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In Europe We Distrust

MADRID – For decades, critics of the European Union have spoken about a democratic deficit. I never accepted that reproach of the EU and its institutions, but I do see a new and dangerous deficit within the Union – a trust deficit, both among governments, and among the citizens of various member countries. Indeed, if today’s euro banknotes included a motto, as dollars do, it could well be, “In Europe We Distrust.”

This lack of trust has brought the eurozone to the cusp of implosion, and is calling into question the very future of European unity. The arc of EU history seems to be bending to catastrophe – the sort of periodic European disaster that integration was intended to prevent. Grandiloquent as it might sound, the disintegration of the euro and the disarray that would engulf the European project, not to speak of the global repercussions, would unleash comparable devastation.

But few official pronouncements, let alone policies, are addressing Europe’s deficit of trust and credibility. The current crisis has exposed the original lacunae and widening cracks in the compact between Europe’s citizens and EU institutions, between Europe’s north and south, and between its peoples and its elites.

Indeed, a dangerous emotional discourse has emerged, reflecting – and feeding – the worst stereotypes of the “lazy South” and the “despotic North.” It is indicative that the latest Pew Research Survey in late May reveals unanimity about who the least hardworking Europeans are: southerners, especially Greeks. Likewise, polls and elections signal the ascent of populists across Europe, while financial markets’ vulture-like behavior stems from the cynical calculation that the EU lacks the wherewithal to restore its credibility.