Tag Archives: Eurozone

Strong words from Merkel

It was good to see Angela Merkel today calling on her European counterparts to take serious efforts to cut their national deficits with a stark warning that the biggest threat to the economies of Europe, and specifically those of the crisis-hit eurozone is debt.

In a politically charged statement, Merkel pulled no punches, telling all attending the Davos World Economic Forum that: “Indebtedness is the biggest danger for prosperity on this continent” strong stuff indeed. But nothing compared to the sledge hammer language which she chose to use to cut through the never-ending bullshit with an emphatic statement that there was: “no crisis of the euro as such. This is essentially a debt crisis [which we must now]  overcome” and that “If the euro fails, then Europe fails“. Her comment echoed French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who earlier passionately defended Paris and Berlin saying that they would “never abandon the euro“.

Possibly the strongest words from a European leader yet on the on-going spiral fuelled by an on-going crisis of private banks and markets speculating with public currency on the basis of advice given by almost totally unregulated credit agencies.

Talking about the German economy she said that “sound fiscal policy and growth do not need to be a contradiction in terms“, and it’s a good point; let’s face it Germany’s economy is booming, it’s Europe’s number 1 exporter, even though it’s actively beginning to rebalance it’s trade deficit. It’s got Europe’s most qualified workforce, and unemployment is lower in Germany than Britain even with an additional 15 odd million people more than us.

It’s really is reassuring to see this economic strength emboldening the Germans to push for the reforms of the eurozone that they’ve wanted for some time: Germany will undoubtedly push through reforms which can only be a good thing for the EuroZone – and quite possibly for the UK too – if the coalition is bright enough to engage directly with Berlin now to advocate strong change in Europe to protect the future of the EU.

Is Ireland tilting at Windmills?

As a business owner in two countries I’m of course of the opinion that corporation taxes should be kept as low as possible wherever possible, low and simple tax schemes give businesses incentives to grow, to take on new projects, staff, materials and property: but that tax break shouldn’t ever be at the detriment of the overall economy – it should always generate revenue within the medium term.

It looked like Ireland’s gamble paid off – their ultra low tax regime attracted international brands, times were good, a lot of money was splashed about and everyone felt the benefit. Unfortunately in this time of plenty, the powers that be in Ireland didn’t have the political courage to begin to move their tax regime from one of rapid growth to one of sustained continuance.

Corporations wouldn’t have abandoned the Emerald Isle, they might have grumbled; but ultimately where would they have gone? Many of the inbound countries chose Ireland strategically as well as economically – English language being native, good gateway to Europe, not landlocked – it had so much going for it. All it needed was politicians that could accept that the ‘boom’ would have to transition to equilibrium. Yet they didn’t do that: Ireland’s politicians lived in a fantasy world of never-ending boom, maybe they took Gordon Brown’s claim at face value?

Whatever the case, it’s backfired miserably – the IMF are now assisting the EU with their audit of the Irish books and time is now running out for Ireland to accept a suitable bailout to help them balance their books while their spending cuts take full effect. This is the only way to maintain sovereignty long term: if they wait now, they’ll find themselves selling bonds in the untouchable bucket alongside crackpot banana republics.

Ireland are insistent that the low corporate tax rate brings in more than similar tax regimes in other European states, this may be the case – but with a deficit so high, unemployment rising and the housing market collapsing, taxes are going to have to rise across the board, and most importantly in places where the tax will actively bring in revenue. If unemployment is rising as sharply as the figures suggest, taxing the working citizen significantly more simply doesn’t make sense in knocking back the deficit, so Ireland are going to have to be pragmatic and look at their other streams of tax revenue.

So – all this being said. It’s shocking, although depressingly not surprising that the Indie is reporting that Ireland is now trying to ransom the people coming to bail it out with a demand that it shouldn’t have to lower it’s corporate tax rate. In characteristically brusque style Irish ministers are publicly stating that the low corporate tax rate is “certainly not up for negotiation”. With the unexpectedly early arrival of a party from the IMF, one thing we can be certain of, The big european & eurozone economies are being very patient, that patience won’t last forever – and ultimatums from politicians in Ireland are going to rapidly start to look very ridiculous.

