By Fatma Yilmaz Elmas
Europe, the etymology of which is based on Greek mythology (Europa), is producing disputes that could lead to Greece being anathematized in the euro zone and accused of indolence. Greece,which currently invoiced €220 billion to the European commonwealth as compensation for “its own mistakes,” is the cultural inheritor of ancient Greece but seems to have lost its mystical tune for Europeans.
However, the effects of the euro crisis are not limited to the decline of the European-“invented” Greek myth. Today, Europe is debating European values, politics, institutional balances and the fate of the “ever closer union” motto. For instance, the United Kingdom may seriously propose holding a referendum on its EU membership to the public even though this situation would not find clarifying in the parliament.
On one hand the crisis is paving the way for a populism that blames the Union for the uncertainty and insecurity in the economy, on the other hand the defenders of the cosmopolitan Europe idea like Ulrich Beck are uttering thesis such as “only an EU rejuvenated by the crisis can build on the seeds of a united global solution.”
Joseph S. Nye, who describes the situation as “present day Europe having seizures of over-optimism and Euro-pessimism consecutively,” also draws attention to another dimension of the problem. According to this, while Europe was expected to attain a role as an actor on the world stage with the Lisbon treaty, today a failing Europe is the issueat hand in the new geopolitical order in which the U.S., China and other rising powers are dominating. Consequently, the charm of the EU and its historical achievement in soft power are currently of the first order of importance in frequently debated subjects.
This image of Europe has recalled the traditional approach which was led by Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher in the early 1990s. In her speech titled “Europe’s Political Architecture” at The Hague in 1992, Thatcher talked about “a European vision that is built on the dynamics of the past” and criticized “yesterday’s solutions becoming today’s problems.” There is no doubt that the ex-British Prime Minister, making a call for a new Europe by criticizing the post-war structure,was not chasing “more Europe.” For as much as Thatcher believed the Union’s role should be limited by fulfilling free market and effective competitiveness conditions, she was one who contributed to the Euro-skeptic line of England. Similarly, whispers saying Europe’s time has passed are tangible today. However, contrary to Thatcher, not many remember the vision of the past with aspiration. The ones reading the crisis in Europe as a call to Europe for detailed reform have only one option: Recalling the spirit of Helmut Kohl.
The Call for More Integration
The euro crisis practically imposed the reality that a monetary union requires a closer political union. The perennial inactivity of the predicted rescue package for Greece and its effect that left the whole euro zone facing the risk of bankruptcy was a concrete sign of this reality. The debates regarding the content of the package in the French and German circles, the divided opinion between the Central Bank of Europe and Germany regarding the place and role of private sector actors in the package, and most importantly the lack of a supranational control mechanism has displayed the weakness of the political wing of the integration more explicitly. So the idea stating that the monetary union cannot succeed without a political union is proven right by the economic crisis in Europe and the way it was handled.
Beck, in terms of this concrete reality, brings up the seriousness of the situation by reducing the new architecture of Europe to the choice between “more Europe” and the “disintegration of Europe.” Habermas, who defines the crisis as “the result of the planned asymmetry between a completed economic integration and an incomplete political integration,” emphasizes that the way toward getting over the said asymmetry goes through more political integration. In short, the European intelligentsia agrees upon the idea of returning to the unused potential of the European ideal.
In fact, the history of European integration also shows that crises have mostly led to deeper integration. The “Euro-sclerosis” period that defines 1970s Europe,in which both economic and political deadlocks were experienced, was got off with the formula of more integration. The Single European Act, which predicted a series of reforms from the completion of a single market to more powerful social policies and from a revision of the institutional structure in favor of a European Parliament’s increasing role to an aim for united foreign policy, was the answer to the call of more integration. However, there is another reality signed by the historical truths and it is that with the lack of political will and creativity, the crises will not bring forth a positive and meaningful result. As a matter of fact, as Dinan said, the symbol of the extraordinary return of the European Community in the late 1980s was Jacques Delors, the capable leader of the Brussels bureaucracy.
The Lack of a Visionary Leader: A New“Germany Problem” in Europe
The European Union, with the existential crisis of the euro zone, political risks of crisis management, institutional mechanisms becoming clumsy in the integration process and with the prioritizing of national interests is displaying a structure that is getting harder and harder to operate. But the real problem more apparent than the structure during the crisis is the rapid loss of enthusiasm inthe motor countries of the EU regarding integration. Moreover, according to Katinka Barysch, it is Germany shifting to a line that is giving EU the cold shoulder due to structural and historical factors. Today, a mentality that is not carrying the memory of World War II is dominant in Germany. In this context, Europe with its problems of peace and war for the Helmut Kohl generation is transformed into a cost-benefit problem for Merkel. In addition, with eastern expansion, there is a Europe in which political dynamics are also changing in a greater scale from Germany’s angle. As a result of the enlargement waves which mean a bigger and more diversified Europe, Germany does not seem to be bound to unite its interests with the EU’s. In fact, as Dinan specified, nobody contradicts the idea that rather than idealism it was the national interests inherited by the European Coal and Steel Community which laid the foundations of the European Union. However, this is also a reality that the unit of political action in the cosmopolitan era is no longer the nation but the region, as Beck said, so the states of today’s Europe must chase their national real-politic through the cosmopolitan code. The idea of “more Europe,” which will lead to cosmopolitan politics, will also mean success in national platforms and find a broad spectrum in the analysis of European intelligentsia. Most importantly, the relationship between Europe and national identities does not have to be a zero-sum game.
But in order to be able to activate this idea in today’s Europe of crises, more than institutions are needed. In other words, a visionary leader is needed to ignite this idea. In the last period, the leaders who kept the Union’s interests separate from national interests and blamed Brussels in times of dispute in order to play to the voters have a greater role in terms of questioning the future of aEuropean Union that cannot meet economic expectations across its member nations.
Beck is right to say “Merkel’s models Adaneur and Kohl would turn the crisis into the best times of Europe and win elections with this situation”. Bottom line, leaders of the past had the vision to see that they were investing to the future of Europe from today…
Fatma Yilmaz Elmas
USAK Center for EU Studies
Turkish version of this article is published in ANALIST Journal.