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The Risk of European Centralization

FRANKFURT – For many European leaders, the eurozone crisis demonstrates the need for “more Europe,” the final aim being to create a full-fledged political union. Given the continent’s history of war and ideological division, and today’s challenges posed by globalization, a peaceful, prosperous, and united Europe that wields influence abroad is surely a desirable goal. But major disagreements about how to achieve that goal remain.

Historically, monetary union was regarded as the route to political union. In the 1950’s, the French economist Jacques Rueff, a close adviser to Charles de Gaulle, argued that “L’Europe se fera par la monnaie, ou ne se fera pas” (Europe will be made through the currency, or it will not be made). Germany’s President Richard von Weizsäcker echoed this view almost a half-century later, declaring that only via a single currency would Europeans achieve a common foreign policy. More recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asserted that “if the euro fails, Europe will fail.”

But the crisis confronting “Europe” is not so much about political union as it is about European Economic and Monetary Union. If anything, efforts to hold EMU together may have taken us further from the goal of a common foreign policy by re-igniting within member states (regardless of whether they give or receive financial aid) nationalist resentments that we hoped had died long ago.

Politicians launched monetary union in 1999, despite warnings that the constituent economies were too diverse. It wasn’t long before several states violated the Stability and Growth Pact. Later, the eurozone’s “no bail-out” principle was abandoned. The response to these failings, however, was a demand for greater economic integration, including such intermediate steps as the creation of a “European finance minister” or an EU commissioner with sweeping powers to facilitate closer integration.