Press reactions to Ireland & The Eurozone

Well, it appears that there is now a series of options on the table for Ireland after talks continued late into the night – more on that later today – but you’d be hard pressed to find much detail of these discussions in the UK press as the majority of newspapers seem to be rejoicing in the possibility of a cataclysm, including a particularly moronic piece from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph, full of half-true hindsight and distinctly dodgy future predictions.

What’s interesting is how almost all commentators seem to be foaming at the mouth with glee about the imminent ‘collapse’ of the euro and the european project, ignoring the impact that any potential failure would have on Britain, both politically and economically.

Let’s be blunt, the failure of the Euro would cause a financial firestorm, it would rock markets worldwide, and the blast-wave that would roll over the City of London, and then onto the wider economy of the UK would huge. Just consider there are more Euros traded in London on a weekly basis than exist in the rest of the Eurozone put together: The City contributes 14% of the total tax coffers; a significant proportion of which is earned on Euro investments and trades and the last time I looked this inward trade to the The City alone made the amount that every anti-europe commentator drags up about how much we pay into the EU every year look like pocket change.

Tea Party-esq ramblings from Little Englanders’ are horrifically ignorant. The idea that we are not inextricably linked to Europe in finance and trade and that we’d ‘do just fine’ alone on our little island against the might of China, the USA and Russia (all of whom it should be noted employ protectionist policies whenever it suits) is naive in the extreme.

It’s funny really because the view in the press is not the view I hear in my daily life. I should say I’m not surrounded by europhiles, quite often it’s quite the opposite – but none of the people I meet in my personal and business dealings have the rabid anti-europe sentiment that the press portray the British public as having. That said – one thing is clear: whether we agree with it or not, we will pay to bail out Ireland one way or another – and what’s patently clear is that if we stand by and watch the eurozone fall apart we’ll pay even more dearly than any of the Little Englander’s could ever imagine.

Ireland needs to act, now.

Basil comes a cropper. © BBC.

Basil comes a cropper. © BBC.

Many commentators are reacting to the news that Ireland and the European Union are talking about economic support as some sort of great shock – I’m really not sure why: Ireland’s recent austerity budget should have been a sure sign that they were in deep trouble. The cuts they made were not those of economy, rather they were those of widespread panic.

Of course the admission from Dick Roche that Irish banks were facing “serious liquidity problems”, and his almost flippant statement that “[I don’t think] the appropriate response to that would be for the European finance ministers to panic.” has of course had the exact opposite effect. With a ring of Mr O’Reilly promising Basil Fawlty that all will be well; the Irish economy looks set to firmly hit the buffers when it finally uses up the money it has presently loaned at some point midway through next Spring.

Media outlets are of course fanning the flames, with the meeting today between European Union finance ministers in Brussels being described as ‘crunch talks’; and while undoubtedly the first agenda item will be the state of Dublin’s finances, it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is actually a regular monthly meeting – not an extraordinary quorum specifically called to negotiate bailing out Ireland.

But while it’s sure to be the star item on the agenda, quite what they’re say about Ireland remains a mystery: elements of the finance committee are sure to push for early action in the form of a bailout with the stability of the Euro being the key focus. Over the weekend a story filed by Reuters appeared to justify this assumption, with reports of a deal to shore-up that stability of the Irish economy [for the good of the euro] valued at an amount between 45€ billion and 90€ billion already underway.

With the ultimate bailout fund entirely dependent on how much trouble the Irish banks are really in yet to be revealed, it’s no real wonder that panic both political and on the markets is setting in – as it’s that ultimate amount that’s likely to be the figure that either scuppers or saves the Irish economy. A combined French, German & British dislike for taxpayers funding Ireland’s ludicrous bank assurance guarantee (which fully covered all losses, and not just those of the private citizen), is set to cause friction for the European finance committee bearing in mind Angela Merkel & Nicolas Sarkozy’s agreement a month ago for a new mechanism for securing sovereign debt, restructuring this debt in a way which would place private investors (most notably international bond holders) at risk for investing in countries that were heavily indebted or fiscally unbalanced.

The whole story though, is not yet on the table. It should not be forgotten that British and German banks are massively exposed to the Irish economy. Der Spiegel reported that during the European bank stress tests this summer, some of Germany’s biggest banks were revealed to be holding an estimated 101 billion euro ($138 billion) in Irish bonds. while British banks are exposed to a further 110 billion euro ($150 billion or £93.7 billion). Worryingly for both Britain and Germany a significant amount of that exposure is in taxpayer supported banks including RBS and the struggling Hypo Real Estate (which Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported as holding an estimated €10.3 billion portfolio in Irish debt).

