Is the European Dream Over?

NEW YORK – Were the Euroskeptics right after all? Was the dream of a unified Europe – inspired by fears of another European war, and sustained by the idealistic hope that nation-states were obsolete and would give way to good Europeans – a utopian dead end?

On the surface, Europe’s current crisis, which some people predict will tear apart the European Union, is financial. Jacques Delors, one of the architects of the euro, now claims that his idea for a single currency was good, but that its “execution” was flawed, because the weaker countries were allowed to borrow too much.

But, fundamentally, the crisis is political. When sovereign states have their own currencies, citizens are willing to see their tax money go to the weakest regions. That is an expression of national solidarity, a sense that a country’s citizens belong together and are prepared, in a crisis, to sacrifice their own interests for the collective good.

Even in nation-states, this is not always self-evident. Many northern Italians fail to see why they should pay for the poorer south. Affluent Flemings in Belgium resent having to support unemployed Walloons. Still, on the whole, just as citizens of democratic states tolerate the government that won the last election, they usually accept economic solidarity as a part of nationhood.