Friday, 23 September 2011
"The explosion of the European project"
The end of the present "EUSSR" is near
Both the elected and the unelected (like EU "president" van Rompuy here) leaders of the European Union are still talking as if they were representing a real European empire. However, the future of the EU looks somewhat different, as Bret Stephens points out in his column in the Wall Street Journal:
Here is where Europe slipped from convenient fiction to outright fraud.
There was the fraud of Greece's entry into the euro, a double-edged affair since Athens lied about its budgetary figures and Brussels chose to accept the lie. There was the fraud of the so-called Maastricht criteria—the fiscal rules that were supposed to govern the euro only to be quickly flouted by France and Germany and then junked altogether in the current crisis. There was the fraud of the European Constitution, overwhelmingly rejected wherever a vote on it was permitted, only to be revised and imposed by parliamentary fiat.
What is now happening in Europe isn't so much a crisis as it is an exposure: a Madoff-type event rather than a Lehman one. The shock is that it's a shock. Greece was never going to be bailed out and will, sooner or later, default. The banks holding Greek debt will, sooner or later, be recapitalized. The recapitalization will be borne by German taxpayers, and it will bring them—sooner rather than later—to the outer limit of their forbearance. The Chinese will not ride to the rescue: They know not to throw good money after bad.
And then Italy will go Greek. Europe's crisis will lap on U.S. shores, and America's economic woes will lap on Europe's—a two-way tsunami.
America will survive this because America is a state. But as Bismarck once remarked, "Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong. Europe is a geographical expression." The "fiscal union" that's being mooted will never come to pass: German voters won't stand for it, and neither will any other country that wants to retain fiscal independence—which is to say, the core attribute of democratic sovereignty.
What comes next is the explosion of the European project. Given what European leaders have made of that project over the past 30-odd years, it's not an altogether bad thing. But it will come at a massive cost. The riots of Athens will become those of Milan, Madrid and Marseilles. Parties of the fringe will gain greater sway. Border checkpoints will return. Currencies will be resurrected, then devalued. Countries will choose decay over reform. It's a long, likely parade of horribles.
Where is the Europe of Ismay, Erhard and Monnet? It's there in memory, if anyone cares to recover it. Give it another 50 years, and maybe someone will.
Read the entire column here
Stephens is probably right in his basic analysis, but the future of Europe need not be quite as dark as he thinks. The EU could also transform to a kind of "EU light" keeping free trade, the single market and the best parts of the present union.