The question is not so much can Europe match the U.S. as can it survive at all?
Europe was supposed to have arrived. With the final approval of the Lisbon Treaty last year, the European Union sported a new, consolidated government. Europe’s political elite believed it had answered Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s derisive question: what is the phone number for Europe?
But continental politics remains chaotic and European nations are tottering economically. The European Union’s future is now at risk. The question no longer is whether the EU can match the United States, but whether it can survive.
Even as Europe came to dominate the globe the continent remained fragmented into warring states and peoples. After World War II European integration was seen as the best means of solving “the German problem.” The beginning was the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, eventually evolving into the European Union. Still, the “European Project” remained incomplete.
Europe’s collective GDP and population exceed those of America. Despite its economic heft, however, the continent long has been a geopolitical nullity. Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, complained: “On many of the world’s big security problems, the EU is close to irrelevant.”
The answer: give the continent an effective government. Hence the Lisbon Treaty.
Lisbon created a president and foreign minister, reduced the influence of national governments, and expanded the powers of the European Parliament. It took the Eurocratic elite, whose insider status transcends ideological differences, a few years to overcome popular opposition to the new plan, but late last year the new super EU emerged. Herman van Rompuy was chosen president of the European Council and the Baroness Catherine Ashton was selected as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
Yet Lisbon delivered bureaucratic confusion rather than continental clarity. Van Rompuy is president of the European Council, but the Lisbon Treaty failed to dispense with the rotating six-month EU presidency held by governments, now Belgium. There also is a president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. Ashton found herself limited both by the demands of member governments and the newly empowered European Parliament.
The different organs of EU power have battled over which represents Europe in international forums and signs letters to the UN. The European governments, European Commission, and European Parliament have sparred over who should take the lead in exercising greater oversight of member finances. Van Rompuy and Barroso fought over who would represent Europe at the G-20 meeting. Reports Jennifer Rankin for European Voice: “Each of the EU’s institutions attaches a very different weight to the treaty.”
So much for turning Europe into a Weltmacht. Despite the Lisbon Treaty, a United States of Europe the EU is not.
George Will observed: “The European Union has a flag no one salutes, an anthem no one sings, a president no one can name, a parliament (in Strasbourg) no one other than its members wants to have power (which must subtract from the powers of national legislatures), a capital (Brussels) of coagulated bureaucracy no one admires or controls, a currency that presupposes what neither does nor should nor soon will exist (a European central government), and rules of fiscal behavior that no member has been penalized for ignoring.”
Europe’s economic travails pose another challenge. Sixteen of the EU’s 27 members belong to the Eurozone, which sports a common currency. Alas, the lack of a common fiscal policy means the continent’s financially prudent economic powerhouse, Germany, is yoked to shameless spendthrifts such as Greece and Italy. Everyone knew that the Eurozone’s weak sisters lied about their finances, disguising deficits and debts. Until now no one cared.
But the Greek government’s financial wizards could no longer hide the truth and default loomed. Letting the Greeks come to terms with their creditors was the obvious answer. Alas, those creditors included French and German banks, which apparently never entertained the possibility that a euro government wouldn’t be able to pay its bills.
Expelling Athens from the Eurozone was another option. But the euro is a political as well as an economic institution. Warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “If the euro fails it’s not just the currency that fails, but Europe and the idea of European unification.”
So rather than hold irresponsible spendthrifts accountable and respect the no bailout provisions of EU treaties, the organization rushed to Greece’s aid. But that has turned out to be merely the start rather than the end of the crisis.
A Greek economic crash merely has been postponed. Athens will likely have to restructure its debt at some point. With $420 billion in sovereign debt, a Greek default would be the largest such bust in history.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?