The euro, many now believe, will not survive a failed political class in Greece or escalating levels of unemployment in Spain: Just wait another few months, they say, the EU’s irresistible collapse has started.
Dark prophecies are often wrong, but they might also become self-fulfilling. Let’s be honest: Playing Cassandra nowadays is not only tempting in a media world where “good news is no news”; it actually seems more justified than ever. For the EU, the situation has never appeared more serious.
It is precisely at this critical moment that it is essential to re-inject hope and, above all, common sense into the equation. So here are 10 good reasons to believe in Europe — 10 rational arguments to convince pessimistic analysts and worried investors alike that it is highly premature to bury the euro and the EU altogether.
The first reason for hope is that statesmanship is returning to Europe, even if in homeopathic doses. It is too early to predict the impact of Francois Hollande’s election as president of France. However, in Italy, one man, Prime Minister Mario Monti, is already making a difference.
Of course, no one elected Monti and his position is fragile and already contested, but there is a positive near-consensus that has allowed him to launch long-overdue structural reforms. It is too early to say how long this consensus will last and what changes it will bring. However, Italy, a country that under former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s cavalier rule was a source of despair, has turned into a source of real, if fragile, optimism.
A second reason to believe in Europe is that with statesmanship comes progress in governance. Monti and Hollande have both appointed women to key ministerial positions. Marginalized for so long, women bring an appetite for success that will benefit Europe.
Third, European public opinion has, at last, fully comprehended the gravity of the crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth than the claim that Europe and Europeans, with the possible exception of the Greeks, are in denial. Without lucidity born of despair, Monti would never have come to power in Italy.
In France, too, citizens have no illusions. Their vote for Hollande was a vote against former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, not against austerity. They are convinced, according to recently published public opinion polls, that their new president will not keep some of his “untenable promises” and they seem to accept this as inevitable.
The fourth reason for hope is linked to Europe’s creativity. Europe is not condemned to be a museum of its own past. Tourism is important, of course, and from that standpoint Europe’s diversity is a unique source of attractiveness. This diversity is also a source of inventiveness. From German cars to French luxury goods, European industrial competitiveness should not be underestimated.
The moment when Europe truly believes in itself, the way Germany does, and combines strategic long-term planning with well-allocated research and development investments, will make all the difference. Indeed, in certain key fields, Europe possesses a globally recognized tradition of excellence linked to a very deep culture of quality.
The fifth source of optimism is slightly paradoxical. Nationalist excesses have tended to lead Europe to catastrophic wars. However, the return of nationalist sentiment within Europe today creates a sense of emulation and competition, which proved instrumental in the rise of Asia yesterday.