New suitor sought to save barren marriage.

A few days ago, a highly-placed and well-informed Eurocrat presented me with his vision of the European Union in ten years from now. ‘It’s quite simple’, he said, ‘it will be dominated by four countries: France, Germany, Spain and Poland’. ‘And who?’ I asked.

‘Poland’ he replied. ’40 million people, an agricultural sector to outstrip any other member state, an abiding love of the French and precisely the opposite sentiments towards the Germans’. My next question was obvious – ‘What about us?’ – to which came the reply: ‘Oh, the UK will probably be outside the Union signed up with the US and Canada in some sort of fledgling (TU) Transatlantic Union.’

This is an unlikely scenario but not out of the question. The present loveless marriage with Europe cannot last forever. Like most barren marriages a ‘special relationship’ on the side sooner or later becomes essential.

Certainly since the UK joined the Union in 1973, there has been precious little EUphoria. One long massive dose of the sulks with the extraordinary result that after nearly 40 years, not only does the older generation refuse to embrace Europe but so too does an increasing percentage of the younger generation.

And all this despite millions of holidays spent abroad, hundreds of thousands of cultural exchanges and thousands of UK professionals working all over continent. If, as well as this, economic arguments are applied, traditional British pragmatism appears to have been defeated by sentiment. Meanwhile the EU remains rudderless. Delors has gone and the Franco-German alliance is in tatters. The French may not like us much but compared to their current relationship with Germany, Henry V would probably be welcomed with open arms.

And what has all this to do with accountancy? A great deal. In the absence of war – for so long the engine of European integration – leadership in Europe will depend greatly on financial acumen. And the EU has a first class degree in financial mismanagement. It is no secret in Brussels that the UK – a reluctant integrationalist on the political front – takes the high road when it comes to financial management and services. The British presence today in the EC remains as strong as ever.

Curious really: we have the ultimate paradox of being in charge of a game that we don’t want to play. Or, at the very least, we won’t play unless they – the continental Europeans – play our way. This happens.

The resolution last month of a dispute between all the British accountancy bodies and the European Commission, parliament and Court of Auditors over the recruitment of auditors is an excellent example. Europe’s Institutions had decided that an accountant without a university degree was unworthy to audit their books: a degree was a pre-requisite for a qualified accountant.

Membership of a professional accountancy body was of itself insufficient.

Swords were drawn by the British accountancy professions and after a few skirmishes, Brussels reversed its policy. Membership of a CCAB body is now recognised as entirely adequate. While this reversal of European policy can hardly be compared to the Treaty of Maastricht it might not be totally incorrect to describe it as the Treaty of Moorgate Place.

Now, if the UK took a similar stance with all the other outstanding euro problems. perhaps a genuine cross-channel partnership could evolve. The intellectual energy devoted to undermining the less than perfect European edifice could be directed to sorting it all out. [HH] Ready to go places.

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