May 7th 2016

Reinventing Europe

by Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 until 2005, was a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

"The euro might not survive. Despite signs of a moderate economic recovery in the eurozone, the gap between Germany and most other eurozone countries is widening and deepening.................And yet it is clear that if the euro fails, the whole European project will fail with it."


BERLIN – Since 2009, when the financial crisis that started in America in 2008 shook the eurozone to its core, crisis management has become Europe’s new normal. Indeed, crisis has followed crisis in Europe, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Europe has had a financial crisis, a Greek crisis, a Ukraine crisis, and, since the late summer of 2015, a refugee crisis. And now, with the UK, one of the European Union’s strongest member states economically and militarily, holding a referendum on June 23 on whether to leave the EU (so-called Brexit), Europe could soon be facing a secession crisis.

Indeed, a massive crisis of trust vis-à-vis Europe and its institutions has developed in most EU member states, fueling a revival of nationalist political parties and ideas and a slackening of European solidarity. The re-nationalization of Europe is accelerating, making this crisis the most dangerous of all, as it threatens disintegration from within.

The EU’s political leaders – the heads of state and government of the member states and the leaders of the European Council and the European Commission – made a fateful decision in the wake of the financial crisis. They placed their trust in crisis-mode management, rather than developing a vision for Europe and a strategy to achieve it.

Strategic management of Europe would have required making the necessary compromises, which no doubt would have entailed political risks in all member states. Instead, EU leaders chose to let the reality of the various crises do the work for them, placing their faith in the force of circumstances. But this approach, born of cowardice and misplaced cunning, had its price, too: To its citizens, an EU that moves only in crisis mode is the very image of incompetence, unworthy of their confidence – no longer the solution to the old continent’s problems, but simply another problem.

After almost six decades of successful integration, Europe has become a large feature of everyday life – a political, economic, institutional, and legal reality. But all of Europe’s manifestations depend on the vitality of its underlying idea, of its soul. If this idea dies among Europe’s citizens and peoples, the EU will come to an end, not with a bang but with a long, torturous whimper.

Things cannot go on like this; too much – the future of our continent in a world of rapid change – is at stake. A policy of baby steps is no longer enough. Without a renewed vision of Europe and an effective approach to dealing with crises, the continent’s new (and old) nationalists will continue to gain in strength and jeopardize the entire project of peaceful integration on the basis of the rule of law.

The Brexit referendum will point the way, both for the UK and for the EU as a whole. It will be followed either by sighs of relief (as I hope) or a cataclysm that rocks the EU to its core and brings disaster to the UK. But, however the British decide, Europe’s numerous crises need to be addressed.

The financial crisis is anything but over; it has only taken on a new political guise. Portugal, Spain, and Ireland have shown that democratic majorities are no longer willing to endure the cure-or-kill treatment of austerity politics. And the Greek crisis is coming to a boil again.

The euro might not survive. Despite signs of a moderate economic recovery in the eurozone, the gap between Germany and most other eurozone countries is widening and deepening. There is no longer any talk of convergence in the monetary union, and there hasn’t been for a long time.

And yet it is clear that if the euro fails, the whole European project will fail with it. Europe’s leaders know that the euro is still anything but crisis-proof, despite technical improvements achieved during the previous crisis. Unless a renewed grand compromise is reached between Germany and other eurozone countries, it never will be. In practice, this would mean reforming the eurozone on the basis of deeper political integration – obviously no mean feat.

The same applies to the EU’s joint security, protection of external borders, and a reformed European refugee policy. Here, too, effective political leadership requires a renewed vision for a united Europe in the twenty-first century – what it can and must provide, how it should be constituted, and what institutions and powers it requires.

There is no reason for Europe to fear crises. They set things in motion and provide an opportunity for the EU to move forward and become stronger, provided one faces them without fear of the accompanying political risks.

Once the UK has spoken this June, Europe must give its answer – courageously and with a vision and real solutions. Nationalism is not the answer. Only genuine Europeans can ensure a peaceful, prosperous future for Europe.



Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.
May 4th 2019
Accusing Iran of being a rogue country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting extremist groups and terrorism, persistently threatening Israel, and destabilizing the region in its relentless effort to become the dominant power may well all be justified. The question is, what would it take to stop Iran from its destabilizing activities and help make it a constructive member of the international community, and avoid military confrontation with either the US or Israel or both?
Apr 29th 2019
Some of the most famous scientific discoveries happened by accident. From Teflon and the microwave oven to penicillin, scientists trying to solve a problem sometimes find unexpected things. This is exactly how we created phosphorene nanoribbons – a material made from one of the universe’s basic building blocks, but that has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of technologies.
Apr 28th 2019
Easter visitors to London have found some streets and buildings occupied by “Extinction Rebellion” activists, warning of climate catastrophe and rejecting “a failed capitalist system.” Followers of central bank thinking have seen the governors of the Bank of England and Banque de France warning that climate-related risks threaten company profits and financial stability. Both interventions highlight the severity of the climate challenge that the world faces. But warnings alone won’t fix the problem unless governments set ambitious but realistic targets to eliminate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions, backed by policies to ensure the targets are achieved. Zero net CO2 emissions by 2050 at the latest should be the legally defined objective in all developed economies.
Apr 25th 2019
LONDON – Russian efforts to influence European elections have received plenty of media attention. But the same cannot be said of interference by conservative Christian groups based in the United States, some with links to President Donald Trump’s administration and his former adviser, Stephen Bannon.
Apr 24th 2019
.............the version of the report released is only the start of wide-ranging and intensive House investigations.
Apr 17th 2019
On the night of April 15, 2019, in Paris, the emotions were raw. “Notre Dame is burning, the whole of France is crying, the whole world is crying,” said Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. “It’s terrible, frightening, painful, a tragedy, a nightmare.” “This place leaves no one untouched. When you enter this cathedral, it inhabits you,” said Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in front of the burning monument. “We will rebuild,” said the Rector of Notre Dame, “we will rebuild.”
Apr 15th 2019
High-level political purges are gathering pace in Russia. The latest evidence came in late March, with the arrests of Mikhail Abyzov, a former minister for open government affairs, and – two days later – Viktor Ishayev, a former Far East minister and ex-governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk region. Unsurprisingly, the arrests of such senior figures is having a chilling effect among the country’s elites. The authorities have now arrested or imprisoned three former federal government ministers and a supporting cast of regional officials
Apr 8th 2019
The reaction to this type of paternalism, sensible and well-meant as it usually was, came in the form of petulant populism. Like a child who refuses to eat his spinach, just because his mother claims it is good for him, supporters of Trump, Brexiteers, or Baudet want to give the finger to the politics of virtue. That is why Nigel Farage, the chief promoter of Brexit, likes to be photographed with a glass full of beer and a smoldering cigarette: if the virtuous elite want us to drink less and quit smoking, let’s have another and light up.
Apr 8th 2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be on a roll. He has sent a rocket to the dark side of the moon, built artificial islands on contested reefs in the South China Sea, and recently enticed Italy to break ranks with its European partners and sign on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s unilateralist posture has reduced America’s soft power and influence. China’s economic performance over the past four decades has been truly impressive. It is now the main trading partner for more than a hundred countries compared to about half that number for the United States. Its economic growth has slowed, but its official 6% annual rate is more than twice the American rate. Conventional wisdom projects that China’s economy will surpass that of the US in size in the coming decade. Perhaps. But it is also possible that Xi has feet of clay.
Apr 2nd 2019
"......as prime minister, May called a snap election in the name of helping her deliver Brexit. She openly dismissed anyone opposing Brexit – which at the very least meant the 16.5m who had voted remain – as “playing games with politics”. In hock to the hardline Brexiteers within her own party, May pushed a for a version of Brexit that would make this small group of around 100 or so individuals happy, regardless of what millions out in the country thought."
Apr 1st 2019
The financial crisis occurred in 2008 because deficient regulation allowed huge risks to develop within the financial system itself. But the depth of the subsequent recession, and the long period of slow growth that followed, was the result not of continued financial system fragility, but of the excessive leverage in the real economy that had developed over the previous half-century. Between 1950 and 2007, advanced economies’ private-sector debt (households and companies) grew from 50% to 170% of GDP and adequate growth seemed attainable only if debt grew far more rapidly than nominal GDP. After the crisis, loan growth turned negative and remained depressed for many years, not because an impaired financial system lacked the capital to extend credit, but because overleveraged households and companies were determined to pay down debt even if interest rates were zero. The same pattern was observed in Japan in the 1990s.
Mar 28th 2019
The American people should have known that something was awry when President Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, announced on Friday, March 22, that he had received special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and would provide a summary of its findings to certain congressional leaders over the weekend. We should have asked: Why Barr’s summary and not Mueller’s? Presumably, Mueller had attached one to his report. It turned out there was a propagandistic reason for this unusual arrangement: Barr issued the best possible interpretation of Mueller’s report – from the president’s standpoint – including perhaps even a twist on what Mueller had said and intended. This allowed the president and his backers to propagate and celebrate what Mueller didn’t say: that the report’s conclusions were a “total exoneration” of Trump. In fact, even Barr’s brief summary, quoting Mueller’s report, said, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Mar 26th 2019
"The 2020 campaign could easily devolve into street violence at Trump’s instigation."
Mar 26th 2019


 

BEIJING – The global economy is weakening, in no small measure because of a deep, widespread sense of uncertainty. And a major source of that uncertainty is the ongoing Sino-American “trade war.”

Mar 19th 2019
Last week, a far-right extremist killed at least 50 people – including a three-year-old child – worshiping at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Neither white supremacy, nor racially motivated terrorist attacks carried out in its name, are new phenomena. Yet the response to far-right terrorism remains thoroughly insufficient.