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Opinion: We Are Living in the Anti-Europe

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People in Athens line up in front of a shuttered bank to withdraw money from an ATM machine. This weekend, the Greek government imposed capital controls and closed banks in order to stop the flight of money from the country. Zoom
AFP

People in Athens line up in front of a shuttered bank to withdraw money from an ATM machine. This weekend, the Greek government imposed capital controls and closed banks in order to stop the flight of money from the country.

The Greek crisis has destroyed an old dream about the future of Europe. The only possibility for moving the EU in the direction we were promised is a radical solution -- either a Grexit or an expensive debt haircut.

Tired. Everyone is so tired -- the politicians, the people, the media, the institutions, democracy. Europe is tired, exhausted, haggard. Yet another marathon negotiating session? How many have there already been? Yet again these tired eyes of overexertion of those involved in the negotiations. Once again a postponement or a compromise that nobody is convinced of and is really just the start of the next crisis. This is how things have been proceeding for years now. Enough already.

We don't want to speak of greatness, or of political heroes or of far-reaching actions. That's difficult in a complex system like Europe. We want to speak of the minimum: Politics requires successes in order to legitimate itself. It has to solve problems, especially the really tough ones that require a lot of effort. But that's not happening. In the case of Greece, all we have been seeing are pseudo-solutions, if even that.

A brief breather is always given, only to be followed by the next marathon meeting and the next expedited proceedings in the German parliament. The exhaustion will continue to grow, as will the weariness that will catapult the next populists into power -- the very ones who will make solving the problems even harder. It's a vicious cycle.

A Permanent State of Crisis

But exhaustion is merely one of the costs of this permanent state of crisis. The truth is that we have lost Europe in recent years. It is no longer the Europe that its generation of founders and builders promised -- people like Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. It's almost the opposite. What we are living in today is an anti-Europe.

Much has contributed to this state of affairs -- not least the euro crisis. But nothing has been as damaging as the protracted fight over Greece.

Europe promised joint growth for everyone. Instead we have competition for prosperity. Many Germans don't want to have to sacrifice anything for Greece, whereas many Greeks expect Germans to make a contribution to ensure that what the Greeks are forced to give up doesn't become too harsh.

Europe promised an end to nationalist thinking and even the end of the nation-state at some point in the future. In truth, the Continent is going through a renationalization. Few continue to believe in the greater good and the states have their eyes set on their own interests.

Europe promised reconciliation with its history. But instead, history has become a weapon, with Greece demanding that Germany pay World War II reparations. Meanwhile, images of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a Hitler mustache have become a regular feature at anti-austerity protests all over Europe.

Germany Has Overtaken its Partners

Europe promised political equality. The intention was for France and Germany to lead on the Continent, while at the same time taking into account the concerns of the smaller member states. But in the crisis, Germany has overtaken its partners and become the EU's dominant power.

Europe promised a Europe of the people. Instead, it is those institutions that are farthest from the voters that wield the greatest power -- the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the executive. Parliaments, on the other hand, which have the greatest democratic legitimacy, are being forced to fast-track their approval of decisions made in Brussels.

Europe pledged eternal peace. Fortunately, nobody is reaching for weapons. But the mood is not peaceful. Some media are reporting in an extraordinarily aggressive manner and an atmosphere of chauvinism has returned.

The promise was also that the European Union would play a strong role in the world -- as a political and economic power and as a model of the peaceful fusion of a continent after two world wars. Instead, Europe has become one of the world's problem children -- indeed the laughing stock at times. There can be no mention of any kind of significant influence.

In a single sentence: Europe is not only tired -- it is also a disappointment. This has also meant the loss of a quite likeable species: the European. In the 1970s and 1980s, many people in Germany felt more European than they did German. You don't hear people say that very often anymore, and that's sad.

It's Time for the Alternatives

Things can't stay the way they are. The admirable idea of a unified Continent cannot be allowed to be destroyed by the Greek crisis. And there are indeed alternatives to this politics of exhaustion, even if they do entail risk. Still, they would be better than what is happening right now.

One is the Grexit, which would see Greece leaving the euro zone and attempting to get by with its own currency. The second would be a debt haircut, meaning Greece would no longer be required to pay back a part of its debt. Both alternatives would trigger large tremors, but they would also provide the opportunity for a new beginning and an end of the crisis.

Those who still consider themselves to be Europeans at heart will speak out in favor of the second alternative, for stricter controls in exchange for generous aid and, ultimately, binding budget policies for all. That does come with a price tag, but also with the possibility that we still someday get the Europe that we were promised.

