Europe on the Verge of a Political Breakdown

If Europe is to avert the worst – a meltdown of the eurozone, if not of the EU itself – it is critical that European leaders distinguish what must be done now from what can be left for later. Indeed, unless they complete three urgent tasks, there will be no reason to discuss long-term reforms.

BERKELEY – Europe is again on the precipice. The most recent Greek rescue, put in place barely six weeks ago, is on the brink of collapse. The crisis of confidence has infected the eurozone’s big countries. The euro’s survival and, indeed, that of the European Union hang in the balance.

European leaders have responded with a cacophony of proposals for restoring confidence. Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, has called for stricter budgetary rules. Mario Draghi, head of the Bank of Italy and Trichet’s anointed successor at the ECB, has called for binding limits not on just budgets but also on a host of other national economic policies. Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, is only one in a growing chorus of voices calling for the creation of Eurobonds. Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has suggested that Europe needs to move to full fiscal union.

If these proposals have one thing in common, it is that they all fail to address the eurozone’s immediate problems. Some, like stronger fiscal rules and closer surveillance of policies affecting competitiveness, might help to head off some future crisis, but they will do nothing to resolve this one.

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