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the financial powerhouses of Europe may have to swallow any plan for letting Ireland take the pain, the exposure closer to home most likely being seen to be too damaging economically and politically, but mark my words: any bailout will come with a litany of caveats. David Cameron will have nowhere to hide as under the noses of the coalition talks that followed this year’s election, then Chancellor Alastair Darling committed Britain to any future European bailout. He won’t however be alone, Angela Merkel is already leading the battle cry, and won’t be likely to stop if German taxpayers take yet another hit for bailing out a profligate nation to ensure the long term stability of the Euro.

This story is developing… as and when details come in I’ll write more.

Laughing at the Euro?

There’s a lot of rather haughty laughing coming from many sectors of British political society at the moment: not least from a vocal group of little-englanders enjoying the Euro’s current difficulties and praising the hinterland of Sterling for ‘saving’ us from the economic woe caused by a lack of initial control in the Euro and the profligacy of almost all of the southern states.

But wait. Let’s take a look at the facts:

UK Exports – Main sources :

  • European Union 57%
  • United States: 15%
  • Switzerland: 2%
  • China: 2%
  • Japan: 2%
UK imports – Main sources :

  • European Union 55%
  • USA: 9%
  • China: 8%
  • Norway: 5%
  • Japan: 3%

Now, using this as an anchor for our perspective, maybe we could have a little sensible debate: clearly it would be entirely inapproriate for Britain to stump the Euro, even though we’re bound in part by the Lisbon Treaty to do so (and indeed have when Alistair Darling put up £6bn hours after the election result). But we have to be reasonable – we are reliant on trade with our European neighbours, and if they’re in trouble then let’s be under no false pretence, we will be too.

Also, let’s not forget that we’re a veritable speck in the economic ocean compared to the Eurozone, let’s look at the markets, we have a ‘critical’ election that decides how UK government spending is going to change and days of uncertainty as coalitions are forged and it’s barely acknowledged on the international markets. The Eurozone sneezes on the other hand and it’s massive percentage knocks day after day: let there be no question – the Eurozone is taken very seriously, and will continue to be taken so.

Of course, this is a major set-back for the Euro, it’s reputation has been damaged by it’s inability to control the states which make it up, and that’s always been my problem with it: huge economies rubbing shoulders with economies that are barely functioning. Powerhouses of export next to countries that live in the economic past struggling to pay the bills with second-rate tourist attractions. It simply never made sense that Greece, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Malta (to name but a few) were rushed into the Eurozone. The checks and balances that should have been in place were swept away in preference of unchecked growth.

What is needed now is a period of reflection and reform: the Euro needs to be reigned in; countries that are incapable of paying their bills need to get out – and serious questions now need to be asked about the way the Euro is set up: should it be the case that the countries in the Eurozone share a common taxation base, common economic policies, and if so – who will set that up, and will anyone but the major northern european states actually be able to cope with that, both economically and socially?

Athens descended into rioting and flames when it was suggested that people work longer and with less public services: but in Germany and Britain, this has been the acknowledged truth for many years – with interruptions from various unions yes, but generally, we all know that in reality if you’re my age now, then you’re likely to be working until you’re well into your 70s, and after that there won’t be a national pension of any worth to fall back on (if there’s even one at all). Should this cause social panic? Indeed has it? Of course not – yes union’s have screamed and thrown their toys out of their prams, but the bulk of the population simply see it as impetus to provide for one’s own future… a plan which I hasten to add many thought shot to pieces by Brown’s audacious private pension raid.

So where next for the Euro? Well despite Cameron’s position with Chancellor Merkel the other day, I think we’re actually heading for a period where Britain will hold a bit more power in Europe: played right Cameron & Clegg now have a mandate to use our vote in Europe to make real change happen, fiscal responsibility, reform of waste, reform of the CAP and other european problems that (believe it or not) don’t just irritate us here in Britain. We’d have support to demand change, we’d have a platform to place them upon, and we’d have the right timing to make change in Europe happen for the first time since before Maastricht, because if past-precedent is anything to go by, the hardline integrationists will use this as an excuse to push through unified tax and fiscal policy whatever the cost – and a quick fix is not what Europe needs right now.