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1. The euro is a perversion.
yiannaki 06/29/2015
This is my comment in the Greek Kathemirini today: A perversion emerges where a logic or legitimate policy, rule, standard or whatever is applied in a situation in which it does not fit (anymore). For the South of Europe the Euro was, is and will be a perversion. Because being applied in a situation in which it does not fit. In the North the Euro was just changing coins. In the South changing a complete political-economic system without knowing this, understanding this, being warned for this and discussing it with the relevant inhabitants "do we want this and can we do this?'. Nor by the relevant governments. Nor by Brussels. So, todays Greek crisis is just the start of a structural cultural crisis concerning the Euro. And I do understand that the Greek and other people are very angry. But still do not understand who to blame for all this. So, old experiences concerning Germany are getting alive again in todays perverting situation. And they are exploited by all kinds of populists. This is the reason that I do think Germany can not do anything good concerning the 'hearts and minds' here today. Besides that it does not work. Because it does not heal the cause of the perversion: The euro. What is needed is a split of the Euro. One Euro for the North with its own rules and logic. And one for the South with its own rules and logic. (See Max Weber for this !). And a plan and help to restructure the South. After discussing this with the inhabitants there. Otherwise the perversion only keeps on depening the political-economic differences between the North and the South. This will be the end of Europe. So, the real question is whether Brussels is polical brave enough and able to admit the perversion. And whether it's able to produce a perversion-free redesign of the Euro. Untill now this new policy is a non-discussion.
2. We Are Living in the Anti-Europe
Christian R 06/29/2015
The second alternative is a false solution, you can't solve a deficit by cutting the debt, you need to cut the spending. What is true at the micro level is true at the macro level, if you spend more than you take in your problem will only grow until it becomes a crisis like it has now. The second alternative is therefor just a continuation of the permanent state of crisis with maybe a short breather until the Greeks have once again voted themselves into the position of sloths of Europe. How much more can Europe expect Northern Europeans to pay for the benefits of Southern Europeans without creating resentment and hate on both sides? Both the entitled and the slave will grow to hate each other and the nationalism that the EU have tried to dispel will explode. Northern Europeans work until they are 67 and the retirement age is now being considered to expanded to 70 years in order to keep the welfare system we love from imploding under it's own massive weight. If you want to see the EU survive with a Greece then the only solution is for the EU to take financial and governmental control of states that prove to be incompetent in managing their own affairs. The truth is hard and brutal, but like the Greece and managers in Brussels are finding out, you can't kick the can down the road forever, eventually it will meet a wall, or worse a marching band of neo-fascists.
3. Spiegel Makes the argument against Europe
Loucleve 06/29/2015
Europe promised an end to nationalist thinking and even the end of the nation-state at some point in the future. In truth, the Continent is going through a renationalization. Europe promised a Europe of the people. Instead, it is those institutions that are farthest from the voters that wield the greatest power -- the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the executive. Parliaments, on the other hand, which have the greatest democratic legitimacy, are being forced to fast-track their approval of decisions made in Brussels. Interpretation: Europe promised a Europe of the people . Nonsense. "Europe" promised decision making by a bureaucratic elite with no say for the people. Just like the Council on Foreign Relations and the oligarchs want it.
4. The European Dream
john.birchmore 06/29/2015
Despite the problems of Europe, which has been a failure of ambition, not of the objective, there are many of us in the UK who are wholeheartedly in favour of the idea of a United Europe and see the concept of the individual sovereign nation state a failed concept of the 18th to 20th centuries. However, this ambition will only be achieved if there are rules which are fair and just but are followed and enforced. Politicians have failed us by not following the rules and ensuring they were enforced, so leading to the dichotomy of success we now have. Now is not the time to loose heart and listen to the faint hearted and "I told you so"s, but have belief in the dream and push ahead.
5. Knock on any door
mdk4130 06/29/2015
This is so sad. It forces one to ask "How did it happen?" The question is not simple minded. It asks how did intelligent people make loans that become difficult or even impossible to satisfy. Where were the standards of lending? Who did the due diligence for making a decision to lend? The fault, Dear Investor, is on one house more than the other. The borrower should have been without prejudice denied and in course the borderer would have managed his own account as best as he can, however painful. He deserves no compassion. No tears. He has made his bed. He sleeps in it. When a drowning man's hand is raised out of the surface of the water let he who is so inclined each for it with his hand and forever hold his peace. There is no tears for lenders that made unwise decisions where the prospect of repayment is unclear or the borrower becomes bankrupt with no ability to repay. The Bible calls for a Jubilee year. A day on which all debts--private and public --is forgiven. A new day free of debt begins anew.. The slate is wiped clean. Would you not expect that as the day of Jubilee approaches in due time a lender would be more circumspect in his willingness to lend and adjust his terms accordingly. Is that what Europe--or the world --needs to make investing intelligent and safe for both parties?
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