Europe in 2012: The second decade
We are currently at the centre of a major change in the political system in Europe. The European Council meeting of 28-29 June could well mark a turning point in the history of our continent.
Of course, this is probably just a coincidence, but looking back at the last five centuries of European history, one notes that the second decade of each century has always had a decisive effect on the course of our civilisation. Currently, there is every chance that this ‘rule’ will also apply to the first century of our new millennium.
In 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his theses denouncing indulgences to the door of the church in Wittenberg, he triggered the Reformation. A century later, in 1618, the Thirty Years’ War broke out, which would go on to tear Europe apart against a backdrop of confessional division. The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which brought an end to the War of the Spanish Succession, reduced Spain to a second-rate world power and marked the beginning of the rise of the United Kingdom. After the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, the Congress of Vienna of 1815 established a new European order, thanks to the emergence of the Concert of Nations. The Concert of Nations lasted until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, which engulfed the entire continent in violence to the point that only US intervention succeeded – for a short period – in bringing about an end to the fighting.
Admittedly, this does not mean very much, since history does not unfold in accordance with clearly established rules and laws. Still – were this still necessary – this observation on the astonishing recurrence of key events during the second decade of a century could make us more mindful of the historic significance of the decade we are living in now.
We are currently at the centre of a major change in the political system in Europe. Ever greater cooperation between a growing number of European nation-states has brought us peace and prosperity for several generations. Nowadays, the public debt crisis has raised awareness about the inherent errors made when the Economic and Monetary Union was established, and the time is coming when the European Union will transform itself into a federation of European peoples and nations. The latest European Council meeting, and especially the two pages that give an account of the Euro Area summit, might one day be considered as the first step towards forming this federation.
We owe this advance to the persistence of Mario Monti, who – supported by Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and by François Hollande from the sidelines – managed to win a number of concessions from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, including one that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) might lend directly to banks without increasing sovereign debt burdens. In addition, the German Chancellor also conceded that Member States could from now on apply for money from the ESM, as well as from its temporary predecessor, the EFSF, without any set of preconditions, a concession in addition to the recommendations made by the European Commission as regards the European Semester and the Stability and Growth Pact. In short, if problems were to arise, the debt owed by Member States and banks in the Eurozone would be shared among its members.
Predictably, this course of action has aroused anger among some Germans, although the new position still has to be confirmed within the next few months, especially during the hard bargaining to come over establishing a single supervisory mechanism for banks in the Eurozone. Nevertheless, a decision has been taken – one that is full of risk - and the whole system could still collapse because right now we can only see half the foundations. In the long run, it is inconceivable that any Member State would pay off the debts of another Member State, however close their ties might be. Rightly or wrongly, the vast majority of Germans currently believe that they are being forced to pay or stand guarantor for the debts of other Member States. Consequently, there is a sense of injustice, made even stronger by the fact that structural reforms – which Germany agreed to implement despite the many sacrifices this meant – are being delayed in other countries. The answer will be found in the creation of a European federation, founded on the principles of solidarity and responsibility within a social market economy.
The report that the European Council has said it will publish before the end of the year must establish a road map in this direction. This map must be followed in order to ensure that the whole thing does not explode. Mario Monti could help Europe once more by carrying the French and other nations along with him. Each nation would have to join the federation democratically. This will take time, perhaps even the rest of this decade, which some consider to be the last chance for our beautiful continent. This decade is therefore of historic significance. As always!
Translated from the original text in French