|The lovely town of Encamp, Andorra|
Tucked away between
France and Spain in the Pyrenees, it’s a little mountain retreat with cheap shopping and no VAT. And I really rather enjoyed it. It’s beautiful, well-kept and has a fascinating, idiosyncratic history. Politically, it is a slightly bonkers, constitutional diarchy (you heard correctly), with two official heads of state, the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia.
And it got me to thinking.
Y’see, I found out a fact of which I was previously unaware: I had previously thought that Andorra, following the Second World War and the Franco years, had in the end become a semi-detached outpost of Spain, or France, or both, self-governing but not really a country per se. Well, I was wrong.
It came to full democracy rather late but, in 1993,
became the 178th member of the United Nations. Yes, with a population of 85,000, it now has a seat at the General Assembly, with as much voting power as the Andorra US and (which obviously, er, makes sense). China
And, perhaps more interestingly, it decided not to join the EU. It is now one of a handful of tiny pinpricks of non-EU land in the millions of square miles of contiguous EU landmass, the only other significant hole being Switzerland.*
In short, it’s like being in a real-life version of that exquisite Ealing comedy, Passport to Pimlico, where a small piece of
suddenly becomes a foreign enclave because of the discovery of a centuries-old treaty. London Andorra remains valiantly, if perhaps a little pointlessly, independent: a tiny : a decision, made a long time ago, largely to check out of world affairs and concentrate on business. The visible preoccupations of the Andorran press are therefore not so much the machinations of politicians on the world stage, so much as how much the new tunnel through the Pyrenees is costing them, or how the Spanish economic crisis is affecting tourism. Reasonable preoccupations, of course, but something feels missing, somehow. Switzerland
Those who would take us out of the EU altogether – and we’re not just talking about UKIP, but nowadays significant sections of the Conservative Party – are wrong. They are not wrong because the EU is a great, well-functioning institution – it’s not. It’s a seriously flawed one which needs a huge amount of work to bring it to a point where it is fit for purpose. And the palpable failure of the euro project is hardly a clarion call around which euro-waverers can rally.
And yet: the antis are wrong, and the argument is not complex. They are wrong because, in a global economy, there is no real other choice: because, in a world full of emerging economies which will in our lifetimes dwarf our little island’s, we either form part of a supra-national bloc or we are damned. It will be
Berlin, or a future European President, which is called by the US President when he needs to “talk to Europe”. Our global clout is intimately tied up with our European partners, whether we like it or not. Even Cameron understands this, which is why he only fudges the issue between the country and his backbenchers, talking laughably about “renegotiation” of our relationship with the EU (as if, by some hidden miracle, we had any hand to renegotiate with).
Further, there is another thing, more specific to Labour: that there is surely likely to remain only one option for such a
, over the long term, to differentiate itself from its EU neighbours: it is to become a low-tax, low welfare-state economy. One, in fact, which goes against everything which Labour stands for (and even a large number of Tory supporters would think twice about the implicit downsizing for services such as the NHS). That is not to say that we should go round raising taxes: this is not the “international tax-and-spend socialist paradise” argument. But to commit Britain in the long term to being a low tax economy is to opt for an entirely different future from that which most Labourites would envisage. Britain