The sense that both the Eurozone and the European Union are about to disintegrate is now widespread, and seems almost universal among thoughtful and well-informed analysts of the European political scene.
The following article by Walter Laqueur looks at the EuroCrisis from an establishment historian’s point of view — he sees the same process at work that the rest of us do, but he is hoping against hope that the dream of a United Europe can somehow be salvaged.
Mr. Laqueur’s essay has been kindly translated from the German by JLH. The translator includes this note:
This article — recommended by Hermes — is a provocative one. I should note that the English and German versions, and perhaps others, of the author’s latest book are already available. Clearly written by a member of the Kohl generation. I do not expect to buy one. Spengler was already enough.
I also wonder if he really believes the whole thing began for any reason other than France’s desire to nobble the country that had already beaten it up three times running, and Germany’s desire to expiate the crimes of WWII. At which time the golden ring was inserted in the German Michel’s nose and he set off on a new career as Sancho Panza.
From his distance in the US, does Laqueur have any concept of how citizens must feel when their very right to an opinion is under assault by an unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy that has replaced lace and chocolate as the main industry in a country that cannot even get along with itself? And when this detached elite is abetted by their own rulers?
Does he truly believe that the generational conflict will only be about money? When he says that the EU no longer has the will to play a major role — when did it ever? When did we hear from anyone except France, Germany and now and then the UK? It worked to some extent when it was a tariff-free trading partnership. But when did the rest of the 27 ever feel like full voting members?
Here’s the translated article, published on June 27 by Die Welt:
Continent in Crisis
The End of the Eurozone Is in Sight, and So Is the End of the EU
Europe’s decline is certain, says historian Walter Laqueur. He does not believe in a thorough restructuring of the EU. More likely is a new attempt at a united Europe.
Since I have experienced Europe and the Europeans in both good and bad times, it is time to draw up a balance sheet. I undertook the attempt five years ago in a book entitled “The Last Days of Europe.” The views expressed there were received in part skeptically, because these were rather untimely observations and the book definitely came too early.
At that time, I was of he opinion that Europe could possibly transform into a museum or a cultural amusement park for well-to-do tourists from East Asia. For whatever reason, the Europe which I know and about which I wrote five years ago, is in the process of disappearing.
The financial crisis will accelerate this process, but, at bottom, the decline of the continent has been noticeable for a long time and, accordingly, of much more basic nature than many observers assume.
Europe Is Burned Out
Since the end of the Second World War, Europe — once the center of the world — has experienced a global power shift. The full effects — political, economic and military — have been cushioned by the protection of the United States. America was a superpower and for a long time the only superpower.
But now and in future years, America will have its own crisis to weather, and Europe will be on its own to a much greater extent. There is no doubt that Asia will be a significant factor for changed in the new world order. What will Europe’s role be?
Asian diplomats often speak of the EU with a mixture of condescension and disbelief. In their view, Europe is burned out — a customs union that never had serious prospects of becoming a global power. They find it odd that Europe is not conscious of its weakened position on the world stage and has not come to terms with it. They are not even insulted by Western admonitions to pay more attention to human rights; they just ignore them.
No Common Defense Policy
The euro crisis is not exactly encouraging the Asians to change their attitude. But even if you don’t talk about European financial policy, there are still no arguments that can help to contradict the Asians.
So long as Europe has, for instance, no common energy policy. it will not be master of its own fate and will have a difficult time competing on world markets. Without a common defense policy, Europe will continue to be of even less importance on he international stage. It will be incapable of dealing with regional conflicts, to say nothing of the looming spread of weapons of mass destruction, and this is an explicit task of European security strategy.
Europe may still carry out small “police actions”, but not a war. By 2020 or 2030, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and existence of shattered states on the borders of Europe — that is, in North Africa and the Middle East — could represent a serious threat, and Europe may not be able to count unreservedly on NATO. And yet there is presently no political will to prepare the defense forces necessary for the looming dangers.
Great Distinctions in Economic Areas
Looking at the future, there are basically three possible scenarios for the European Union: it will disintegrate, it will continue to “muddle along” as it has, or it will undergo a much stronger unification and centralization than in the past.
“Muddling along” is probably not a serious option for the future, unless a split is accepted, in which several states leave the EU and remain leading economic powers in it — or the euro is done away with. But a European Union without a common currency could hardly be called a union.
When the EU was founded (and especially when it was expanded and the euro introduced), the founding fathers did not fully recognize the extent of the problems which were caused by the distinctions in different economic zones — rich and poor, north and south. The individual EU countries preserved their economic independence to a great extent.
