions mentioned above, EU citizens must be at the heart of the process. Those charged with making decision -- be it the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, a European Finance Minister or the Members of the European Parliament -- must be directly accountable to the people.

Direct election for the three former, and a more representative voting system for the latter, will ensure a direct link between the electorate and the elected, and legitimise the process of economic integration needed to safeguard the future of the eurozone. This is not pro-European fantasy: it is a necessary building block in the architecture of the new governance structure of the Eurozone. And for that we need a new, grand, pan-EU Social Contract between EU citizens and their elected representatives.

The sooner we start drafting that contract the quicker we will be able to take EU citizens on board the process of closer European integration, bidding farewell to the world as we know it while greeting a new, brave one.

Petros Fassoulas is the Chairman of the European Movement UK

Petros Fassoulas is the chairman of European Movement UK

Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.