Will Europe Be Willing but Disabled?

NEWPORT BEACH – When it comes to describing Europe’s ever-worsening crisis, metaphors abound. For some, it is five minutes to midnight; for others, Europe is a car accelerating towards the edge of a cliff. For all, a perilous existential moment is increasingly close at hand.

Optimists – fortunately, there remain a few, especially in Europe itself – believe that when the situation becomes really critical, political leaders will turn things around and put Europe back on the path of economic growth, job creation, and financial stability. But pessimists have been growing in number and influence. They see political dysfunction adding to financial turmoil, thereby amplifying the eurozone’s initial design flaws.

Of course, who is ultimately proven correct is a function of eurozone governments’ willingness to make the difficult decisions that are required, and in a coordinated and timely fashion. But that is not the only determinant: governments must also be able to turn things around once the willingness to do so materializes. And here, the endless delays are making the challenges more daunting and the outcome more uncertain.

Experienced observers remind us that crises, rather than vision, have tended to drive progress at critical stages of Europe’s historic integration – a multi-decade journey driven by the desire to ensure long-term peace and prosperity in what previously had been one of the world’s most violent regions and the site of appalling human suffering. After all, the European Union (including the eurozone’s 17 members) remains a collective of nation-states with notable divergences in economic, financial, and social conditions. Cultural differences persist. Political cycles are far from synchronized. And too many regional governance mechanisms, with the important exception of the European Central Bank, lack sufficient influence, credibility, and, therefore, effectiveness.