The Corner

Eurocracy Run Amuck

“We must re-establish the primacy of politics over the market.” That sentence, spoken a little while ago by Germany’s Angela Merkel, sums up the startlingly unoriginal character of the approach adopted by most EU politicians as they seek to save the common currency from what even Paul Krugman seems to concede is its current trajectory towards immolation.

As every good European career politician (is there any other type?) knows, the euro project was never primarily about good economics, let alone a devious “neoliberal” conspiracy to let loose the dreaded market to wreck havoc upon unsuspecting Europeans. The euro was always essentially about the use of an economic tool to realize a political grand design: European unification. Major backers of the common currency back in the 1990s, such as Jacques Delors and Helmut Kohl, never hid the fact that this was their ultimate ambition. Nor did they trouble to hide their disdain of those who thought the whole enterprise would end in tears.

From the common currency project’s beginning, economic considerations were continually subordinated to the goal of using the euro to cement political bonds. That’s why most countries were allowed to enter the euro despite not having met some basic entry criteria. It also explains why no one really seemed to care too much when Greece admitted in 2004 that it had fudged, distorted, and lied its way into the euro club. Now, however, Europe is discovering what happens when political games diminish a currency’s ability to reflect economic facts on the ground.

In truth, Chancellor Merkel has it exactly backwards. The EU doesn’t need any more “politics” — at least in the sense most EU politicians and civil servants understand that word. Instead, Europe needs more honesty and less fiscal fibbing; fewer backroom deals and more transparency; and more economic freedom and far less political centralization.

Such a dramatic change of outlook, however, seems most unlikely. Instead, much of Europe’s political class seems willing to go to almost any lengths to save the euro — including, it seems, beyond the bounds permitted by EU treaty law and national constitutions.

France and others, for instance, are actively pressing for the European Central Bank to do what European treaties legally forbid the ECB to do: “monetize” (that ever-useful euphemism for printing money) the debt in the form of unlimited purchases of government-bonds from debt-stricken eurozone nations. Yet others insist now is the time to create a European Finance Ministry that will somehow “manage” entire countries’ fiscal policies from Brussels.

Collectivizing debt, centralizing fiscal policy, consolidating power. In the end, it always seems to come back to the same thing for most European politicians: a remarkable self-confidence in their own indispensability. That’s usually a sign that one’s time is up.

— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and his 2012 forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future.

Most Popular


The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More
Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Science & Tech

Set NASA Free

The Trump administration has proposed shifting the International Space Station from a NASA-exclusive research facility to a semi-public, semi-private one. Its plan would nix all government funding for the ISS by 2025 and award at least $150 million per year to NASA to help with the transition. This would be a ... Read More