We need Europe, and Europe needs us – we are still the gateway to the english speaking world for many major corporations. So let’s take this opportunity to stand with our partners in Europe and roll back years and years of profligacy, selfish and excessive regard for individual nation’s interests and the rampant need for expansion at all cost. Let’s put ourselves at the centre of Europe and make it work, not just for it’s own sake, but for ours.

Germany becomes Eurosceptic

There’s an interesting article today on ConservativeHome that puts forward a case that Germany has become Europe’s second eurosceptic nation, typical ConHome spin I hear you scream, but reading the German press and talking to friends in Germany it would seem not to be the case – there really is a genuine groundswell of annoyance and dismay with the European Union, a system which many Germans are now rumbling is unfairly biased it’s decisions toward latin nations for too long: a view that’s been long held by many in the UK – especially when it comes to the ludicrous con that is the CAP.

Now would be a very good time for our new coalition to stand strong with Germany: they’re our nearest neighbour in many ways: our cultures have so much in common and our position in Europe is similar economically – we’re both reliant on world trade (for Britain financially and for Germany in exports). Standing with Germany now would be a superb opportunity to force long needed reform on the EU which for so long has limped from one kludge to another.

Greece fucks it up.

So, we want your money, but we don’t want to do anything for it, we want it all, better, and now. So fuck you. If you still think bailing out the Greeks was a bright idea – watch them now bring their own country to it’s knees despite €120 billion, from the Eurozone, Us, the Yanks and anyone else.

For those of us that grew up in continental Europe during the cold war the Hammer & Sickle is something that’s very unwelcome. Markets are crashing through the floor, Portugal, Spain and Ireland frankly are on the brink of another downgrade, and all because no one is prepared to stand up for treaties that were designed to prevent this from happening in the first place.

They had a chance to salvage this, to bring things under control – but no, they want it all, now: and guess who’s going to have to pay for it.

And if you thought this was a European problem the DOW is down -2.02% today – I bet the traders are loving Obama’s spin on this on. Frankly I’m to disappointed to blog about this any further: details here. I have an awful feeling this is going to spread now, and the UK’s gilts are going to be in the spotlight, especially if we’re delivered a hung parliament on Thursday/Friday.

So, spain gets downgraded?

The Greek economic tragedy has finally started to wobble the other more ludicrous economies of this little continent. For years Greece has been one false step away from their economy collapsing in a fiery heap. Entry to the Euro as well as a buoyant world economy saved them from this much earlier; and many pointed fingers at them for fiddling their euro entry details, forgetting their responsibilities as a government to their international commitments, and at their general populous who seem to regard tax avoidance as a national sport, are unionised beyond belief, and in the eyes of many of their European neighbours seem to harbour an almost pathological dislike of a full day’s work.

So it comes as no surprise today that another of our neighbours that for years has taken the whole european community for a ride has finally been downgraded – it’s a comeuppance they’ve had coming for some time in the eyes of many. Spain has personified the scrounger for years: as one pro-euro commentator said earlier:

They’re Europe’s council house, the one we all know where none of the occupants work, but take 2 holidays a year, enjoy their full sky subscription and their booze, fags and nights out. They’ve taken from the community claiming poverty – while spending everything they can get their hands on, not repairing the roof, just splashing the cash.

Harsh words, but frankly not unfair in the broad scheme of things: Spain is a classic example of what needs Anglo-German co-operation to solve within the EU: states that have abused the CAP, European Development Grants and more general European state support services: Spain has had it very easy for the last 15 years, it’s grown fat on a healthy world economy, it’s built roads, schools infrastructure… I could go on. But it’s not modernised, it’s not changed it’s working practices and it’s not attempted to move it’s economy toward self-sufficency – or at the very least some level of debt clearance that’d allow them to sail forward without being mortally holed below the waterline.

Reform is needed right now: the basket case economies of Greece, Portugal, Spain and even Ireland need to make cuts now, they need years of austerity governments, high taxes (that are collected) and no support for fripparies from the stronger economies. The problem is that this isn’t going to happen, what’s going to happen is the larger Eurozone partners plus international aid is going to prop up these basket cases to keep the larger economies afloat: and that’s terrifying.

