The View from Europe

Two years ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “If the Euro fails, then Europe will fail.” Such a statement is not about fact. It is about intention. That is to say, the intention and the determination of Merkel to maintain the Euro come what may. Sadly, what may come, in the end, is the realization that Europe is made up of nations that cannot agree on a solution to the crisis of the hour. Instead of unity, we find division. The European Union is a fiction. Even now, the German north is divided from the Mediterranean south on the question of debt.

Writing in the New York Times last September, Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe derided Karl Marx’s fixation on economics by proclaiming, “It’s the culture, stupid!” According to Joffe, “The PIIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – should never have been admitted to Europe’s common currency.” After all, what do the PIIGS have in common with “dour, disciplined Germany”? According to Joffe, Europe is not a unity. In the north we find Protestants. (At least they used to be.) In the south we find Catholics. (At least, they used to be.) And now, the consequences of the European Union are hitting home.

People will say that the Euro is viable, that Europe’s single market is essential. All the same, default is logical for Greece. Leaving the Eurozone is also logical. The rest of Europe wants Greece to stay on the euro, but the final decision rests with Greece. You see, the European Union has no sovereignty. That is the key to the matter. It is Greece that has sovereignty. And when it comes Spain’s turn, then Italy’s, the logic of default will recur. The logic of leaving the Eurozone will recur. To be sure, there is handwringing on every side. The euro is falling and a global economic downturn is in the air. But sovereignty is the key to the crisis. A nation can decide for itself.

I asked a friend in Germany to explain the situation from his point-of-view. My friend replied, “I have no idea which accounting fraud our socialist politicians will try next, but I am sure that it will fail, just like their tricks failed before. I talked to some financial experts and listened to their opinions but I still don’t know if it will end with a hyperinflation or a haircut. But they all agree that our politicians didn’t solve any of the fundamental problems.” The crisis management, he explained, merely delays the crash, promising to make it more severe. “I suppose that the result of this policy will be riots, insurgency and civil war-like conditions,” he said.

Europe is not merely divided between creditors and debtors. What of Muslims versus European natives, what of Left versus Right, what of the French versus the Germans? Oh yes, they are all partners and friends – like they were in 1914 or 1939. The present-day unity of Europe is economic, not political. And politics is more fundamental than economics, just as culture is more fundamental than politics. Europe’s recent prosperity may be described as a salve that ameliorates ideological and racial divisions; but take away prosperity, introduce hard times, and you have a recipe for disunity. You have a recipe for the reassertion of national sovereignty. Of course, everything in this situation depends on leadership. I asked my German friend about German Chancellor Angela Merkel. What does he think of her?

He replied: “I am ashamed to say that, a few years ago when she was the chancellor candidate of the German Conservative Party [CDU], I voted for her because I simply didn’t want Putin’s personal friend Gerhard Schröder being chancellor of my country anymore. But then, well, I guess another term with Schröder couldn’t have been worse than Merkel. To sum it up: she was and still is a bad leader.” And this very sentiment may be gaining ground in Germany. According to Spiegel Online Merkel has lost her Triple-A Popularity rating; and it is said that Europeans in general don’t like her austerity policies and her “new toughness.” Many Germans, however, still think her toughness is appealing. “She doesn’t let anything stop her,” said a man-on-the-street interviewed by Deutsche Welle.

Much depends on the German leader, who is described as having strong nerves. There is trouble within her ruling coalition, but she has not panicked. There is trouble in France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy was unseated because – some say – he was perceived as Angela Merkel’s “little dog.” Merkel is hated in Greece, and she is bound to be hated in Spain, Italy and Portugal. For whatever reason, Merkel has emerged throughout Europe as the “responsible person” – the adult of Europe.

Then there is the new French socialist President Francois Hollande. “I am for fiscal seriousness,” says Hollande. But nobody knows exactly what he means. Some warn that he is proposing an inflationary policy – as a way to avoid austerity. One might suppose that Hollande’s policy signifies inflation while Merkel’s policy signifies deflation. What then can be said of a possible compromise between the two? “We did not vote for there to be a president of the European Union named Mrs. Merkel, who decides the fate of others,” said French Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon.

The point remains: Sovereignty belongs to nations, and the European Union is not a nation. The solution to Europe’s economic crisis will belong to nations, not to the union of nations. The euro is not a national currency. As such, it is bound to be challenged. Greece is likely to present the first challenge. Others will follow. The nation states of Europe were never going to sacrifice themselves for the euro or the EU. What we see in Europe today is an old truth playing out. Power most effectively resides in the nation-state, not in the bloodless creation internationalist dreamers.

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jrnyquist [at] aol [dot] com ()