Sunday, June 05, 2005

Europe’s Future?

Outside of Europe, the rejection of the European Constitution has cause a ripple of interest, but here in Europe, there is a crises mentality among members of the political class. Where does Europe go from here? Diplomats in Brussels insist that the ratification process continue, but everyone knows that they are whistling in the dark. The European Constitution is dead! The European reaction has been so great that the French government has been reorganized, the value of the euro has fallen, and some even question whether the European Union can survive.

In Italy, Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni told the Repubblica daily newspaper that Italy should hold a referendum to decide that if the country should return to the lira and make it legal tender alongside the euro. It is improbable that any country currently using the euro will go back to its former currency, but the fact that high-level politicians are discussing that possibility shows how deep European despair has become. Mr. Maroni was not the first European politician to bring up the subject of abandoning the single European currency.

Yesterday, French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder had dinner together in Berlin to decide which steps the Franco-German coalition should take next to rescue Europe. They do not seem to realize that they are a large part of the problem and that by meeting to come up with a plan to salvage Europe, they have only made things worse. Their joint statement included an exhortation to the other European countries to continue with the constitutional ratification process, thus demonstrating that they are obvious to the fact that other European countries resent Franco-German attempts to order them around.

The European Union was planned and expanded by Europe’s political elite, and until now, ordinary European citizens have not had a voice. They are fed up with being taken for granted. While the worldwide economy is experiencing dynamic growth, those European counties in that have adopted the euro as their currency are economically stagnant. Unemployment is skyrocketing, especially among the young, as the European Central Bank sits idly by and does nothing to stimulate the Euro Zone economy.

Most Europeans are in favor of the cooperation among their countries, but they feel that somewhere along the line the politicians hijacked their vision of cooperation and turned it into something much larger. Most of them were not ready for a single European currency when the politicians introduced it, and they were not prepared for the expansion of the European Union to include the formerly communist countries of the East. Against their will, they were saddled with low-wage job competition and with a currency that they believe has caused prices to rise. With the notable exception of the Germans, who regard Europe as a legitimate entity to which they can attach their nationalistic sentiments, most Europeans are also not ready for the idea of a United States of Europe with a single economic and foreign policy.

In Europe, the summer of 2005 promises to be a time of confusion and soul-searching, Europe’s future is uncertain, but I will venture a few predictions. The European Union with its present members—or most of them, at least—is here to stay, as is the euro in the countries that have already adopted it. Further expansion of the euro zone is in doubt, as is the planned expansion of the Union to include Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. Although the European Union is committed to going through the motions of negotiating Turkish admission, actual Turkish membership is almost certainly a dead issue. These countries may be offered a special relationship as a consolation prize with preferential trade and travel privileges.

The vision of a politically united Europe with a common exterior policy is also dead. It is probable that some unpopular European-wide regulations will be rescinded. Countries in Western Europe that have not already adopted the euro as their currency will now be even more reluctant to do so. The European Union will survive as something larger than most of its citizens would wish, but as a much looser confederation than its political leaders had hoped.