On Tuesday, it seemed as if the European crisis was raising the old question of the finality of unification: Should Europe become a nation writ large, a federal state, a mere economic community, an informal UN, or something new? All of that suddenly looks like folklore. Even asking: “Which Europe do we want?” is to act as though one could still choose after rescuing the euro. The train seems to have already left the station — at least for Greece, Italy and Spain.
A new logic of power is taking shape. The grammar of power of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Europe conforms to the imperial difference between lender and borrower countries. The German culture of stability is being elevated to Europe’s guiding idea. Some Germans do believe their model exerts a magnetic power: Europe is learning German, they say. However, Merkel has dictated that the price for debt without restraint is loss of sovereignty.
The consequences are the splitting of the EU. Those who do not have the euro find themselves excluded from the decision-making processes shaping Europe. They are losing their political voice — most apparent in the UK’s case, which is sliding into European irrelevance.
However, a dramatic split is also occurring between the countries that already or will soon depend on the drip feed of the rescue fund and the countries financing the rescue fund. The former have no other option but to submit to the claim to power of German euro-nationalism. Italy is threatened with playing no further role in shaping the present and future of the continent.
The basic rules of European democracy are being suspended or even inverted, bypassing parliaments, governments and EU institutions. Even France, which long dominated European unification, must submit to Berlin’s strictures now that it must fear for its international credit rating.
This future taking shape in the laboratory of the euro rescue resembles a European variant of the USSR. A centralized economy no longer means five-year plans for goods and services, but five-year plans for debt reduction. The power to implement them is being placed in the hands of “commissioners,” authorized by “rights of direct access” (Merkel) to stop at nothing in tearing down the Potemkin villages erected by notorious debtor countries. We all know how the USSR ended.
However, could there be opportunity amid the crisis? In fact, the question of how this enormous space comprising 27 member states should be governed if, before every decision, 27 heads of government, cabinets and parliaments have to be convinced, has answered itself. In contrast to the EU, the eurozone is de facto a community of two speeds. In future only the eurozone (not the EU) will belong to the avant garde of Europeanization. This could represent an opportunity for the urgently needed institutional imagination.
There has long been talk of an “economic government.” What is behind this needs to be fleshed out, negotiated and tested. Sooner or later the highly controversial eurobonds will also be introduced. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble is already arguing for the introduction of a tax on financial transactions that, in the larger EU, would founder on the UK’s veto.
Former US president John F. Kennedy once astonished the world with his idea to create a peace corps. By analogy, the neo-European Merkel should dare to surprise the world with the insight and initiative that the euro crisis is not just about the economy, but about initiating the Europeanization of Europe from below. Create the Europe of the citizens now!