A Rest Stop for Europe

PRINCETON – Last week, in a highly anticipated speech, German President Joachim Gauck cautioned against the blind pursuit of an “ever-closer” European Union, acknowledging that the growing inequality among member states is generating “a sense of unease, even unmistakable anger,” and increasing the risk of national humiliation. He pointed out that, in addition to the economic crisis, there is “a crisis of confidence in Europe as a political project.”

While Gauck made clear that he remains decidedly pro-Europe, he highlighted the need for closer reflection about Europe’s future – and especially that of the eurozone. Standing on the verge of greater integration, Europeans are hesitant, “unsure whether we should really stride out on the onward journey.” Addressing this hesitation, he declared, will require a thoughtful, nuanced understanding of what “more Europe” actually means.

Gauck may not have gone far enough: At this point, an ever-closer union may be a political mirage. Any meaningful progress toward stabilizing the eurozone would require a significant – potentially open-ended – financial commitment, and the EU is not politically ready to cross that threshold. Repeatedly pretending to move forward, then pulling back at the critical point, exacerbates political uncertainty and economic vulnerability.

Rather than indecisively pursuing more unity, this may be the moment to restore effective sovereignty to national authorities in eurozone countries. Such a move would alleviate anxiety in the short term, thereby giving Europeans the opportunity to regroup in preparation for future steps toward a more integrated Europe and a more resilient euro.