17 November 2011

Euro crisis: what of it?

My hiatus on this blog coincided pretty closely with the time when the euro started falling apart.  That was not planned.  But now that work has slowed down, it's given me some time to do otherwise productive activities--this blog.  I've missed it so.  I wanted to address the euro crisis, but only on a broad basis.  I do not understand a penny's worth about macro/microeconomics and though I get the general idea, I do not think myself so clever that I actually believe I know what I'm talking about.  So let's join together as I talk out of my butt (no, I joke, I won't be talking so much about economics).

There's been a lot of finger pointing, exasperation, and general displeasure over what tipped over the house of cards known as the EU and its monetary union.  Italy, always good with money (remember the lira crisis?), and Greece with its bloated, Soviet-era beaucracy are certainly easy targets.  Interestingly, the guns have been pointed back at the Germans since they have a high percentage of debt to GDP.  This seems a little...backwards since Germany is primarily paying for other people.  The economic powerhouse is taking on greater debt because it can afford it (sorta) but especially can't afford not to.  I have my German sympathies, but I'm not sure why there isn't some recognition of the fact that if Germany wasn't a part of the euro, they'd probably be beating the rest anyway.  I have often felt that Germany has been sacrificing some power for the solidarity of the euro.  It's one of the few instances of "the rise of the rest".  German seems to be pulling everyone else with it, and everybody seems to be dragging down German with them.  Germany could be doing just fine without everybody else, but it saw the euro/Schengen zone as a boon to its interests, as well as Europe as a whole.  Given the tenuous balance of solidarity and sovereignty, it's hard to make any recommendations without pushing the EU further into either direction.  The real crisis has been bubbling under the surface since the EU's inception, but just like real interpersonal relationships, the argument explodes when it comes to money.

Marriage counselors always talk about how money is a point of contention in couples because it also encapsulates other values.  I think money in the political realm has the same basis.  While the economic well being of Europe is a very serious concern and a concern in its own rights, what everyone is really squabbling about is who has what power.  Does Germany really have the power of the EU because of its economic strength?  Is Germany dangling money in front of the other EU nations to coerce them?  And it's not even all about Germany.  How much power these nations want to give the EU, how the EU metes out judgment fairly, and how responsible the EU nations are to each other are huge questions too.  They're still figuring out how to relate to each other nearly 100 years after WWI and even before then they barely knew how to be diplomatic.  Learning European history is a headache precisely because relations between kingdoms usually involved wars and coercive deals.  This crisis is illustrating why the experiment of the EU is fascinating: its parallels and divergences from the formation of the United States.

The United States had the unique fortune of forming its governance from scratch (let us not steer into a conversation about the subversive actions toward indiginous people).  Europe had and has the unique challenge of transforming the mode of governance.  From tribes to democracies and everything in between, Europe has seen it all and changed its governance at least every couple hundred years.  These changes are important, especially to the United States' history because it inspired a lot of the structures we built.  These changes also bring a lot of antiquated ideas that haven't been outlived by its generation.  Whether it's Communists, Nazis, Fascists, or any combination of those three, Europe hasn't outlived its own ghosts.  This is not arguing Europe is old, archaic, and outdated; this is arguing that their past is so very different from the nation that they're essentially modelling themselves after. 

I read an article in stern, a German magazine, about how the EU was imagined as a "United States of Europe", and the argument has been brought up in debates.  Given Europe's history and concepts about nationalism, it seems unlikely they will fully function like a state in the USA.  While each state has its own history, culture, and does sometimes feel like another country, those states do not have the same breadth of history that Europe does.  It's something to be admired and respected.  What's unclear is what to do with it now.  Do they renounce the sovereignty some of these nations enjoyed for only a decade, if that?  Ever since democracy became the modus operandi for Europe, very few have struck it out on their own and especially for a period of time as long as the states.  For all I know, that ignorance could be the one thing in favor of the EU.

This isn't a breaking point where Europe is making a final decision on whether they want to stick together or not! despite what news sources make it out to be.  This is the point of negotiation where Europe decides if they want to bolster the supranational powers of the EU or dial it back.  They certainly need to change direction and that must be decided upon, but this isn't the moment of final decision.  Sorry, but this isnt' a make it or break it story.  It's a far less glamorous one that involves difficult choices about where power is invested and the ultimate goal of Europe, which is subject to change.  What's decided now could make it difficult to go back, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.  Naturally, I will be watching to see how committed Europe is to their original vision.  But it's never too late to go back to the original dream, no matter what happens in the next coming year.