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The euro and EUtopia

June 20th, 2010 - 1:40 am

If you look up “Deutsche Mark” on the internet, you will find an abundance of definitions like this one from Wikipedia:

The Deutsche Mark … was the official currency of West Germany (1948–1990) and Germany (1990–2002) until the adoption of the euro in 2002.

Generally, Wikipedia is astonishingly quick about updating its entries.  No celebrity can die without the online encyclopedia taking note of the fact within minutes. So I am surprised that the entry for the euro has not been edited to presage its impending demise.

My friend Charles Moore provided the essential news in the headline for his column for the Daily Telegraph yesterday:

The euro’s inevitable failure will be horrendous for all of us

Charles does more than cite the tsunami of debt rolling across the euro zone: we all know about the feckless Greeks, but what about the feckless, spendthrift  Portuguese, Spaniards, and Italians? Will Germany (with some grumbling help from France) pony up to bail them out as well? (Not, of course, that they will call it a bailout, since the treaties that created “Europe” forbid direct bailouts of member states.) The Germans have been struggling for political respectability since 1945: paying off the debts of their profligate neighbors the way Earl of Emsworth paid off his son’s gambling debts was the price of admission.  But is there a limit? Is there a point where the guilt/debt ratio is no longer fiscally, or psychologically, sustainable?

Many people, Charles Moore among them, believe that the line is near, if indeed it has not already been crossed. I am writing from Carcassonne and grumbling over the currency is palpable everywhere. “Il n’y a pas d’amour euro” reads a headline in Le Monde this morning: there is no love of the euro and what, the writer wonders, could make the single currency less unpopular? The fact that, as Charles reports, the  German stock-market website Borsenews has begun  pricing shares in Deutschmarks as well as euros suggests that the game is nearly up.  (For a plausible scenario about how the end might come, see James Bennett’s splendid speculation: “The PIIGS Who Fell to Earth.”)

In the anxiety over the fate of the euro, two larger issues have often been lost sight of.  One is the fact that both friends and foes of the euro have from the beginning understood that it could never prevail absent a vastly increased centralization of European power. The gamble with the euro was that a common currency would inevitably result in a shedding of “outmoded” forms of national identity in favor of the newly (if undemocratically) enfranchised European super state. So far, that hasn’t happened. Will the current economic crisis be the catalyst for the emergence of this Brussels-centric, authoritarian state? Or will it encourage ever greater centrifugal movement, tearing the euro zone apart? (Already there is talk of a “two-tiered” euro: one for the productive north, another for the dependent south. All euros are equal, but some are more equal than others.) My bet is on the second, but who knows?

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