€120 billion is what the IMF is proposing is needed to stop Greece’s financial flu from devastating other economies big and small: that’s €120b that was only €40b last week: and that Goldman Sachs is predicting could be €150b by next week. It’s no wonder the German’s are taking to the streets to harangue their politicians for answers. We should be doing the same, because no matter how big we perceive the mess in our economy to be, we’re one of the big stable boys in comparison: and we’ll no doubt be asked to chuck money into this pot at some point.

talking of the EU

The leaders debate this evening, despite being billed as the Foreign policy debate, again failed entirely to properly cover the European issue: considering it’s the poltical equivilant of a cosh for all the parties to clout each other with, that’s not surprising – but it’s quite depressing that there doesn’t appear to be any leadership on the issue.

I grew up in what was West Germany, and Germany is arguably the most Pro-European in the Union. I speak 2 European languages to a decent standard and love the place both to travel and do business: don’t get me wrong though like all institutions the EU has more than it’s fair share of problems which all need reform; because of this I have a long held love/hate relationship with the EU: but let’s be clear on a few points.

Personally speaking I don’t have a problem with the Euro – I think as a businessman that the Euro is a good thing, it gives us block strength against the world powerful dollar and the up and coming Chinese and Russian currencies, as we found out during the ERM disaster, and more recently in the Credit Crunch, the Pound, although still a reserve currency, is – because of our own economy – hugely exposed to Global fluctuations and hedging. Don’t get me wrong though, I love the Pound – much like I loved my Deutschmark’s when I first really learned the value of money saving my allowance, but I can’t help but think that we’d be better off, and we’d find a new power in Europe if our (frankly, huge) economy joined Germany and France in the Eurozone… potentially so much so, that we could excerpt serious reform of Eurozone policies; something Germany in particularly would likely support us in.

When it comes to freedom of movement I’m baffled about the Schengen Agreement and why Britain feels it needs to be outside the core structure of the agreement: first and foremost as an Island our ports would clearly need to retain custom control to the wider world; and let’s be under no false pretence – entering the Schengen Agreement wouldn’t just suddenly open our borders to one and all: we are still an Island, and that will not change (unless the EuroBridge ever goes ahead!). Britain’s position on Schengen is fundamentally flawed as an argument – we won’t open our borders, except to Ireland – where we have no juristiction over their immigration or border and port controls. We’d save a fortune using Frontex rather than establishing our own border patrol force and many experts predicts that it would actually help the immigration issue. Especially considering that migrants from the East and the South passing through Europe to get to Britain would have to be dealt with under the terms of the Dublin Agreement (which we’d be able to wield with teeth) and in partnership with other nations as part of one co-operative block: they’d have no right to settle here having passed through our official ‘border’ 1000’s of miles before they reach our shores. (via land, rail and continent to UK sea travel). Immigration is a European problem, full stop. Just ask the Italians, the Daily Mail might like to make out that it’s Britain against the world, but if we opened our eyes there’s clear room for European unilateral action to control and temper immigration to all of our benefits.

I think the European human rights legislation (despite the protestations of the Daily Mail) is bang on, Human Rights are none negotiable, how we interpret them in our legal system for criminals and immigrants needs sensible debate, but the fundamental rights of the individual to live without pain, humiliation, servitude, torture and with freedom of expression & association and discrimination are just that: fundamental. To often the ECHR and other human rights legislation is blamed for allowing rapists and pædophiles to walk the streets, that’s not human rights failures though, that’s a failure of our justice system to interpret the various bills, and a failure of politics in the UK to adequately caveat criminal legislation to ensure that those who break our laws or attempt to breach our controls on citizenship are always held to account within boundaries that protect the public in the first instance.

You might think that I’m a screaming integrationist because of this, but you couldn’t be further from the truth: indeed I think we need to fundamentally examine and change the way we  integrate European laws into our own, for too long we’ve taken everything and integrated it wholesale into our own law – something that almost no other nation in the Union does, that needs to change so we protect our national interests both personal and corporate more effectively. We also shouldn’t give up our Military; the idea of a European Armed Forces sounds wrong, we already have NATO – and we have provisions for nation state (and by proxy military) support of European nations written into the Lisbon Treaty, that’s as far as that needs to go. I also think that tax needs to be set locally, personally I’d prefer a flat rate system for all, (and that’s another article), but I don’t think that the EU presently has anywhere near the amount of consensus required, or indeed the amount of economic similarity between the various nations in the Union to harmonise our tax affairs successfully.

