Is the EU doomed?

Posted by: Alexander Hay, 10 January 2012


Alexander Hay posted 10 January 2012
» Edited on 10 January 2012

What this article underplays, of course, is why the EU was founded and how, in many ways, it has been successful. (As in, there have been no major wars in most of Europe since WW2 and the continent has rebuilt itself most impressively since 1945 and 1989.) Still, it raises important existential issues, like how on Earth so many disparate cultures can be united under one flag.

...It is on the matters of diversity and solidarity, however, that the pan-European narrative falters most. The EU prides itself on its differences, even as it tries to legislate them out of existence. Its motto is "united in diversity," and few places on Earth have such a glorious mishmash of cultures, languages, landscapes, and peoples coexisting in such a small area. Diversity doesn't equal tolerance, however, and the existence of differences doesn't mean acceptance of them -- a fact that has come glaringly to the fore as Europe has slipped deeper into crisis and relationships have strained among its members.

When Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders suggested a fusion of Flanders and the Netherlands in 2008, one reader of a Flemish newspaper posted this outraged comment online: "If Flanders joins up with that people of busybodies, violent hooligans, murdering youths, and nuts, then I'm joining an armed rebellion! It's bad enough being with the Dutch at the same campsite!" Another wrote: "A union with Morocco or Mongolia would be better. There they don't pee against church walls, and they don't eat fried croquettes from snack vending machines." Particularly agitated responses, perhaps, but symptomatic ones: Despite 60 years of ever closer integration and interaction among Europeans, stereotypes are clearly alive and well, prejudices are as deep-seated as ever, and political parties advocating less diversity and more intolerance are gaining ground. In recent elections in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, and even progressive Sweden and Finland, voters have exhibited the sort of fears and phobias that can only be described as the flip side of Rifkin's European dream...

...Here we get to the heart of the eurozone's travails. When the single currency was conceived in the early 1990s, there was a naive belief that by having the same money the nations of the eurozone would somehow converge. In short, the euro would make the spendthrift Greeks more like the parsimonious Germans. Instead, weaker economies simply piggybacked on the strength of the euro, borrowing staggering amounts of money at low interest rates to prop up unsustainable welfare systems and grotesquely inflated housing markets. Necessary reforms -- like making it easier to hire and fire workers, restraining wages, and trimming a bloated public sector -- were simply shelved...

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