maandag 25 juni 2012

A cat at the crossroads

Europe stands at the crossroads. Political guidance is needed to prevent the Eurozone from collapsing. The occasional high society chit chat during G8 meetings just won't cut it. What we have seen up till now is a European 'Union' moving at different speeds in multiple directions. The 'Merkozy Austerity Diktat' seems to have come to an end. France is rapidly changing course, much to the dismay of Berlin. 

Can we say that Mr. Hollande is resolutely choosing Europe? His statements about the idea of issuing Eurobonds surely seem to support that thesis. Does this mean that Europe's future will depend (once more) on the outcome of a clash between Germany and France? Answering this question with a simple 'yes' would be a too optimistic interpretation of Europe's current situation. The still largely intergovernmental nature of the Union implies that any country holds the power to block Union initiatives in policy areas that are crucial when dealing with economical downturns (in this case a severe asymmetric shock dividing Europe in a wealthier 'Northern' group and a struggling 'Southern' part). Europe, as it is, is stuck. It cannot move forward under current conditions. 

The financial crisis of 2008, that meanwhile has become a full-blown economic depression, hit the Union in its Achilles heel. The structure has slowly started to unravel. It seems as if it is every country for itself again. This attitude has consequences. Lack of political courage and a total absence of unity lead towards what was once thought impossible: the end of Europe as we know it. The Greek classical drama has been embodied by the elections of Sunday June 17th 2012. The polls learned us two important lessons:

  1. The outcome of one election session in one (small) European country can determine the future of an entire Union of 27 Member States, a project that took more than 50 years to build. 
  2. Nea Dimokratia's modest victory was mostly due to the support of older segments of Greek Civil Society 
This being said it seems clear that Europe's survival as a Union much depends on the degree to which national leaders relate to 'Project Europe'. The support of Germany, once a fierce defender of this project, has become increasingly important. Whether this furthers the integration cause can be doubted. Germany, the economic motor of the Union, is increasingly turning to itself. Both Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble are ever more negative about lending money to battered European economies. Hesitation - not curiosity in this case - could kill the cat.

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