Monday, March 12, 2012


From FPRI:

by Jakub Grygiel

January 9, 2012

Jakub Grygiel is the George H.W. Bush Senior Associate
Professor of International Relations at the School of
Advanced International Studies  at Johns Hopkins University,
in Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at the Center for
European Policy Analysis, and an international affairs
columnist for Giornale del Popolo in Switzerland and Il
Mondo in Italy. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from
Princeton University.

Available on the web and in pdf format at: 


                      by Jakub Grygiel

Were the EU a term paper, a lenient professor would likely
give it a D+. It does not deserve an F, as it has survived
several crises and has embodied the noble attempt to pacify
the European continent. Despite persistent rumors and a
perennial sense of foreboding, the EU has not failed yet.
And the doggedness of European leaders-manifested by
frequent meetings, multiple revisions of their agreements,
willingness to expend their nations' treasure, an obstinate
defense of the euro-is akin to a student's perseverance in
editing a paper during an all-nighter. Surely, this counts
for something and deserves a few points lifting the grade a

The challenge is that no matter how much time and money
European leaders put into this effort, the outcome does not
look promising. The paper, to use that metaphor again, is
not amenable to editing; it needs some fundamental
rethinking. The reason is that its causality is faulty.

Let me explain. The project of a united Europe is based on
the belief that economic unity (itself poorly defined) will
lead to political unity. The pooling of the economic aspects
of state sovereignty, such as control over production of
steel and coal or management of a currency, was meant to
constrain and mitigate the nationalistic behavior of
individual governments, thereby limiting the possibility of
another war. Moreover, in the longer run, the expectation
was that a growing economic integration, culminating in the
establishment of a common currency, would create a common
European identity. A common market, in brief, would create

Such a line of causation demanded a technocratic approach.
Missing the underlying national unity, the establishment of
a common market and a common currency had to be pursued by a
supra-national elite with a very tenuous electoral
accountability. Absent a demos, the technocrats had to take
over the decision-making process. The hope, based on the
assumption that a common economy creates a unified people,
was that at a certain point a European demos would arise
allowing the functioning of a European democracy. But until
then, technocracy would have to suffice, and indeed, it was
the only way to manage European affairs.

The "democratic deficit" of EU institutions is, therefore, a
direct outcome of the faith in the transformative powers of
economic structures. The economic, material conditions had
to be first set up, then managed by the EU elites sheltered
from electoral wishes (notice the EU's reluctance to allow,
and fear of, referenda),  and the effect would be the
blurring of national differences and ultimately the birth of
a European nation. One market, one currency, and-sooner or
later-one people.

Moreover, the assumption of a common economy causing a
unified people meant also that one could abstract from the
actual reality of Europe. There was no need to figure out
what Europe, as a cultural entity, really was because the
new economic reality would have made a new nation. Hence,
the EU technocrats strongly opposed any reference to a
common religious background, Christianity, and ignored the
three founding cities of Europe: Jerusalem, Athens, and
Rome. In their stead, an anemic paean to universal values,
reason, and tolerance was much preferred, and the less
defined these terms the better. In a way, there were meant
to be empty vessels, so anyone could fill them with any
substance they desired because they were simply temporary
placeholders for the unity that would have sprung from the
material conditions created by a common market. One Europe
under one currency.

The problem is that the euro fans-on both sides of the
Atlantic, one has to add-are wrong. To put it bluntly, they
completely messed up the line of causation of political
development. The idea that a political unity could arise
among geographically contiguous people handling the same
coins is akin to believing that two proximate strangers can
be joyfully married merely by sharing a checking account.
The likely outcome of the latter situation is a depleted
checking account and serious marital tensions leading to a
divorce. The outcome of the former so far has been a
financial crisis, growing national tensions, and a stubborn
refusal to face the facts.

The euro was superimposed on economies that are vastly
divergent and on polities that have far from uniform fiscal
policies. And indeed, in a nod to these differences, the
common currency was not accompanied by a fiscal union of the
euro countries. That would have to follow the gradual
unification of political preferences that should have
stemmed in some unspecified future from sharing the euro.
Little wonder that countries, such as Greece or Italy,
continued their fiscal life as in the pre-euro days, while
others, notably Germany, subsidized them through low
interest rates. The story is well known at this point and
does not need another recounting. What is at the heart of
this situation, however, is the na‹vet‚ of the fathers of
the euro. The blame should not be placed on Italy, Greece,
or Spain; they continued to live as they always did, perhaps
only more so. The blame is on those who thought that the
euro would somehow alter decades-old patterns of political
behavior, making, to be brief, all Europeans into Germans.

