On Saturday I interviewed by phone, Lord Owen; the former Foreign Secretary and SDP Leader, with regard to his latest book, where he argues for a two-tier Europe
PAUL BURGIN: Given the current Eurozone crisis which you did allude to. If the Eurozone to collapse within the next year or so, what scenario do you envisage happening as an immediate result of that and can you see anything that the European Union would try and put in it's place?
LORD OWEN: I don't think personally that the Eurozone will collapse. I think Germany will try and keep the Deutchmark and the Euro and insist that the Euro stays within a small no of countries so as to keep the economy growing, beyond that I'd rather not speculate on a situation that I honestly don't think will exist. More realistically there is the possibility that the Eurozone reduces it's numbers and if that happens a lot depends on how they manage it. For example were Greece to find it impossible to stay within the present austerity regime, then one way is that you cut the balloons and they devalue and I think the fallout of that would be considerable for every European country, including those outside the Eurozone. The better alternative is to arrange a timetable for Greece to readjust, with financial help and assistance, which really is a trivial amount in order to have, like, a smooth exit from the Eurozone rather than a chaotic exit from the Eurozone with consequential impact on European banks and the form of repercussion which none of us can anticipate the danger out there. Nobody anticipated what happened when Lehman collapsed, the contagion was considerable and far worse than anyone anticipated. So I am in favour of a managed Eurozone adjustment, and personally I think that should be part of an overall restructure of Europe itself where you'll provide a home for any country that comes out of the Eurozone and that home, in my view, should be the European Single Market.
PAUL BURGIN: What led you to the point you are now, in so far as, in 1972 you resigned from the Labour front bench, one of seven who did, and over the EEC issue. When did you decide that needed to be a two-tier Europe state, when did you decide it was becoming too federalistic, as I suppose the way it is at the moment?
LORD OWEN: Well my opposition to federalism goes back to 1962, when I took very much the same view, as a young man I was strongly influenced by Hugh Gaitskell, and he said it's fine to go into the Common Market if that's all! If it was a Common Market that pursued federalism there would come a moment where the UK would begin to look more and more like Texas or California within the United States of America. Now that position in my view, started to become a reality in the early part of 2002/2003, when lack of separation, was mooted, and then came the constitutional convention if you will remember by Giscard D'Estiang. Now we were saved from this constitution by rejection of it by the French people and the Dutch. Britain was promised a Referendum by Tony Blair, never had that referendum, and then we were eased into the Lisborn Treaty, which went far too far on part of the changes envisaged in the constitutional treaty and again in Britain without any form of Referendum
PAUL BURGIN: With regards to our current relationship with the US, which you referred to earlier, how do you see, what positives and negatives do you see in our current relationship with the US in conjunction with our current relationship within Europe?
LORD OWEN: Well I think we are being used by the United States, particularly President Obama who is obviously worried. The repercussions of the Eurozone crisis are beginning to impact on the US and it's hurting him in the run-up to his Presidential election, and I think Cameron has been conveying messages from the United States in part as a result of the G7 meeting which was held at Camp David outside Washington a few weeks ago. I think Britain is, quite rightly, insisting the Eurozone to make decisions, make and prepare to go deeper and wider on the implications, not just on call or waiting for something to turn up. The danger of this approach is that it's almost exclusively telling the Eurozone how to manage itself and we are not even a member of the Eurozone, I think they are getting a bit fed up with this.The last thing is Britain is not ruling it out, we are not making clear to the Europeans that if you go down this road of very much greater integration in order to make the Eurozone succeed, if you're ready to go because we are ready not to be obstructed, and we need to be facilitated, then you must realise that the real difference with the Europe with the one that we joined in 1973 then it is a very different action with the Europe of the Lisborn Treaty only a few years ago and that we must protect our interests and that means giving attention to the single market which we don't think is very good for us, good for the European Movement and could be bad for Europe as a whole, particularly when you start now to look at Turkey!
PAUL BURGIN: With regards.. You mentioned a proposal for a two question referendum. Is there any support for this that you have seen on the ground, can you see such a referendum taking place within the next five years?
LORD OWEN: Yes I can. Plus we will not be part of a single currency I don't think ever, certainly not in our time and I think that we should try and remain a member of the European Single Market, so I am not in favour of a Yes/No referendum where we'd want to stay in the present situation or would have to get out, but I am actually in favour that we should have both (questions) get out and I want to have a different choice given and that seems to me the biggest responsibility of the coalition government and I think they are (on this), very very explicit. But there is the consensus, I think, of the Conservatives in favour and even some Liberal Democrats. We've got to change the structure of the European Union, it is changing anyhow with what is happening in the Eurozone.
PAUL BURGIN: Lord Owen, thankyou very much for your time