Sixty years ago pondering the question of an unruly populace, Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright mused:
“Would it not be easier In that case, for the government To dissolve the people And elect another?”
It was a rare piece of ironic criticism of East Germany’s communist regime for Brecht. It’s one of his most famed observations, trotted out whenever a populace is ungrateful enough to vote “against their own good”.
EU politicians can sympathise. They’ve laboured for six decades to fashion a union that was supposed to end wars and greatly expand economic markets, not to mention bring former communist states into freedom.
Yet the European people, instead of gratitude, now strain against an institution over which they have little direct say. In one of several recent books that express pessimism over the future of the euro currency, The Fall of the Euro, Jens Nordvig, head of currency strategy at Nomura Securities, puts it bluntly: “The economic need for further integration is clashing with public sentiment, increasingly opposed to handing over additional functions to European officials.” Nordvig’s pessimism derives from the view that the politicians cannot ensure the EU’s political support, not that the authorities can’t manage the mechanics of the euro.
British economist and commentator David Marsh is marginally less categorical in his new book, Europe’s Deadlock. He thinks the euro currency may survive, but shrink in footprint. He saw firsthand how sceptical the Germans had become when he took part in a debate in Hamburg in 2009. The audience believed that the euro was irreversible.
But when faced with the question of who’d pay for it, the previous majority who had thought that the euro would last forever melted into a small minority.
The eurozone’s most important intellectual defector, François Heisbourg, claims the calm in Europe’s markets is a “cancer in remission”. Heisbourg is reluctant to let the euro go. He sketches the possibility of a better-managed attempt at monetary union a decade down the road. But a group of less- prominent economists at the Observatoire de l’Europe think tank wrote last year that the euro was doomed, “sooner or later, to an uncontrollable explosion”.
The end-of-the-euro chorus is not the only song in town. British sociologist Anthony Giddens, in his recent Turbulent and Mighty Continent, believes “a federal solution, backed by greater legitimacy and capacity on an EU level, is the only feasible way forward”.
Dutch philosopher Luuk van Middelaar, a speech writer to Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, writes in his Passage to Europe that the crisis will “force the circle of member states to politicise itself, to increase its capacity to act and take responsibility”.
The veteran activist and German Green politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit calls for “Europeans [to] start voting not as French, German or Greek citizens — but as European ones.”
He wants to change the people’s allegiances, not the people themselves — to make those trapped in their national identities into Europeans.
Yet the crisis has shown one stark fact before all others: “Europeans” think of themselves as Germans, French, Dutch, Spaniards and Italians first, and often despise other EU members.
They benefit from Europe and will assert European- ness when outside of the continent. But when they vote, the vote that counts is national.
The dream of a Europe whose manifest goodness and destiny was acclaimed by nearly all has gone by.
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