What does the Euro crisis mean for Europe? Will the Euro crisis lead to the end of Europe as we know it? Is Europe on the edge of being reduced to a simple historical moment only existing in history books?
These questions were fostered during an excellent conversation on NPR led by Tom Ashbrook with three outstanding guests: New York Times’ Berlin bureau chief, Nicholas Kulish; one of the top French international relations experts, Dominique Moïsi; and Italian journalist, Beppe Severgnini. The theme of the discussion was ‘Europe in crisis,’ which went further than the usual analyses on the economic and financial meanders of Europe. Dominique Moïsi was probably the most skeptical of the three as he often talked of the beginning of a post-Europe world, wherein Europe is slipping towards irrelevance. Moïsi also tackled the important question of identity. Is there such a thing as a European identity? His answer was no, as one can see the diverging national perceptions about Europe and the Euro. Severgnini was the most optimist of the three and foresees a positive outcome for the European project.
But, three points need to be addressed concerning the current European deadlock: identities, politics, and leadership.
The question of identity is one of the most contentious. National and even regional identities have increasingly become prominent in shaping individuals’ world perceptions towards a self-centered and narrow understanding of themselves. This ultimately explains in part the reasons behind the rise and support of conservative and extremist parties. The game played by national governments over the years to limit the development of a true European identity is firing back. In times of prosperity, the construction of a European identity has never fully striven, but in times of crisis, the old narrative of ‘us versus them’ has reemerged and hijacked the political debate. The notion of European ‘solidarity,’ which exists on paper as written in the Treaties, does not resonate in the minds of Europeans. This gap has become too wide to be bridged at least in the short term. Furthermore, the historical distance from World War Two and short-term/selective memories caused by the death of the last soldiers and the rise of a younger political class contribute to the fading of the understanding of the EU as an engine for peace.
The lack of leadership has had considerable consequences for driving the European agenda and boat forward. I would simply argue that the last European leader with a true vision for Europe was the former High Representative Mr. Solana. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, Europe does not count a vibrant leader neither within the European institutions or within national arenas. At the surprise of many, the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, has emerged as one of the few leaders, the same cannot be said about Ms. Ashton, or Mr. Sarkozy, Mr. Cameron, and to some extent Ms. Merkel. Without falling into nostalgia, politicians such as Schuman, Monnet, Adenauer, Delors have been considerable engines fostering the development and construction of the EU. Current Heads of State and Government are behaving along their institutional denominations, just as a head, not leader, as they are unable to foster inspiration in their styles of governance. Short-term political decisions have become the motto in order to simply seek for reelection. True political risk and vision have disappeared from political debates. Politics as usual and lack of political will – as underlined many times by Dominique Moïsi – have killed Europe and are silently affecting the functioning of the US government.
The European project is one of the greatest political, economic, social, cultural experiments of the 20th century. The ‘idea/rationale’ behind it is more than ever relevant in this current shift of the global balance of power. Today, many Europeans enjoy a quality of life thanks to the common currency, lack of borders, and political stability that are unprecedented. The calculus of not saving the Euro goes beyond economics, but it is in fact a political decision. Either direction will have considerable consequences for future generations and the world order as we know it.