A crisis, a wise man once informed us, is a terrible thing to waste. Especially when it is of your own making.
The same clever people who created the single European currency want to move further toward a single European government. What has made the first venture such a failure is what makes the second such an execrable idea — there is no single European country.
The euro’s troubles were predictable, since not all of Europe shares the reflexive fiscal probity of a Germany or incorrigible corrupt profligacy of a Greece. But the European elite thought the euro would eventually become the means of pursuing political unification. The golden moment is at hand, with a tighter fiscal union among the euro countries proffered as the only escape from financial calamity. Talk about looking to the proverbial arsonists to put out the fire.
A lurch into a tighter union will represent the birth of a new regime in Europe, what John Fonte, author of the book Sovereignty or Submission, calls post-democracy. Time magazine columnist Fareed Zakaria coined the phrase “illiberal democracy” a few years ago. Europe is on the brink of a “liberal post-democracy,” a form of government that (usually) respects basic rights at the same time as it lacks the mechanisms for ensuring the popular consent that characterizes traditional democracy.
There is a European Parliament, but not one with the powers or role of a proper democratic parliament. It can’t initiate legislation. It has no governing or opposition party. It can’t topple the government with a vote of no confidence. It is the unelected European Commission that initiates legislation and issues regulations. By some estimates, about half the new laws in EU states are drafted in Brussels.
This diminution in national sovereignty has been accomplished without worrying overmuch what the peoples of EU countries want. Referenda on big further steps toward integration have generally been avoided. As Teddy Roosevelt shot back when an aide recommended he inform the Senate of a secret agreement with Japan, “Why invite the expression of views with which we may not agree?” Although there are elections to the European Parliament, no one pays attention to them, and their results reflect the standing of national political parties that fight on the basis of national, not EU, issues.
The recent cashiering of the prime ministers of Greece and Italy, who were replaced by a former vice president of the European Central Bank and a former EU commissioner, respectively, captured the undemocratic thrust of the European project. It was a technocratic coup forecasting how the laggards of the EU will come to be governed by Brussels — and essentially Germany and France — in a new fiscal union.
If Germany is paying the bills, shouldn’t it call the shots? But it shouldn’t be paying the bills for the follies of foreign countries or calling the shots. Greeks should be governed by Athens, no matter how dreary and dysfunctional this time-tested arrangement might strike Berlin as being.
The European elite claims that a reinvigoration of the nation-state will again risk war. Nonsense. Democratic nation-states didn’t precipitate World War II, the totalitarian ideology of Nazi Germany did. Are we supposed to believe that without the glue of the euro, Angela Merkel’s Germany would again roll Panzers across Nicolas Sarkozy’s France? Even without the EU, Europe would still be bound by trade, NATO, and a mutual commitment to international norms.
What Europe doesn’t share is a nation. No one speaks a language called European. There are no generic European monuments, although euro bank notes feature pleasingly fictional ones. Nor are the likes of Wellington or Napoleon generic European heroes. There aren’t pan-European political parties and never will be; voters in Denmark will always care more about their own affairs than the issues roiling Cyprus, and vice versa.
This suggests the cold comfort if the current crisis becomes the occasion for a shotgun fiscal union: Like the euro itself, it will never work.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com. ©2011 King Features Syndicate