The interesting thing about living in the US is to experience a change in perspective. Here, Europe is often perceived as a united entity. In the Huffington Post for example there were several articles which reported last weeks’ elections in Europe – in France, Greece, Armenia, Serbia, Schleswig-Holstein, Italy - as if they were more or less all in the same “country” - a country called 'Euroland'. Moreover, the differences between countries or the sort of elections – local, regional or national – seemed only minor details.
The New York Times focused more on the elections in France and Greece, but it also featured a piece on ‘elections in the Eurozone’. As always, the NYT also had a slightly ironical take on the elections, referring to the lusty nature of French politics.
Last week I had the chance to talk to an investment banker in New York City. We not only talked about the problems in Greece and Spain but also about Ireland and the referendum and about upcoming elections in France (parliamentary elections on June 12/17) and Germany (NRW May 13). The banker was optimistic that the eurocrisis would be over once the Spanish banks were recapitalized and the ESM fully implemented (possibly in in July). This would be a reassuring sign and markets would think the eurocrisis was over.
The Greek situation however is pretty critical these days and there should be no denial about it. Jörg Asmussens’ warnings about Greece could not have been more severe and he was not the only one issuing blunt addresses to Greece (cf Barroso statement). The time for political showdowns and further delay is over. Daniel Cohn-Bendit was right in his EP speech this week to point out the disastrous consequences that a further derailment of the political situation in Greece could trigger. Wolfgang Schäuble made an encouraging statement yesterday – let’s hope he is right and that Greece can be given a final push.
I actually like this NYC-based, more positive assessment of Europe and I would love to see more of this “it’s-all-over-now” feeling in ‘Euroland’. It is the optimistic feeling that Europe actually made it, that Europe is over the peak of the crisis. Perhaps we still can't see the wood for the trees because of the dispute about a political statement on growth which is about to be added to the fiscal compact; or concerns about the outcome of the Irish referendum, and the problematic situation in Greece. But that’s where the transatlantic ‘Euroland’ perspective can be very valuable: it’s the eagle’s perspective which we need now!
The point is that ‘Euroland’ is already united financially and economically, markets perceive it as one united space. The challenging question for Europe is whether it can build a transnational democratic system which is necessary to make the ‘market-Euroland’ work. Talking about ‘Euroland-elections’ is, in this sense, a good way to build a European identity and if it’s only to suggest the idea that elections in one country are important for its neighbors.
The fiscal compact could unleash a sort of bottom-up-revolution, as it will enforce a range of fiscal and economic harmonization measures. For example it may also include the way we evaluate tax assessments in the EU etc. What Europe needs to do now is nothing less than laying the institutional foundations for organizing the debate about a new European contract social. However, this debate needs to be a transnational debate. This is in essence what the whole growth vs. austerity debate is about - but the problem is that we are stuck in a debate between Northern creditor countries and Southern receiver countries. We need to move beyond this narrow frame and should start a European citizens’ discussion about what economy – and what social policy – we want in ‘Euroland’. This would be the seed for a European republic.
This is why it is necessary that Europe engages again in a serious debate, as highlighted in an appeal published in the Italian Repubblica, the French Le Monde and the German taz - even if the 'f-word' is a bit old-fashioned. The appeal calls for boosting European productivity through structural reforms, especially in the area of services and in other projects that can re-launch European growth. Furthermore, the signatories want to reinforce Europe’s democratic legitimacy and call for a renaissance of the role of parliaments. One concrete idea to promote this would actually be to grant the right of legislative initiative to the European Parliament and not keep it restricted to the European Commission. The parliamentarian dimension of Euroland would definitely be strengthened.
“The federalist system would create a new political and social Europe where European Institutions will guarantee an equilibrium between budget and monetary policies, the stimulation of European economy, structural reforms to boast competitiveness and the enforcement of the social cohesion”, the appeal states.
If Europe gets its act together, American (or Chinese) newspapers will, at some point in the future, be able to report about the real Euroland elections – and speculate about the next elected European president...
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