Saturday, June 16, 2012

Delusions of Euro-Grandeur

The Melting Euro

Henryk Broder is a well-known German journalist and commentator. In the op-ed below he discusses the devastating, fatal error that the euro has become, and the inability of the Brussels bureaucrats and national leaders of Europe to find a workable solution to the ongoing crisis.

Many thanks to JLH for translating this piece from Die Welt:

Europe’s Delusions of Grandeur Lead to Its Downfall
by Henryk M. Broder
June 9, 2012

The Euro and the “United States of Europe” were a lovely idea. Holding onto it, however, just in order to avoid admitting a mistake makes an error into a catastrophe.

In 20 or 30 years — maybe even sooner — stage plays and doctoral dissertations will be written about how the Europeans at the beginning of the 21st century fouled up Project “Europe.” Contemporary witnesses will report in television documentaries about how the euro was introduced and then dropped.

The fault-finding question will be asked: Were the Germans too strong, or the others too weak? Could the disaster have been avoided, if the handwriting on the wall had been recognized sooner? I intend to anticipate history here, and offer three explanations.

Desired Counterweight to the USA

First: Megalomania leads to destruction. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, there appeared on the horizon the idea of “the United States of Europe” as a counterweight to the United States of America. There were already a number of European institutions like the European Parliament and the European Commission which were to be enhanced by a European constitution.

Thus the “Treaty on a Constitution for Europe” came to be, which, in October 2004, in a solemn ceremony, was signed by the heads of state and of governments of EU member states, but was never enacted, since it was not ratified by all the national parliaments.

Whereupon the representatives of the 27 EU states agreed on a cut-down version, which was signed three years later in December, 2007, in Lisbon and became law in December 2009 as the “Treaty of Lisbon for Alteration of the Treaty on the European Union and of the Treaty for the Founding of the European Community.”

Birth of a Giant Mouse

Since even the greatest Europe fans were not capable of retaining such a name, an abbreviation was accepted: “Treaty on the Operation of the European Union.” It comprised ca. 500 pages. The 1949 constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany managed with 50 pages. 15 pages were enough for the 1787 constitution of the United Sates of America.

You could say: The European mountain went into labor and brought forth a giant mouse. While the Americans of 200 years ago had a common language, the treaty on the workings of the European Union had to be composed in 23 languages. The “United States of Europe” was a nice idea which, unfortunately, could not be put into practice.

The Idea of Equality Leads to Ruin

Second: The idea of equality, thought through to its logical conclusion, leads to ruin. In times of political correctness, “discriminating” does not mean distinguishing, but disadvantaging and denigrating. The idea that it was possible to synchronize the political, economic and cultural lives of the Finns with the Spaniards and find a common denominator for the Portuguese and the Poles could only have been conceived by bureaucrats.

Not just individuals, but ethnicities have a character. Among Jews, there are more gifted chess players than weight lifters. There are more contemplative and deep thinkers among Germans than among Italians. No amount of affirmative action in the world will be able to equate blues music from the US South with the brass bands of Bavaria.

Proving that thesis already borders on racism. The attempt to homogenize Europe was sure to fail. Democratic structures can only be built up from bottom to top. Decreeing equality from the top down is regression to enlightened despotism.

The euro belongs to everyone, and therefore to no one

Third: The euro as a communal currency belongs to everyone, ergo to no one. Anyone who has lived in a residential community is familiar with the phenomenon. The shape the kitchen is in is determined not by the tidy people, but by the negligent ones. Everyone depends on the other guy to clean up. The residents sit down together once in a while to discuss the division of labor, but ultimately it is always the same person who carries out the garbage and washes the dishes, because that one cannot stand the mess any longer.

That does not necessarily add to his popularity with the others in the community. Quite the opposite — anyone who proves to be a useful idiot becomes a joke to the others. That is how it was in the GDR [East Germany]. While private dachas were being provided for, the property of the community was allowed to decay. Nothing was more characteristic of life under socialism than the filthy, grimy stairwells for whose cleaning no one felt responsible, because they belonged to everyone.

With the introduction of the euro as a common currency, the function of one’s own currency as the measure of the worth of a product or service was removed. The mark, the guilder, the franc were something tangible. The euro is a virtual unit. Ten years after its introduction, its users still convert all prices into the old currency. No “European identity” can arise from that. It is as if all the national anthems were replaced by a European anthem.

Lovely but impracticable idea

The idea of a united Europe is a fiction, albeit a beautiful one. A giant Round Table with a place for everyone who wants to belong. No one is given preference, no one is disadvantaged. Every country is represented by a commissar. Germany exactly the same as Malta. There is a president whose name no one knows, and an EU foreign plenipotentiary who makes clarifications to which no one pays attention.

Politicians who have reached the end of their careers at home are rescued from a plunge into unemployment or insignificance by a job in the EU. Günther Oettinger became EU energy commissioner, Edmund Stoiber was named EU officer in charge of bureaucratic downsizing, and recently Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg received an honorary post in the EU — he is to concern himself with “how internet users, bloggers and cyber activists in authoritarian regimes can be supported in the long run.” Now everyone is waiting to see in what function Norbert Röttgen will pop up in Brussels.

The euro too was a nice idea, but has unfortunately proven to be impracticable. Holding onto an idea for its own sake, just so as not to have to admit a mistake, makes an error into fate. It is like the man on the train who breaks into loud lamentations at every station along the line. When asked what his problem is he says, “I’m in the wrong train and at every stop, the return trip gets longer.”

Photo caption: The euro crisis is driving people everywhere into the streets. Maybe now the politicians will be forced to recognize that the idea of a united Europe is a fiction.


Jeff Wood said...

Many thanks to both translator and the Baron for this posting.

I would suggest one change to the opening sentence:

"The Euro and the “United States of Europe” were a terrible idea..."

Anonymous said...

I think he missed an essential point. France was the mainspring in the creation of the EU, and the delusion of grandeur came from the French delusion of grandeur. Already under DeGaulle it had became a desire for power and glory for France as a counterweight to the U.S. France would find out that alone it could not provide it. The hope was that with Germany and the others, it would.
Takuan Seiyo

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous

Yes, there might be some truth in the comment "The French thought they would be running Europe with German money." A new Roman Empire with Paris as its capita? I've noticed that the Eurocrats have stopped lecturing the rest of the world on democracy, that was really annoying. Although, ironically, if the EU does collapse the cause will probably be democracy.

There's far too much political capital invested in the idea of "Europe", the EU will survive in one form or another. Perhaps like the "Holy Roman Empire."