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The EU and the Crisis: Beginning of the End, or End of the Beginning

By Matthew Yglesias on March 3, 2009 at 5:44 pm

"The EU and the Crisis: Beginning of the End, or End of the Beginning"

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Adam Blickstein comments on tensions within the European Union over how to grapple with the economic crisis:

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On the one hand I want to say the financial crisis is the first major test of the post-enlargement, modern EU and will help determine how Europe will grow institutionally in the future. But on the other hand worry that European integration may have moved too fast too quickly without a truly robust structure so that when real hard times like now hit, it threatens the stability of the entire system. In other words, while this test will tell us a great deal about the present and future of the EU, it might not only merely be a test of pan-European harmony but also reveal a destructively discordant note in the basic structure of the European project.

Whereas even up to two years ago, fuller integration was seen as mutually beneficial to both the”net givers” (Britain, France, Germany) and “net takers” (Poland, Bulgaria, Spain), that ideal has clearly been disintegrated in the current financial climate. The growing divisions in Europe and the across the board economic suffering of countries from west to east may be exposing the mutually destructive nature emanating from the lack of protective economic compartmentalization in the basic political and financial foundation of the EU. It will be interesting to see if Britain’s greater economic autonomy allows it to weather the economic storm more adroitly than their continental counterparts, despite of course ostensibly a more dire economic reality.

Nobody is talking about it, but you could definitely sketch a scenario in which the crisis leads to the breakup of the euro and a substantial collapse of the European Union and the entire European “project.” On the other hand, you can also sketch a scenario in which the reverse happens. Public opinion in most European countries has been hostile to deepening European political integration but also unwilling to try to undue European economic integration. That’s created the current scenario in which Europe needs more policy coordination than the formal institutional structure in Brussels permits. That could be a recipe for disaster. But it could also be a recipe for statecraft and the creation of a stronger, more consolidated Europe.

A big part of the history of the past 100 years has to do with the fact that the logic of the situation in Europe points to some kind of large, integrated, German-dominated political and economic unit on the continent. But other countries haven’t liked that idea, and some—primarily England and France—have been in a position to do something about it. We’re now reaching a point, however, where the bulk of the European “periphery” would probably welcome their new German overlords, insofar as the Germans are willing to do some bailing out. Similarly, I’m sure the British, would be perfectly happy to see such a thing happen with them just sitting on the sidelines. It sort of becomes a question, at this point, of whether or not the Germans really want to play leader.

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Since the movie’s coming out Friday, I’ve got Watchmen on the brain and this seems to be the choice facing the Germans:

[A]ll the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!” —and I’ll look down and whisper “No.” They hade a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father or President Truman. Decent men who believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay. Instead they followed the droppings of lechers and communists and didn’t realize that the trail led over a precipice until it was too late. Don’t tell me they didn’t have a choice. Now the whole world stands on the brink, staring down into bloody hell, all those liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers—and all of a sudden nobody can think of anything to say.

Well, okay, Angel Merkel almost certainly won’t start referring to her Spanish and Irish counterparts as whores or lechers. But you could see her adopting this basic attitude.

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