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"We have agreed today, unanimously, an economic recovery plan to support our economies at this time. The conclusions will make clear that the European Union is wholly united (...). It's all of us coming together that makes a difference but I hope people do appreciate that Europe is united today, every country agreeing at what is a very substantial fiscal injection."

Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister during the European Summit on 12 December 2008
Illustration by Laura Hempel
Gordon Brown and his brain wave: European unity

From the ashes of the financial crisis raises the phoenix-like Gordon Brown with the characteristic, unthrilled (aka British) expression on his face. Only a year ago he was struggling to keep his own party together and his public support was crumbling. Today Brown produces quite resolute world-rescue plans, conveys one European summit after another and wins chunks of electorate back from the furious conservatives. All of this quite oddly in the middle of the biggest financial mayhem since the Great Depression. One can do nothing else but wonder how much exaggeration there really is in the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch comedy, if British politics seem to run on the brink of the surreal on a regular basis.

Let me make it clear: Gordon Brown does not have a great record on being overtly European. It has always been the Scottish and British constituency he was most concerned about. In the end it was he, who by sticking to the five-bullet economic test ruled out British membership in the eurozone in 1997 and was obnoxiously late at the Signing Ceremony of the Lisbon Treaty in December last year. Looking at his personal background, he is not an obvious pro-European type either. Raised as a son of a Church of Scotland minister and having completed his entire education at the University of Edinburgh, there is rather something of the local manse about him than a multilingual country-hopper. Isn't it awkward that such local maverick and a fan of markets de-regulation ends up leading the European herd when the financial chasm drives European capitals apart?

One thing is certain: for Europe, whose very raison d'être is economic cooperation, the failure to act in a concerted manner in the face of such disastrous crisis could have been terminally fatal for its monetary unity. In the banking sector confidence is all that matters, in the eurozone - unity and solidarity of the member states. At the beginning of October it seemed that both collapsed, leaving investors in a panicky mood and the euro extremely vulnerable. One of the euro's biggest one-day falls which happened on 6th October 2008 was the last wake-up call.

And then Brown gave the Green light to the common resolution. After weeks of patchy decisions, he took the first radical step and proposed to put huge amounts of government money to recapitalise banks and facilitate interbank lending. The other EU governments followed and the media burst with praise. It was quite a curious image when on 12th October 2009 Mr Brown bathed in camera flashes with the EU flag waving in the background proudly announced the unanimous adoption of the EU-wide stimulus package. A day later the Nobel-prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, declared in New York Times that Brown's plan has "defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up," Even though the Germans were not that pleased with what they branded as "crass Keynesianism" of the rescue plan, they have found themselves isolated, when Brown arm in arm with Sarkozy defined the character of the EU's response.

Of course the EU financial rescue plan cannot stop at the level of short-term plumbing, composed of big financial injections and massive bank bail-outs. What is needed is at the very least a greater pan-European regulation of the banking sector, which the British traditionally opposed to reap the fruits of City's competitiveness, and a clear commitment to the Stability Pact despite the temporary Keynesian bonanza. Can Brown sustain his image of the Europhile in the country where ‘pro-european' is used rather as an invective than an election-polls booster once his crisis management skills are no longer required? Or will he prove a mere Europhile in the closet - coming out and hiding away at his convenience? Although he did already mutter out one of his bullet point plans for avoiding future global crises, the final outcome depends as much on the mood of the market as on the peculiar humour of British politics. Today he gets the nomination for the starter and as a teaser for your future predictions and bets let me just mention that the pound is faaaaaaaaalling against euro, falling as hell.

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