Other stuff though I’m more open to conversation about – I’d prefer Germany’s road laws for starters, but if you think for one minute I’d like their or the French, Italian or Austrian police systems you can think again. I think we should harmonise Europes extradition and immigration policies so it isn’t up to individual nations to support asylum seekers who travel into the EU, it should be a union wide issue. I love the idea of harmonised green energy requirements – not just by directive, but by treaty – it takes the wiggle room away from politicians that are happy to talk the talk but generally ignore the elephant in the room.

And you know what, I’m not going to stop there – the ferrying of MEPs between 2 (technically 3) locations, is outrageous, pick one place, and that’s where the affairs of the EU shall be carried out, travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg accomplishes nothing but burning cash. There also needs to be more direct power devolved to the people, presently the system is a mystery to most – so it needs transparency, especially within the groups that draw up the directives, what drives them – the interests they represent and the way they come to their respective decisions needs to be better understood. And finally (although far from finally I could wax about this all night) we need to do away with the worst policy ever implemented between European nations since the appeasement of National Socialism: the divisive, horrifically expensive, widely abused, anti-comptitive Common Agriculture Policy. It’s an unruly disaster that’s tainted an entire generation of politicians and laypeople against the EU, so in my view the quicker it’s dismantled the quicker all Europeans will be able to look their African neighbours in the eye, the quicker we’ll reduce friction between nations that have abused the CAP and those that haven’t, and most importantly the quicker we’ll cut the cost of running the EU in general: and cutting the size and cost of any element of government in my book can never be a bad thing.

There are plenty in UK politics that want to isolate us: and if there’s one thing we should learn from our own history is that Britain’s always been stronger, whether as an Empire or as part of the Allies against fascism and communism, when it co-operates closely with it’s friends: and for all of our sibling rivalry there’s no doubt that we’ve got plenty of friends in Europe.

Europe, the issue that just won’t go away.

For most people in the UK, Europe is just about Johnny foreigner wanting to straighten our bananas; or at least that’s the impression you get if you believe most news outlets and a good chunk of our politicians – the xenophobia toward Europe and the EU can be cut with a knife, it’s awful, cloying and destructive.

For year after year the rhetoric has become increasingly hostile: and in my experience it’s not representative at all: so you have to wonder why it’s allowed to continue? Well of course the media doesn’t help; the sillier aspects of the EU administratitive functions are easier stories, and you can add a twist of them against us that you just don’t get from the same administrative department in the UK doing exactly the same thing… but that’s just not it.

No, the problem lies much deeper: it’s entrenched in our politics – none of the major parties (and I include the Lib Dems here) have a cogent European policy, a policy that doesn’t waver depending on which hack they’re chatting with, or which audience they’re addressing. No one dare put their head above the parapet and tell the truth: and the truth is that we’re in it. We’re a respected major component of the EU, and we’re constantly frustrating our nearest neighbours by seemingly ignoring this power. The UK has again and again made specific accommodations in European legislation and European treaties for it’s own gain – the idea that we always come off worse is a complete fallacy.

What we need to do is engage – we need to leave this idea of the ‘Great’ Empire in the past, the ‘special relationship’ we have with our friends across the pond doesn’t get nearly the same scrutiny as the EU does: time after time the USA have screwed Britain over and yet the USA is still great? Just ask yourself, who is setting the agenda – don’t be led by a few hacks desperate for an stereotype driven story, and don’t listen to a politician that believes we’d be better standing independent of our neighbours: because they’re wrong. The world has changed, China, India, the whole Middle East and Russia are growing in power, and it’s a fool that thinks that we’re going to be entering into fair or balanced trade agreements with any of those economic zones… Just ask America about their trading woes with China and you’ll realise just how difficult a time our little island would have.

Europe and the EU are great things, they’re things that the UK should be front and centre in all the time, together we and our European neighbours are the largest economy in the world, we’re one of the largest armed forces groups, we’re the most diverse cultural and economic zone in the world. It’s about time the UK stood up and looked at just how damn strong we can be if we engage properly with Europe.

So Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Brown – come clean: let’s have your real positions on Europe, right here, right now.