Belmont Club

Judgment Day

Twenty two years ago the Los Angeles Times juxtaposed the figures of Jacques Delors and Margaret Thatcher. The Frenchman and the Briton stood on opposite sides of the question of Europe.

Thatcher and Delors personify a broader struggle over the central question of what Europe should become as the 12 member nations of the European Community push toward greater unity. Should the 12 be merely a glorified free-trade zone of like-minded states a la Thatcher, or, in Delors’ vision, a fully integrated union–the continent’s economic and political epicenter, bound as much by a common social ethos as by commercial necessity?

In the LAT article, Delors represents the future while Thatcher represents the retrograde past. “But as Delors presses, encourages and cajoles the European countries toward greater unity, Thatcher mounts a series of delaying actions.”

“She sees herself as some kind of resistance fighter in the mountains that’s simply not going to let Big Brother take over from Brussels,” said Britain’s opposition Labor Party leader, Neil Kinnock.

Fast forward to the present. Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph caught up with Delors in his Parisian office where he granted the newspaper a rare interview. “The small, bespectacled figure who greets me is old in years — he was born in July 1925, three months before Mrs Thatcher — but with undiminished physical and mental vigour. We talk for two hours, and one feels he would happily continue for another two. … Deciding not to beat about the bush, I ask the man who prides himself on being an architect of European Union whether he got it all wrong.”

Unhesitatingly, he denies it. It is a fault in the execution, not of the architects, which he claimed to have pointed out in 1997 when the plans for introducing the euro finally came together. …

For a long time, the euro did remarkably well, Mr Delors argues, bringing growth, reform and price stability to the weaker members as well as the stronger. But there was a reluctance to address any of the problems. “The finance ministers did not want to see anything disagreeable which they would be forced to deal with.” Then the global credit crisis struck, and all the defects were exposed. …

So will the euro survive? Mr Delors does not, of course, deviate from his belief in the European single currency. He is also very conscious of the danger of someone in his position saying anything that might help to destabilise the situation. I am struck, however, by his downbeat interpretation of events.

“Jean Monnet [the founding father of the European Union] used to say that when Europe has a crisis it comes out of the crisis stronger … but there are some, like me, who think that Monnet was being very optimistic. You must be very vigilant to make sure that you do come out of a crisis in a better state … I am like Gramsci [the Italian Marxist philosopher]: I have pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” …

The euro can emerge from this crisis only if two conditions are met. “The first is that the firemen must put out the fire. The second is that there must be a new architecture. If you have one of these things without the other, the markets will be sceptical.”

The choice is “either to accept a greater transfer of sovereignty or to submit to a common discipline”.

Although her poor health and mental decline preclude a similar interview, Mrs. Thatcher’s last views on the EU were contained in her 2002 book where she said “that such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era.” It was a view rejected wholeheartedly by President Barack Obama in 2009. He believed in the future of Europe.

Barack Obama heads to Britain and Europe in two weeks’ time as the leader of the first U.S. Administration to wholeheartedly back the creation of a federal Europe. In contrast to earlier U.S. administrations, including those of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Obama administration is avowedly Euro-federalist in outlook, and is keen to help build a European Union defense identity as well as support the foundations of a European superstate in Brussels.

But that was then, and this is now. The world has turned upside down since.  Europe is so broke that it is asking for handout from China. Before Charles Moore left Jacques Delors he described a kind of melancholy which fell over the elder statesman.

He sees the crisis of the euro as part of something deeper and wider even than the credit crunch itself. He believes that the main social and economic “players” have their doubts about European policies.

“You hear it every day. You hear it in the markets. This is reinforced by populism in certain countries. Whether we like it or not, we are part of the West, and the West could possibly lose its leadership, and it is important that we preserve the values that matter not only to Europe, but to Britain and the United States — the values that are Judeo-Christian in origin — Greek philosophy and Greek democracy and Roman law, and the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution.”

That sinking feeling Delors experienced, shorn of Gallic fineness, was probably that of knowing you screwed the pooch; got it wrong, made a boo-boo but can’t bring yourself to admit it. And as for comparing oneself to Gramsci — well there’s your problem right there. Events are a b**ch that way. No matter how many newspapers cheer you on at the start — and Delors was hailed as a visionary in his day — it’s how things finish up that settles the score.  The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.

History is a strange thing. It let Delors keep his mind long enough to witness the ruin of his dream while leaving Margaret Thatcher unable to even realize that she probably got it right. But that is how life is; we make our bets and leave the stage before  it all ends. All we can do is fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

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