Integration Through Fear

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Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat! The manner in which Europe is addressing its grave crisis seems to be validating this piece of wisdom attributed to Euripides, Seneca and others.

One manifestation is an argument which has become prevalent. In his very first speech as Premier elect to the Italian Senate, Mario Monti warned that ‘the end of the Euro would unravel the single market, its rules, its institutions, and would take us back to where we were in the 1950s’. The same nonsensical scare tactics – if the Euro fails, so does Europe as a whole – have been used by all major European leaders, from Barroso and van Rompuy to the Merkozy twins.  

The argument is, of course, simply false. The Single Market, the most singular and enduring economic achievement of Europe, operates today across the Euro divide. Ten of the 27 Member States do not belong to the Euro and in some of these countries their currency is not even pegged to the Euro. Sure, fixed exchange rates facilitate the functioning of the market. And a break up of the Euro will be incredibly messy and wreak havoc within that market. But unless one turns this into a self-fulfilling wish, and that is rapidly becoming the case, the actual existence of the Single Market never was, and still is not, dependent on some or all of its Members having a single currency.

Why is this nonsense peddled? Linking the fate of the Euro to the very existence of the Union offers a powerful tool with which to bludgeon one’s opponents and public opinion as a whole. Thus, each of its proponents uses it to advance positions and policies which at times are even at odds with each other.  

Beyond its falsity, it is a reckless tactic, a Faustian compact, deeply injurious, and one which will return to haunt us regardless of the fate of the Euro.

One of the greatest achievements of the past decades in all but one of the Member States (the UK) has been to shift European integration from something that Europe does to something that Europe is; from a discrete political project to a framework within which one debates and contests discrete political projects. One argues about the shape of Europe and its future, but not about its very existence. And the notion of leaving (or, more grotesquely, the threat of being kicked out) would be akin to state dismemberment. All this has changed. With their own words, the very custodians of the European construct have called into question those perception gains that had taken years to cultivate. They have put an axe to an asset that is not measurable in Euros and Cents and regressed the Union into the British ‘what’s in it for me’ conceptual understanding of Europe: conjunctural and ever contingent. The toothpaste is now out of the tube; it cannot be squeezed back in. 

In the process they have also dealt blow after blow to the much vaunted alleged social solidarity of Europe and its more general underlying idealistic stratum by rooting the argument for a European-wide assumption of risk in domestic self-interest (‘this is how we will protect our own banks’, etc) and bullying and cajoling their citizenry into ‘more Europe’ based not on conviction and idealism but on fear and ‘there is no option’ type of pressure.

At an even deeper level the ‘no Euro–no Europe’ reverses yet another long-term process which succeeded in repositioning  the European construct, reshaping it from a political construct primarily linked to the material and economic into a broader self-understanding of Europe rooted in the human and the cultural. That broader vision, to which one could have and should have appealed precisely at the moment of economic crisis, has, too, suffered a series of self-inflicted own-goals, the last one of which was tipped in by, perhaps not surprisingly, the former Commissioner for Competition Policy.

Make no mistake, the break up of the Euro, should it happen, will be miserable and bring misery to many, a point conceded by those who regard this fate as inevitable as well as those who regard it as advisable. But if it happens, the existing Union needs to be at its strongest and most prepared. Instead, huge, if not always visible, damage has been inflicted by the loose talk serving short-term agendas.

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