The great economic crisis has given birth to a smaller and tighter monetary union in Europe, under the influence of a Germany that is undergoing a certain estrangement from its European partners. This amounts to a possibly dangerous wager on what the European Union will ultimately become, which not everyone may like.
In Vienna last weekend, the World Policy Conference, founded by the French Institute of Foreign Relations (IFRI) as a vehicle of European communication and cooperation with the so-called BRIC nations and other states in the developing world, found its attention riveted on Brussels and the euro-zone states of the EU. A French official who was part of the nearly all-night discussion in Brussels flew to Vienna to brief the gathering there, where decidedly mixed feelings were expressed about this successful German imposition of its own economic norms on an EU in distress.
Germany is a problem -- especially a disproportionately powerful and united Germany. NATO was formed to keep Germany down, and only after that to keep the Russians out and the Americans in. Keeping Germany down meant finding a way to contain and integrate it into a Western Europe to which it had never in the past fully belonged. Its Christian knights of the Holy Roman Empire, and its trader-merchants, were off exploring the Baltic East, converting pagans and establishing free Hanseatic cities.
The concern in 1945 was that Germany could eventually reclaim the European domination first achieved under Bismarck, who created a united and imperial Germany in 1871. It lost that domination by defeat in the First World War, and its devastation was achieved in the Second by the Soviet army and British and American firebombing of Germany's cities -- the consequence of Hitler's war to give Germans "living space" (lebensraum) and racial triumph by conquering Eastern Europe and subjugating its "inferior" Slavic peoples.
Western and Eastern Europeans wanted no such third German effort to dominate the continent. Stalin created his rampart of states under Russian control, separating Occupied Germany from Russia. NATO was the American-led answer, a defense alliance that eventually turned into an American quasi-occupation of Western Europe, which still continues, although eroding.
The Europeans searched for a permanent rather than temporary solution to Germany. They found it in the idea, promulgated by the French banker Jean Monnet, formally proposed to Germany's Chancellor Konrad Adenauer by the French Government, of the integration of Germany into what was meant to be an unbreakable political association, sealed by joint control of Western Europe's resources and the industrial capacities essential to war.
This was the Coal and Steel Community created by the Treaty of Paris in 1951, in which France and Germany were joined by the Benelux states and Italy. When Monnet presented the proposal to Adenauer, the latter replied: "I have waited twenty-five years for a move like this. Germany knows that its fate is bound up with that of Western Europe as a whole."
Those who were active in European and American foreign relations during the early postwar years find the Brussels agreements a triumph of that solidarity. As Jean-Dominique Giuliani of the Robert Schuman Foundation put it, the outcome was the expression of "a political determination to break with the spiral of doubt, indecision and division." For those who have seen EU expansion in membership, powers and authority as essential to Europe's peaceful future, this has been a critical event, coming at a moment when the EU seemed to face breakup at worst and a crippling failure at best.
For those, on the other hand, who have felt unease at the scope of ambition found among the Eurocrat establishment in Brussels, believing expansion of the EU and its powers to be the essential goal, this seems a possible step too far.
A series of meetings among leaders and government officials, lacking a mandate to go as far as they have now committed their states to go in advancing the integration of Europe, recalls the unhappy effort to provide Europe with a constitution, rejected by the Netherlands and France. The Brussels agreements again include constitutional revisions in the individual states.
A few weeks ago, George Papandreou of Greece proposed calling a referendum on these matters to clarify his popular mandate and was told by the French and German governments that this could not be tolerated. When Ireland staged its referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the people said no. Brussels and nearly all the EU governments ordered the Irish to go back and think again, and produce an "acceptable" outcome.
The Brussels agreements impose a lasting program of economic austerity on EU citizens that reflect the conventional monetarist doctrines of recent decades, the ones that led to the current crisis. Keynesianism is still under intellectual ban. The creation of growth and popular well-being in nations is subordinated to notions of national discipline and sacrifice -- reassuring to Germans.
The unprivileged citizenry are expected to provide the sacrifices.
Britain of course has chosen otherwise. Whether that is a good choice or not, it was inevitable. As Jonathan Powell has written in the Financial Times, Britain has sought a leading role in Europe while rejecting European involvement in its own affairs ever since the Battle of Waterloo.
(c) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
About the Author
William Pfaff, a former editor of Commonweal, is political columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His most recent book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker & Company).