Sovereign Rights Must Be Surrendered
Practically (but not theoretically), they could accumulate debts and determine their own tax rates (nearly a dozen states decided on a flat-rate tax, which would be unthinkable in France or Germany). Leading banks were not regulated, which led to the financial and economic crisis of 2008 as a consequence of limited expertise as well as the behavior of “stingy” governments.
The experiences of past years have shown what should have been clear from the outset: that an economic union without a much more comprehensive political union was not possible. But that would have demanded a price that many did not wish to pay — the surrender of hitherto sovereign rights.
Up to 2010, substantial advances had been made. France was pushing for the gradual establishment of a European “economic government” and the French finance minister at the time, Christine Lagarde, announced that there would be much more strenuous fiscal and economic cooperation in the EU countries.
That, however, meant an infringement of all the existing rules (The Lisbon Treaty expressly foresees no salvation plans for member states), because it was the only path of saving the eurozone.
Differences Between Germany and France
A European Stability Mechanism was established as a permanent protective umbrella, but only under strict conditions, which meant the countries were told what measures they should take with respect to taxes, expenditures and economic policy.
Somewhat late, the German government joined the other EU members, but when it came to interpreting the concept “economic government”, there were considerable differences between Germany and France. Should the European governments present their yearly budget drafts to the central government before implementing them?
It was not clear from the Lisbon Treaty whether an individual government could be overruled. With all that, the establishment of a European economic government seems likely, but it is equally clear that it would take a long time to negotiate the rights of such a regime, like, how fast could it act and many other important questions.
Too Little Trust
Should such an economic administration come to pass, it would be a sort of political government. That would be a great step forward, but how would it function?
Would this government not face all the difficulties that a coalition government would face if it comprised not two or three parties, but twenty-seven? Or would it be independent of the individual states, which at the moment is hard to imagine?
It doesn’t look as if Europe could manage this basic change. Europeans’ loyalty has been to the nation state for centuries, while the idea of European solidarity is of a later date. The differences in outlook, culture and lifestyle in the countries are considerable.
There is no common language and little trust. No one is prepared to surrender sovereign rights to a central authority which inspires no great confidence and has shown few qualities of leadership. The decline of Europe can above all be interpreted as a decline of will and dynamism.
The Continent Will Age
Whoever ponders the future of Europe always ends with Raymond Aron’s book of the 1970s. “Plea for Decadent Europe.” Even though many contemporaries misunderstood his thesis, Aron was conscious of the onset of decadence (or decline, to use a more neutral term), which began with the First World War and accelerated after the Second World War. Today, this decline is still more tangible.
In history, the rise of a new generation has led to a radical reversal, since youth in the words of the philosopher Martin Buber is the perennial new chance of humanity. Not so in the Europe of the present and future.
In the Europe of the coming decades, the young people as a percentage of the population will shrink, so the continent will age because of decreasing fertility. According to predictions of the European Union, the working population will decrease all over Europe after 2015. The number of older people (over 65)will approximately double at the same time.
There Is the Danger of a Generational Conflict
As early as 2030, a quarter of the population of Europe will be over 65 years old. That means not only that the pressure on the European health care system and pension funds will be increased, but also that a much smaller number of young people will have to work for the well-being of a much larger number of older people, if the European living standard is to be maintained or at least avoid a rapid decline.
There thus exists the gloomy prospect that the generational contract will be replaced by a generational conflict, especially if the young generation consists to a significant extent of immigrants or their children and still has to bear the burden of the mountainous debt which was amassed by the economic policy of the older generations.
So a Europe growing weaker in foreign policy and economy will at the same time have to withstand intensified internal tensions. I spoke above about the three options the EU has: it could disintegrate, it could “muddle on” as before or it could undergo a much stronger unification and centralization than in the past. Only an inveterate optimists will believe in the third option today.
A New Try for a United Europe
In all likelihood, the European Union will disintegrate, but there is always a retarding influence. Several American economic scholars have said that the EU will simply continue, because exiting would be too expensive.
There seems to be a hidden law in history, according to which institutions — once in existence — become self perpetuating and continue to exist beyond all expectations, at least much longer than expected. Is that right? Time will tell. Europe no longer seems to have the strength and the political will to play a truly important role on the world stage. The eurozone is done for, and maybe also the EU.
Nonetheless, I consider it possible that — in the future, perhaps even in the near future — there will be a new attempt to create a united Europe. History teaches that only existential crises lead to a readiness to undertake radical changes. There is no certainty in this respect, but there is always the possibility of making the decisive step from nation state to the United States of Europe.