July 23, 2015
Very few American experts grasp the motivations behind the construction of the European Union. As a result, American specialized literature abounds with misguided comparisons, such as that between the US Civil War from the 19th century and today’s tense situation between Europe’s North and South.
Yes, the EEC was initially formed in 1957 to prevent intra-European military conflicts in the future and to create a large-enough internal market for aspiring member-states to rebuild their economies and prosper.
Nonetheless, the European Union does not and will never have the same objectives as – to use another example in US commentary columns – American colonists did against British domination at the end of the 18th century. This is so because unlike nations around the world, the countries of Europe appeared on the ruins of the Roman Empire. Whenever politicians, kings, emperors and military leaders attempted to unite the continent’s nations into larger political units, their inspiration – whether consciously or not – has always been the Roman Empire.
Before 1957, quite a few European nations had tried their luck, rather unsuccessfully, at duplicating Roman hegemony across the continent. The emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, followed by Napoleon or Hitler have all done their best, in their own way, to emulate the Romans’ success by military means. Their efforts eventually ended up in failure, as no European nation was either big enough or strong enough to impose its will on all the others except for brief periods of time.
For the first time in the continent’s history, however, the launch of the political project of the European Union aimed to achieve unification by peaceful and democratic means. The experiment has been partially successful until two decades ago, when neoliberal policies and an ill-inspired monetary union have fatally undermined it.
When it comes to monetary union, it is also useful to remember that this was largely a French-inspired project which Germany joined only grudgingly. The first monetary union on the continent was also initiated by the French under the name of Latin monetary union (LMU). It lasted from 1865 to 1927 and included at first France, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland. Interestingly enough, the LMU was joined by Greece as early as 1867. The Latin bloc’s objective for all participating countries was to impose common standards for coinage at a time when the gold standard dominated commercial transactions on the continent. More astute than Germany of late, Austro-Hungary refused to join the LMU, as it rejected the bi-metallist approach of the French to coinage.
Today’s monetary union is now clearly in danger of disintegration, but preventing such an outcome is still possible. The first step in the right direction would be for the Latin group of countries to act again as a bloc. The latter should make it clear to Germany that a Dexit solution to the current predicament is necessary in order to salvage both the euro and what remains of European political unity. As matters now stand, the political systems of the southern half of the Union are close to implosion, witness recent developments in Greece, Spain, Italy and even France. Germany, meanwhile, does not only enjoy a healthy economic growth rate, but is basking in a political stability obtained at the expense of every other country in the Union…
Again, the historical experience inherited from the Roman Empire is a very useful guide to preventing a Soviet-type implosion of the union. Naturally, Germany’s recurring hegemonic tendencies and the fact that it has benefitted handsomely from the introduction of the euro for its exports, mean that in Berlin there is at present no appetite for doing the right thing by its European partners. This fundamental lack of empathy with the difficulties experienced by economically and politically less stable members of the EU has been proved time and again, with the EU leaders’ conference held on the 13th of July 2015 being just the latest in a string of such episodes.
Still, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal need to get together to gently ease Germany out of the euro and subsequently of the EU. As I have explained elsewhere, the German departure from the current financial and political structures of the Union should not, however, be an acrimonious process. After all, a diminished but more cohesive European Union will still have to trade and live side-by-side with Germany and its satellites, and vice-versa. For the political leaders of the Latin group of countries, however, there is no better solution to the euro-crisis than asking Germany to revert to the D-mark, as it is much better able to withstand an exit from the Eurozone than countries like Greece, Spain or even Italy.Florian Pantazi