The euro crisis is tearing Europe apart. But the heart of the matter is that, as the crisis unfolds, the basic rules of European democracy are being subverted or turned into their opposite, bypassing parliaments, governments and EU institutions. Multilateralism is turning into unilateralism, equality into hegemony, sovereignty into the dependency and recognition into disrespect for the dignity of other nations. Even France, which long dominated European integration, must submit to Berlin’s strictures now that it must fear for its international credit rating.
How did this happen? The anticipation of the European catastrophe has already fundamentally changed the European landscape of power. It is giving birth to a political monster: a German Europe.
Germany did not seek this leadership position - rather, it is a perfect illustration of the law of unintended consequences. The invention and implementation of the euro was the price demanded by France in order to pin Germany down to a European Monetary Union in the context of German unification. It was a quid pro quo for binding a united Germany into a more integrated Europe in which France would continue to play the leading role. But the precise opposite has happened. Economically the euro turned out to be very good for Germany, and with the euro crisis Chancellor Angela Merkel became the informal Queen of Europe.
The new grammar of power reflects the difference between creditor and debtor countries; it is not a military but an economic logic. Its ideological foundation is ‘German euro nationalism’ - that is, an extended European version of the Deutschmark nationalism that underpinned German identity after the Second World War. In this way the German model of stability is being surreptitiously elevated into the guiding idea for Europe.
The Europe we have now will not be able to survive in the risk-laden storms of the globalized world. The EU has to be more than a grim marriage sustained by the fear of the chaos that would be caused by its breakdown. It has to be built on something more positive: a vision of rebuilding Europe bottom-up, creating a Europe of the citizen. There is no better way to reinvigorate Europe than through the coming together of ordinary Europeans acting on their own behalf.
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Whither the European Union (EU) and its premier currency the EURO? *** German sociologist Ulrich Beck does not pretend to know for sure whether or how Europe's two current major crises will be surmounted. But in 2013's GERMAN EUROPE he sketches some possibilities. *** The two crises are (1) Greece is swimming in unpayable debt and Portugal, Spain and Italy are not that far behind; and (2) the countries in the European Community's Eurozone cannot be sure that their common currency the EURO will survive. *** Professor Beck stresses that these two intertwined crises can become catastrophes. For they were not widely foreseen and existing international agreements and European fiscal and political structures are not up to the challenge. Needed, he argues, is a new view: the European Union must be made for the first time ever to meet the aspirations and needs of ordinary INDIVIDUAL Europeans and not just their governments. Europe has a future if and only if it develops new ways of thinking about how to deal with realities that are ever shifting, are not understood and may never be understood. *** Meanwhile Europe has been increasingly Germanized ever since Communist East Germany was absorbed into the free market Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) on October first 1990. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now "uncrowned Queen of Europe." *** To a general reader or political scientist reasonably au courant with Europe since World War Two, Ulrich Beck's GERMAN EUROPE contains little new or memorable. It would, I suggest, be a more useful guide to American readers if it drew more on America's own internal history and on America's contribution to the steady integration of Europe beginning with the Marshall Plan in 1948. *** In particular, worth discussing are aspects of the USA's transition from the 1777 Articles of Confederation, to the Constituton ratified in 1788. Like the USA before 1788, the European Union (EU) of 2013 is utterly dependent on the good faith of member states for funding a central treasury. Also like America under the Articles, the EU depends on the good will of member states to discipline themselves internally to meet obligations to the Center. Just think of the Eurozone's common currency the EURO. There is no central enforcement mechanism to make Greece or Portugal keep spending and borrowing within ranges necessary to support a currency that Germany and Spain also require. *** Bottom line: this GERMAN EUROPE is a good book but not extraordinarily so. It abounds in memorable one-liners, snappy quotatations and the author clearly loves his neologism "Merkiavellian" to describe German Chancellor Merkel's cautious, hesitating yet seemingly punitive crisis management style. GERMAN EUROPE's quotability reminds of Oscar Wilde and makes it a good little text to stimulate discussion among foreign policy groups and book clubs. -OOO-