Message to the United Kingdom, Duxburian Union and Framptonia
I am disappointed to have witnessed the eruption of bad feeling and threats of punitive economic actions and counter actions between your respective states.
I request audiences with Sajid Javed, Alan Thomas and Robert Kligenberg in my office in Europolis on Wednesday morning.
Dr Suzannah Beech - Commisioner for Economics
Dr Suzannah Beech was sitting in her office with a mug of black coffee. It was only 8:30 am and she had been at work for over two hours already. Dr Henry Davidson who was sitting in an armchair by the window looking out at the sun rising over the city of Europolis. He had been trying to explain to her the concepts of free trade and protectionism. She was aware that in half an hour, the Finance Ministers would be sitting in her office and she feared that they would see straight through her economic ignorance. God she wished she hadn't accepted the economics portfolio without putting up a bigger fight.
The intercom on her desk phone and her receptionist announced that Alan Thomas,the Comptroller General of Framptonia had arrived and wanted to see her briefly before the meeting. Suzannah declined to see him and suggested that he be given a cup of coffee and be asked to wait.
The door opened and in walked Alan Thomas, all beaming smile and holding his arms open as if ready to hug his grandchildren. "Suzie, it's good to see you again," he beamed. "This is a swell office. Wow! What a view".
The receptionist was standing behind him, gesticulating wildly. "I'm sorry Dr Beech, he refused to wait. Shall I call security."
The Comptroller General let out a guffaw at the thought of the Commission Security being called to remove him from the office of the Commissioner. "No it's all right, Therese, Mr Thomas will wait in the Ante Office as you requested," Suzannah said calmly. "Mr Thomas please wait outside. It is simply not appropriate for me to talk to you before the other invitees arrive. Oh and one more thing. Don't call me Suzie. Nobody calls me Suzie. Show some respect. You are in the office of the Commissioner for Economics."
Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary to HM Treasury in the United Kingdom, showed up after taking a train from London to Europolis. It was a slow coach and took far longer than he realised, nearly an entire day.
"Sorry, Madam Commissioner....damned train made a stop every 30 minutes before we got out of Wales! Now, what are we here to discuss? Oh, I am the Permanent Secretary to HM Treasury, ma'am. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not available and I was, so here I am."
Dr Beech rose to welcome Nicholas MacPherson.
"It is good to see you, Mr MacPherson." She instructed the receptionist to bring in some coffee while she undertook the introductions. "This is Mr Alan Thomas, the Comptroller General from Framptonia, and this is Dr Henry Davidson, one of my advisors. I'm disappointed that the Chancellor is unable to attend as I was looking forward to meeting him. It's a shame he didn't let my office know that he was indisposed, as we could have sought to rearrange the meeting to a mutually convenient time. Still, maybe the communications in the United Kingdom aren't all they're cracked up to be."
Suzannah showed them to the oval conference table. The table was highly polished and made from a deep golden yellow wood. The sunlight rising through the window, reflected from it and Suzannah traced a line of the grain with her highly manicured right index finger. "This table has been in every office in which I've worked for the last twenty years," she announced to the men, as if they had asked her a question about it. In fact they were totally disinterested. "It was made for me by my grandfather from the timber of a tree on his farm in Framptonia. A beech tree." She paused as if her sharing a name with the wood from which the table was constructed was symbolic. Nobody said anything. Nobody knew what to say.
"It would appear that Robert Kligenberg will not be attending," she explained. "We haven't heard from him, though the Duxburian Councillor did say in the Council a couple of days ago that he would be attending. Maybe he is just running late. We'll start without him, we can always recap if he arrives."
Alan Thomas was slouching in one of the chairs, looking bored. "Maybe the Duxburian Union have the same communications system that the United Kingdom use," he said not even trying to hide his sarcasm.
"If it alright with you Mr MacPherson, I should like to ask Mr Thomas to explain the economic situation in Framptonia that lead to the decision he announced earlier this week. Once he has explained his position, I think we will probably all have some questions for him. Then I shall ask you to explain the United Kingdom's position and see whether we can find some common ground to reach a mutually acceptable outcome. Is that acceptable gentlemen?"
"Good. then if I could ask you to explain your Government's position please Mr Thomas. But please remember that there are no votes to be garnered in this office, so there is no need to resort to hyperbole or histrionics."
"Thank you Dr Beech," began Mr Thomas. "I'm not sure how much Mr MacPherson knows about the politics of Framptonia. But we have in the last year elected our first Socialist Government. I use the word Socialist loosely. The Party which has formed the Government is the Democratic Socialist Party of Framptonia. The Party was lead by Ric Metcalfe, a true and faithful Socialist. Unfortunately most of the representatives of the Socialist Party in Parliament were more akin to Social Democrats than Democratic Socialists and this was reflected in the make up of the Government. Of Ric's Cabinet, I would say that he was the only true Socialist. The others were little more than what in your Country would be called Pink Tories, Mr MacPherson."
Suzannah Beech was angered by Alan's opening. It was clearly intended as a slight against her as she had been one of the leading members of the Government and was most definitely one of the "Pink Tories" to whom he alluded. But she bit her tongue and said nothing.
"The main plank of the Government's policy was to get Framptonia into the European Union, which it did successfully nearly a year ago. From that point onwards the economic policy of the Government was decidedly un-Socialist. My predecessor in as Comptroller General, Dimness Healey, ran the economy in exactly the same way as if the Christian Democrats had been in power. It was shaming to see how a supposedly Socialist Government behaved."
