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A Continental Fantasy
On a flight from Copenhagen to Brussels, I read two publications that I see infrequently: the International Herald Tribune and Le Soir, the principal Belgian newspaper in French. Both, not surprisingly, had much coverage of the European crisis, and both used an expression that, to me, has a sinister ring: the European project.
As it happens, I was once interviewed by one of Le Soir’s best-known journalists, who asked me whether I was in favor of the European project. I said that I would answer if she would tell me what it was. She did not, and we moved on to other subjects. Whatever the European project may be, those who don’t embrace it wholeheartedly—with a fervor that can only be described as mystical, considering that no one can explain or define it in simple terms— are depicted not as skeptics, but as enemies. Thus in Le Soir, we read: “Only the enemies of the Euro and of the European political project, notably the City of London, dream of such a cataclysm [the break-up of the single currency]!”
The City of London—Britain’s equivalent of Wall Street—here plays the role of the bloated plutocrat of Soviet iconography or of the Jewish manipulator of Nazi iconography, pulling the strings behind the scenes in order to achieve its malevolent design of controlling the world. One can make many possible criticisms of the City of London, but a determination to destroy the viability of the euro for some unspecified, atavistic reason is certainly not among them. If the euro is viable, the City couldn’t destroy it; if it is not, the City cannot save it. Besides, the idea that there is a congregation of malign conspirators within the fabled Square Mile who would rejoice at the euro’s implosion is absurd; the prospect is almost universally viewed with apprehension, though it would not come as a surprise to everyone. The conspiracy theory serves to suppress the thought that perhaps the European project’s creators are not much wiser than those of Balnibarbi in Gulliver’s Travels.
Assuming that Germany will not agree to pay the debts of other European countries, either by allowing inflation of the euro or by direct transfer payments, the Europeans face a stark choice: ignore economic reality or ignore political reality. If they persist in a currency union without some kind of budgetary union, implosion will come sooner or later. If, on the other hand, they go for budgetary union, a political explosion will happen sooner or later.
The euro’s tragic dilemma must be what Paul Krugman, writing in the International Herald Tribune, is referring to when he calls the currency “that grand, flawed experiment in monetary union without political union.” As for “the broader European project,” he describes it as “the attempt to bring peace, prosperity and democracy to a continent with a terrible history.” One can only marvel at such hubris. Europe is not so much the God that failed as the megalomaniac fantasy that failed.
First published in City Journal.