The Perils of Europe’s Navel Gazing

MADRID – While the world anxiously awaits the climax of the eurozone drama, its leaders’ behavior resembles the political equivalent of what physicists call “Brownian motion,” with officials bouncing randomly from one crucial bilateral consultation and vital European summit to the next. The impact of make-or-break declarations that are supposed to solve the monetary union’s problems dissipates almost as soon as they are issued.

Meanwhile, a plethora of diagnoses and prescriptions are competing for attention – and in their gloominess. But their overwhelming focus on the economics of the euro crisis is itself part of the problem because the crisis is, above all, a reflection of deep-seated weaknesses in European institutions and the fabric of European society. Otherwise, what began as a marginal debt crisis, aggravated by political indecisiveness in Greece and in the European Union as a whole, would not have grown into an existential watershed moment for the European project.

Europe is plagued by three distinct problems. First, it remains incapable of adjusting to the realities of a world whose center of gravity has irrevocably shifted eastward to the Pacific, pulling with it the attention of the United States. Second, more than ever, Europeans are looking inward, as a sense of entitlement meets pervasive skepticism – a combination that permeates to the highest echelons of the Union and EU national governments.

Meanwhile, at a time when the EU’s basic law, the Treaty of Lisbon, needs to be reformed, the entire Union is paralyzed by the navel-gazing attitude of a Germany beset by 90-year-old memories of the doomed Weimar Republic. Therein lies the problem: the decision-making process that has underwritten much of the EU’s construction, while highly effective during the Cold War, when the Union’s institutional and legal foundations were laid, has remained largely intact, leaving Europe unable to address its current challenges.