Europe is going through bad times. Economically, a severe recession. Internationally, it seems unable to influence events anywhere else, except in Libya, owing mainly to the lack of political cohesion between its leaders. Most of the challenges involved in the consolidation of the single currency are being inadequately addressed, and this can only be explained in terms of a deficiency of concerted will.
Since the Wall Street crisis of 2008, and especially since the outbreak of the Greek crisis three years ago, the EU has done what absolutely had to be done: preventing any partner state from dropping out of the euro, while laying the groundwork for a future banking union. But it has proceeded in a manner that is insufficient, unsatisfactory and defensive. It does things too late, with an opportunistic eye to national electoral contests; and, as in the case of Cyprus, with slipshod improvisations that are often at odds with the EU’s own laws.
The deficit of political leadership has been aggravated of late by a lack of political sympathy — if not grave tension — between France and Germany. It is fine for these countries not to agree on the content, speed and bias of the economic reforms underway. But it is fatal if they engage in wrangles based on shortsighted chauvinism, downturns in popularity and the imminence of elections, which tend to seize up the Paris-Berlin economic “locomotive.” The EU is much more than these two countries, but would amount to little without firm understanding between them. The synthesis of their two viewpoints practically sums up the realities and orientation of all the 27 EU states. To favor this synthesis is not the same thing as calling for another Franco-German “directory.”
It is unfair to blame everything on Angela Merkel, though the German obstinacy over an excessive, rigid austerity policy is indeed questionable. Likewise it is a caricature to call France the “economic sick man” of Europe, though its demands for a more growth-oriented policy and for greater commitment to the bailed-out countries in terms of relaunching consumer demand are often maladroitly handled.
It is out of place to apply the adjective “selfish” to the German positions, forgetting their input — the heaviest, though proportionally equivalent to others — to the bailouts. Yet the Germans must also remember their role in inducing southern states into excessive debt. Germany contributes heavily to the EU, but so did the EU contribute heavily to the costs of German Reunification; while Germany benefits most from the export-promoting effect of the euro.
France and Germany must again see eye to eye. Paris must accept political union as a requisite for the economy; Berlin must accept economic union as a requisite for politics. Progress must be simultaneous, and parallel. Spain and Italy, which share the French proposals, must help put the locomotive back on its rails. The alternative is regression, and we are already seeing — in Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom — how many dangers of a nationalistic, xenophobic nature can be bred of euroskepticism grown into euro-hostility.