Blame Game

by Andrew Stuttaford

Here’s a smart piece by Gideon Rachman in the FT (behind the pay wall, however) on the blame game now being played in Europe:

Broadly speaking, there are three groups competing to be the villain of the piece: the Germans, the southern Europeans and the “Anglo-Saxons”.

Yup, the wicked Anglo-Saxons (an old refrain from Vichy days, or, probably, before):

British and US commentators might think they are safely distant from all this name-calling. But that is an error. There is a strong strain of thought within Europe that the real villain in this crisis is financial capitalism, as practised in Britain and the US. José Manuel Barroso, president of the commission, remarked tetchily at a G20 summit that “the crisis did not originate in Europe … This crisis originated in North America and much of our financial sector was contaminated by unorthodox practices”.

Many European commentators have latched on to the role Goldman Sachs played in helping Greece to massage down its debt figures in the years before the crisis. This kind of argument swiftly slides into conspiracy theory. There are top officials within the EU who seem genuinely to believe that the Financial Times is part of an “Anglo-Saxon” conspiracy to destroy the single currency. (Not true, in case you were wondering.) For many pro-Europeans, it is tempting to bury differences within the eurozone by looking for scapegoats elsewhere – in the “Anglo-Saxon” financial markets.

These rhetorical exchanges are of more than academic interest. By shaping the debate, they will also shape the future course of the crisis. The argument that Anglo-Saxon capitalism is to blame has already led to a drive for tighter European financial regulation – and a mini-crisis in relations between the eurozone and Britain. Further moves to bash the Anglo-Saxons could end up with Britain being pushed closer to an exit from the EU itself.

Well, there are worse fates than that.

It is an indication, incidentally, of the extent of the lunacy that has infected the European political class (in the case of Barroso for the second time, albeit in different form: he is a former Maoist) that some of its brightest can believe (and they do) that the Financial Times, a cheerleader for European integration and a long-term supporter of the single currency, is part of a conspiracy to break it up.

Rachman concludes as follows:

So here is a possible compromise. Rather than attacking each other, Europeans should blame the “great Europeans” of the past. Men such as Mr Kohl and Mr Delors were truly “great” in other contexts. Mr Kohl drove through the unification of Germany. Mr Delors constructed the European single market. But when it came to the euro, they pursued their grand vision while ignoring the objections of those who questioned whether a single currency could work for such diverse economies. Today’s Europe is living with the consequences of their hubris.

Let’s now take a moment to recall this passage from an FT editorial on Jan 2, 2002:

After decades as a dream, 10 years as a plan and three as a virtual currency, the Euro has arrived…Its physical launch is a testament to a generation of visionary leaders who pursued a dream, often against the grain of public opinion. The reputations of Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, and Francois Mitterrand, the former French president, have faded. But their achievement, together with that of Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president, who masterminded the project, is beyond dispute…

Ooops.