It's not easy to find optimism about the future of the EU. The Union may be, as the Italian journalist and Corriere della Sera / Financial Times columnist Beppe Severgnini remarked at the Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday, a "political masterpiece"—the most important instance of post-World-War-II political architecture in the world, tightly linking Germany, France, and the broader continent after decades of gruesome, self-destructive war—but it's an economic disaster. With the economy of the eurozone going down hard, there is, as Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, put it, "an enormous storm coming."
There's no questioning that metaphor among Severgnini's and Johnson's Aspen co-panelists—Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and The Atlantic's Clive Crook—though there's little consensus on the magnitude of the storm ... or what its ultimate effects are likely to be. Severgnini is of a camp inclined to see opportunity in crisis, or rather the necessity of crisis for Europe to seize the opportunity the EU represents: "Europe needs to have its back against the wall; otherwise we do nothing." Haass doesn't doubt that the Union will endure; and he sees that endurance as being as important for the continent and the world as Severgnini does. But the dysfunctionality of European economy, Haass says, is a "condition to be managed," not a "problem to be solved." Crook thinks that lowering the bar for the EU's survival from "perfect solution" to "manageable situation" is a move away from denial, though he fears Europe's trajectory won't lead to an outcome that can actually be managed, after all, but a colossal crisis.