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Tuesday, March 03, 2009


One of my professors at UNC last year, Thomas Oatley, generally takes a rather critical view of monetary aspects of European integration. In his IPE textbook for one his outlook on the future of a common European currency without an accompanying economic government is rather pessimistic (or realistic, but in any case not rosy). Recent events seem to provide evidence that he is right (and the € doomed) and even mainstream European publications have picked up on the possibility of monetary union failing. On his blog there now is a post mocking (criticizing if you want) review of European leaders' responses to the monetary crisis.

I do not have much to say in defence of European governments, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Oatley's implication that these national responses are not sufficient in fact. Especially Germany needs to step up to the plate and help its neighbors in need, simply because it is one of the few countries (if not the only European one) that can, because of its own interests (preserving the €) even coming at a short-term price, but also out of interest in the higher ideals of European integration and the amazing progress we have made on this continent ever since 1945.

What I think needs to be stressed are the underlying reasons for this lack of European coordination. The main (philosophical) problem as far as I am concerned is that there is no European identity. The news, the discussion, the political leaders in Europe (or in the two countries, France and Germany, where I follow the news in any case) are French or German and nothing else. There is not enough acceptance of an overriding European frame-work. Merkel is a German politician that has to deal with the impact of her policies on a German electorate (federal elections in September!) that is not willing to pay for the 'spend-thrift' countries of Southern and Eastern Europe. She has to furthermore deal with an inner-party rival in Seehofer (who recently emerged as the new leader of the Bavarian section of the Union (CDU/CSU) (imagine the Dixiecrats having formed their own party at some point and constantly winning by large percentages in the South while still working as part of the Democrats in Washington; it's not a good situation as anyone familiar with Strom Thurgood can attest)) who through populist attacks is trying to make up for the recent electoral losses of the CSU. National politics and posturing simply pays more than European solidarity (see Sarkozy's initiatives at the outbreak of the Gaza War for example, completely ignoring its effects on the perception of the Czech EU-presidency).

On a more structural level two aspects seem to be of relevance to me.
As part of a realist approach, Germany ever since its reunification (and the disappearance of the dinosaur Kohl) has shown more willingness to assert itself on the European political scene. A mixture of a bad conscience (and thus genuine conviction) and a perception of it being the only way leading to international acceptance after the Second World War, made the Federal Republic willing to foot a large part of the bill of European integration. This is not the case anymore. Constrained budgets in Germany (and an obsession with a debt-free budget) and the difficult economic period following the reunification, further increased this aversion to pay for developments perceived as emanating from other countries only.

On a cultural level, the problem quite simply is that there are not enough Europeans governing Europeans countries. The descriptive aspects enumerated above concerning Merkel could easily be transferred to Sarkozy or any other European national leader. The politicians of this generation have not had the same exposure to Europe as (some) members of my generation did. Merkel never spent a significant amount of time abroad, neither did Sarkozy. I had a course with Hubert Védrine (Secretary of State in France under the Jospin government; came up with the controversial term of hyperpuissance) here in France and his point of view is also extremely nationalist. I honestly feel like there is a disconnect between the EU as it has evolved over the years, between the reality of European life and interdependence and the people that actually govern it (above the EU-bureaucrat level that is). If I look at the members of my generation that care about European (and international) politics, then I see a group of people that speaks three languages at least (English and the respective mother tongue being a given) that has friends and significant others' of different nationalities and different origins. These circumstances of life shape decisions and perspectives. European leaders today lack this perspective.

Yet, to be slightly more optimistic (weird position for me to be in admittedly) and even though I really like Alexandre Dumas, it is not unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno of course, but rather the ever deeper union. Even the United States needed 21 years from independence to the ratification of its constitution and that took place in a union far smaller and diverse than today's EU. We need some more time for any kind of true European solidarity to emerge.

I personally hope that the current crisis will lead to an extension and deepening of European integration. But then maybe I am a hopelessly naive federalist.

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