No fiscal, and certainly no political, uniformity arose
among euro-wielding countries. On the contrary, in recent
months, there has been a marked resurgence of national
tensions, driven in large measure by the sense of German
power dictating the terms of the internal bargains of, so
far, Greece and Italy. The fact that two democratically
elected governments, in Athens and in Rome, had been brought
down in the process has only fueled the perception that it
was Berlin, and the euro supporters, to call the shots. The
presence of French president Sarkozy next to German
Chancellor Merkel at the various meetings dealing with ever
more pressing crises has not been perceived as a sign of
European cooperation-of the continuation of that Franco-
German reconciliation that had marked a break with the pre-
1945 history-but rather a symptom of deep French fears of
being left behind and ending in the "Mediterranean" category
of states. It is not a cooperation of equals, but placation
of the more powerful German economy.

What should we expect, then? The EU, and the euro zone in
particular, will survive, but it is turning into a very
different entity from that envisioned at the end of World
War II. The Europe of Adenauer and De Gasperi is not the
Europe of Merkel, Barroso and Van Rompuy. The latter is
characterized by the absence of great statesmen and a
related ideological attachment to the euro. The apocalyptic
pronouncements of various European politicians claiming that
the breakup of the euro will lead to wars attempt to replace
reasoning with fear, a classic tactic of an ideology. The
argument that a Europe sans euro will lead to the "guns of
August" ignores the quite peaceful relations among Western
European countries in the 1950s thru the 1990s. Moreover, it
assumes that the euro will continue to smooth national
tensions, a feat that is quite clearly not being achieved
these months. There is growing resentment at the costs of
keeping the euro afloat both in fiscally profligate
countries and among the taxpaying German electorate (and the
resentment is also toward each other). But facts carry no
value for an ideology, and the euro defenders prefer to see
Europe splinter because of what they think is the right
therapy rather than see it prosper under the wrong one.

The outcome so far is that the post-2011 Europe is
increasingly a German-led and -managed Europe. Berlin's role
is seen either as regrettable or as desirable, depending in
large measure on one's prejudices toward the EU as a
political entity. Those who view the current institutions of
the EU as viable in the long-term prefer a more active
Germany, tying other European countries to strict fiscal
rules and setting the agenda for Europe. Germany as the only
savior of Europe is undoubtedly an image of enormous
historical ambition. Those who see it as regrettable are
reluctant to see another crack in the sovereignty of
European states and to have the EU become more German and
less European. Both sides agree, however implicitly, that
power-and in particular German power-is back in vogue. So
much for creating a political entity that was supposed to
transcend the politics of old, replacing conflicts of
interests with harmony. It appears that the harmony may have
to be imposed, after all.

From a policy perspective, the EU has essentially two
choices. One is to break up the euro as currently set up,
allowing countries such as Italy and Greece to manage their
own currencies to match their fiscal policies. The other is
to double down and force greater political (especially
fiscal) centralization among the euro countries. This would
involve most likely concentrating Europe's fiscal decisions
in the hands of EU bureaucracies and, because of its
economic power, of Germany's decision makers, without going
through the painstaking and highly uncertain process of
seeking popular approval in the various members of the euro
zone. This may work for a while, but it is also likely to
generate social unrest, intra-European frictions, and
further economic stagnation. In the end, the first option
seems preferable because sooner or later that is where the
euro is headed anyway.

More importantly, a change in economic policy, however
dramatic, will only mitigate some of the symptoms of the
current crisis. In order to address the fundamental problem
of today's Europe it is necessary to abandon the belief that
economic unity will cause political harmony. We are back at
the point of departure of this note. Europeans will not be
created by the euro and a common market, and what we have
right now is a set of EU institutions with no Europeans. But
to recognize this leads to the question of what Europe is, a
question that neither Merkel nor Sarkozy nor Barroso are
willing to ponder because they seem to have little memory of
the Christian roots of Europe. Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome
are seen as contemporary sources of security and fiscal
problems, not as symbols of a great civilizational and
religious inheritance that truly unites Europe.

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