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Soccer Lessons for Europe’s Economy

PRINCETON – Though a solution to the euro crisis continues to elude European leaders, the foundations of one are not difficult to discern. In fact, Europe’s recent soccer experience – specifically, in the EURO 2012 tournament and this year’s World Cup – provides insight into how to revive Europe’s economy and address its deeper identity problem.

On June 28, 2012, as European political leaders met in Brussels, amid growing uncertainty about the eurozone’s survival, to negotiate the design of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Germany was playing Italy in a semifinal match in Warsaw. Two goals by Mario Balotelli cinched the win for Italy – and propelled Balotelli to superstar status.

At such a politically sensitive moment, a German victory could have sparked a bitter nationalist reaction in southern Europe. Instead, encouraged by his country’s victory, Italy’s new technocratic prime minister, Mario Monti, in alliance with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for easier access to ESM support – and scored another major victory for his country.

For a brief moment, Monti joined Balotelli in becoming a national hero. The Italian media eagerly linked the two “Super Marios,” with photomontages showing the prime minister with the soccer player’s idiosyncratic mohawk hairstyle. The message from both the soccer field and the negotiating room was that there was a quick and easy route to victory, complex issues could be solved by a brilliant argument, and individual superstars were the key to success.