PARIS: A series of decisions taken over the last few years in Europe have alarmed me. The first imposed the rule of unanimity within the European Union for any decision regarding foreign policy or the use of armed force for other than humanitarian purposes. Because everyone must agree, nothing is agreed. As a result, Europe cannot develop a common foreign policy.
The second alarming decision limited the Union’s budget to a mere 1% of EU GDP, thus preventing any new common policy initiative for much of the past decade. The third decision concerns the British vetoes of the candidacies of Jean Luc Dehaene and Jean Claude Juncker for President of the European Commission. When this last British “no” came down, I sadly declared the death of the political Europe, a charge that brought me harsh criticism, even from friends.
These decisions have become more alarming over time as the need for “more Europe” has become progressively more obvious. Only a united and strong Europe can tackle the global fight against climate change, encourage the adoption of new financial rules in order to avoid the excesses that led to the crisis of 2008-2009, and handle a rising China that will soon account for 20% of world trade.
The great banking, financial, and economic crises, which every country in the world still confronts, has made things worse. Ireland, by far the biggest beneficiary of EU membership has demonstrated a powerful anti-European reflex, despite being hit early and hard by the crisis.
Meanwhile, Germany, long the proud holder of the European torch, has increasingly turned its back on that legacy, particularly after the markets reminded Germans that their country was much more Europeanized than they seemed to believe or realize. Germany rallied to Europe when the crisis was at its global nadir last year. But, now that fear of a global Armageddon has receded, Germany has turned inward.
The timing of this is particularly odd, as this new insularity comes almost immediately after Germany, France, and Great Britain cynically agreed to endow the EU with both a president of the EU Council and a foreign affairs minister. But the nominees for those offices betrayed the intentions of all three EU powers: honorable and competent though President Herman Van Rumpoy and Baroness Catherine Ashton may be, they are perfectly unknown and thus pose no threat to the powers that be in Berlin, Paris, and London.
Of course, there is still the euro, Europe’s only great political success over the last two decades. But now even that is coming into question, thanks to Germany. Everyone admires Germany’s rigorous management and capacity to reform. We also admire its monetary seriousness, attachment to fiscal rigor, and quest for exports, despite its lack of consideration for the harm done to those enduring the deficits corresponding to Germany’s surpluses.
But the crisis has changed everything. It impaired a number of European countries less robust than Germany. The three Baltic states, Hungary, and non-EU Iceland are bankrupt. Of course, they don’t belong to the eurozone, but Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland do, and their problems are nearly as desperate.
Yet Germany insists on imposing its own rigor on the eurozone as a whole, a strategy the above-mentioned states can pursue only at the risk of social chaos. These countries may exit the crisis – their crisis – only if monetary policy allows them room to grow. But Germany refuses this option, thus seriously endangering Europe’s common currency.
In opposition to almost every eurozone foreign minister or president, the chairman of Ecofin, and the European Central Bank’s president, Germany insisted that the International Monetary Fund be brought to the rescue of Greece, a brute denial of the principle of solidarity behind the euro. And, thanks to Germany, the interest rates that Greece will pay for loan packages put together by other eurozone countries will be very high, which means that its economy will be unable to recover for some time, and that its financial drama will weigh heavily on the euro’s collective destiny.
Moreover, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the liberty of pondering whether imperiled states should be excluded from the eurozone. In doing so, she offered a solution that is totally excluded by the euro’s founding treaties, but served notice that Germany may be prepared to destabilize the zone and common currency to meet its own policy ends. While Merkel seems to believe that all eurozone countries should play by the same rules, she does not seem to realize that today it is Germany that is going it alone in pursuit of its own narrow national interests.
Why is Merkel acting this way? One reason is that she leads a coalition government that is facing elections, and that finds itself in a very tricky situation with its own parliament. But if short-sightedness and domestic policy pressures lead every EU member to do anything and everything they want in their own interests, Europe will soon drift from an economic crisis to a political one.
If “political Europe” had more power, the Greek crisis would have been dealt with through a brutal conversation at the top. But there is no political Europe – and not much energy left in the economic Europe.
Given the state of global finance, the euro’s demise would be a phenomenal catastrophe. It can still be avoided, but only if all Europeans remember their solidarity and act with unusual courage and tenacity.
Michel Rocard, a former French Prime Minister and former leader of the French Socialist party, is a member of the European Parliament. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).