The three stories that really matter – even to Britain

If the job of selecting the new stories to headline means selecting the stories catching the public attention (and trying not to get a headache thinking about the circular nature of it all), then the headline pickers of British political journalism have been getting it right. David Cameron and the non-vetoing veto is top of the pile.

But if you want the news that has long term significance, they have got it wrong. Three other current events are the ones that really matter.

What really mattered at the Euro-summit

The British veto is being hugely over-played in its significance – it did not stop events and it did not even reshape Britain’s relations with Europe. All it really did was throw a harsh light on what was already happening.

The actual significance of the summit was the latest, most extensive and more desperate attempt to save the Euro. Judging from initial reactions by economists and the financial markets, this time a Euro summit may just have pulled it off. It has not already been written off as a failure which, compared to other summits on the same theme, already makes it more successful than most.

The cost of failure, of a collapsing Euro and economic chaos, would be huge. The cost of success is turning out to be just as massive – a major ceding of political power by national governments to central European arrangements.

In the midst of an economic crisis this may – just – get political and popular support across the continent as the least-worst option, but it stores up a massive political problem when future domestic political arguments are ruled out because “Europe won’t allow it”.

What may be good news for the European economies in the short-run will be even better news for populist, extremist and anti-European parties, not to mention ones that are all three, in the longer run.

Climate change

If that was not gloom enough, throw in the Durban climate talks. Ironically, at the same time as the Euro-summit divisions, in Durban a British minister – Chris Huhne – successfully worked with European colleagues to present a united face to the world and successfully see through a deal. A weak and limited deal, but not the complete failure which looked likely for long periods of time.

As The Economist summaries the Durban deal:

Its terms—assuming they are acted upon—are unlikely to be sufficient to prevent a global temperature rise of more than 2°C. They might easily allow a 4°C rise. Yet with many governments distracted by pressing economic worries, the deal was as much as could have been expected from Durban; perhaps a little more.


And the third story which should be catching the headlines ahead of the Cameron veto? Local elections. In a foreign country. Not usually the mix that catches the headlines or has long-term significance. But Syria’s local elections could be another step towards the ousting of its bloody dictatorship. The results are nearly certain to be rigged, but the very act of rigging will itself feed further discontent.

Events in Syria are not just a footnote to the Arab Spring – ‘and a few months later, one more country…’. Syria’s role in backing extremists in other countries, its influence in Iraq and Lebanon, its closeness to Iran – those factors all make Syria’s future important.

Ironically, Syria was due to be discussed at the Euro-summit, getting bumped for the Euro discussions and so missing the opportunity for European countries to start to match their humanitarian rhetoric with more effective action.

Whether it is the nightmare (or, if you are a neo-Con, the splendour) of Iranians and Americans shooting at each other as conflagration leads to international interventions or the more hopeful turn of a more democratic Syria starting to help fix rather than cause problems in Lebanon and Iraq, either way Syria’s future matters to far more than only Syrians.

The big issues

The Euro, the global climate, peace in the Middle East – those are the big issues at stake. Who said what to whom in a 4am phone call between Cameron and Clegg is pretty small scale by comparison.

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