"Anyway, it was clear that at some future point, the Government intended to apply to adopt the Euro as its currency. In anticipation of this, Dimness used fiscal and monetary policy to try to peg the Florin against the British Pound. As the pound strengthened against the Euro, Dimness increased interest rates so that the pound did not strengthen against the Florin and the Florin almost maintained its status against the Pound, but itself strengthened against the Euro. This policy has caused economic stagnation within Framptonia. What little industrial output we had has become uncompetitive on foreign markets and maintaining a balance of payments surplus has become a thing of imagination and history. The state of the economy has made the Socialist Party unpopular with the electorate and if these policies had continued would have lead to an electoral wipe out. Had Framptonia with its over valued currency joined the Eurozone, the cost to other members could have crashed the Euro."
"When through Davishirian intrigue brought Ric Metcalfe's Prime Ministership to an end, he was wily enough to manipulate the leadership succession to retain a Socialist Prime Minister in Philippa Bentley. Pippa is a much more determined leader than Ric ever was. Her Cabinet is a much more Socialist one than Ric's ever was. At the first meeting of the Cabinet, it was decided that the new Government of Framptonia would abandon the previous Government's ambition to become a Eurozone player and would retreat from the disastrous shadowing of the Pound by the Florin. The interest rate rises implemented by Dimness Healy would be reversed and the the Florin allowed to devalue to a sensible market level. And that is what we have done. No more. No less."
"On those terms, we find your action to be reasonable. I was not aware that Framptonia had pegged their florin to the value of the British pound. Since it is free floating for the most part, that could have been a pickle!
"The thing that alarmed the Treasury was the rather...inflammatory remarks about strong currencies. Britain has built up its economic strength through centuries of economic liberalism. We will continue to encourage free trade, and we believe that Framptonia can be a valued trading partner, as it has shown significant growth in the three quarters of 2015-2016.
"Please don't think ill of us. Any economy in the position as ours would react in that way given the circumstances. We would have no idea if it was currency manipulation or otherwise."
"Ah, yes the inflammatory remarks," murmured Alan Thomas. "What you seem to forget Mr MacPherson, is that I am a politician in a minority Government. I have to play to the Court of Public Opinion and the polls are already showing that my words are boosting the popularity of my Prime Minister. That's my job. My words were simply a way of portraying our problems as being caused by bogeyman outsiders, when in fact they were caused by our own so called Socialists. But I can't say that publicly. I have to portray the failure of a Socialist Comptroller as a result of external forces."
"As Permanent Secretary, what are you? Some sort of Civil Servant? If so what authority do you have to reverse these tariffs? They don't gain your country anything, but they harm our country greatly."
"As Permanent Secretary, I have great influence of economic policy of the Treasury itself. While Chancellors can come and go as they please, I am the one who ensures continuity and advises the Government on its policies in terms of fiscal and monetary policies. In short, I can get policies to change."
"Ah, I think I see," said Alan Thomas, smiling. "We have a saying in Framptonia, that we'd rather deal with the organ grinder rather than the monkey. I guess then that your position in that saying would be neither monkey nor organ grinder, but the owner of the organ."
He paused and smiled, while his British counterpart looked somewhat bemused. His phone vibrated on the table in front of him and he picked it up and glanced at it.
"You'll have to excuse me, I'm afraid. It's my Prime Minister. She knows that I'm in this meeting and wouldn't contact me unless it was important."
As he left the room they could clearly hear him say on the telephone, "No, neither of them have turned up. There's some Treasury minion from the UK instead." Then he closed the door and they could hear no more.
"I would apologise for his behaviour, Mr MacPherson," Suzannah said. "But he's no responsibility of mine. I can't stand the man."
After a few moments, Alan Thomas returned to the room unsmiling.
"I'm not sure whether you are aware of this or not Mr MacPherson, but your Prime Minister has just released a statement stating that in light of Stonekrog's support for Framptonia, your Government has introduced identical tariffs against Stonekrog's imports to the UK as apply to Framptonia's imports. The tariffs against Framptonia were introduced supposedly to level out the playing field between our two so equal economies. The tariffs against Stonekrog are simply a punishment for expressing an opinion with which your Prime Minister disagrees."
"I'm not really aware of that, I will see if I can change his mind when I get home to London. Darned slow coach may take a while though."
"well this has been a bloody waste of time," Alan Thomas was clearly angry. "So who does set fucking economic policy in the United Kingdom? Is it the monkey or the organ grinder? It clearly isn't you."
"Alan, please ..." Suzannah Beech held out her hand palm outwards, indicating that she wished him to be quiet.
"You're not even the man who owns the organ. More likely the man who cleans up the shit after the monkey"
Suzannah banged her fist down on the table. "Enough," she shouted. "I will not tolerate this sort of behaviour in my office."
Alan Thomas reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes and started to light one. "Not in here, Mr Thomas," Suzannah said quietly, but with menace.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Thomas snarled as he stood, gathered his papers and stormed out of the room slamming the door behind him.
There was a brief silence. Then Suzannah said to the British Civil Servant, "Well, I hope you have a good journey home. When you get back there please let your Prime Minister and Chancellor know that I am disappointed that they chose to send an official rather than a decision maker to seeme. If you eventually do work out who decides the economic policy of the United Kingdom, whether it is you, the Chancellor or the Prime Minister, please be sure to let me know."
After Nicholas MacPherson had left the office, Dr Henry Davidson turned to the Commissioner for Economics and said "I think that went rather well."