The political foundations for union were never laid. Governments
kept building higher and higher regardless. Political crisis did not
weaken this structure, as Haass says. Coming earlier than the
architects would have wished - that is, before voters got with the
program - political and economic crisis showed how weak the structure
was to begin with.
History and ordinary prudence dictated that
the union might be broad and shallow (a free-trade area, with
embellishments, capable of taking in all-comers) or else narrow and
deep (an evolving political union, confined to countries willing to be
led there). Of the two, I always believed that the first was better.
But the architects did not even have the brains to choose the second.
They recognized no limits to their ambitions. They set about creating a
union that was both broad and deep. A federal constitution, a
parliament, a powerful central executive, one central bank, one
currency - all with no binding sense of European identity. As for
scale, well, the bigger the better. Today Greece, tomorrow Turkey. And
why stop there? Madness.
Gideon Rachman makes an interesting point.
used to think Europe had got it right. Let the US be a military
superpower; let China be an economic superpower - Europe would be the
lifestyle superpower. The days when European empires dominated the
globe had gone. But that was just fine. Europe could still be the place
with the most beautiful cities, the best food and wine, the richest
cultural history, the longest holidays, the best football teams. Life
for most ordinary Europeans has never been more comfortable.
It was a great strategy. But there was one big flaw in it. Europe cannot afford its comfortable retirement.
- but may I fine-tune the observation? First, Europe is not alone in enjoying
an unaffordable lifestyle. The United States cannot afford its lifestyle either, and its
own reckoning on this score cannot be indefinitely delayed. Also, what Gideon says may be true of ordinary Europeans' ambitions, but not of their leaders'. This is the disconnect I'm emphasizing.
Military and economic supremacy are collectivist
aspirations - you need a strong sense of nationhood to give them
meaning. Europe could have the most beautiful cities, the best food and
wine, the richest cultural history, and the longest holidays without
having to turn its peoples into "Europeans". The admirable goal of
leading the world in quality of life, rather than dominating it in military
or economic terms, requires no political union, least of all if you
value cultural diversity.
But Europe's architects did want the union to be militarily powerful; they did want to create an economic superpower; unlike ordinary Europeans, they were not
content with lifestyle success. That is why they pressed on as they
did. And see how far they got: if this was timid leadership, show me
the bold kind. They were ambitious to a fault. What they never bothered
to secure was the underpinning popular commitment, and that is partly why the
union is now in such trouble.
Previously, Europe's governments
have responded to stress on the union by trying to accelerate the pace
of integration. Don't rule out the possibility that this will happen
again. In fact you could argue it already has. The bail-out plan is a huge development in its own right, and
the innovation cannot stop there. Now there is talk of stronger central
control of national budgets.
Voters won't like that. But what do voters know? It's not as though they'll take to the streets...