Der der derrrrr der. Der der DER DER der. Der der derrr der. Der der detti der der DEEEE. Dumble DEEEEEE. Dumble Dee Dee Dum Dee Deeee. Dum DEEEEE. Dumbley DEEEE.
Even in written form, the immortal first bars of Final Countdown by Europe manages to stir the DLR’s leather-trouser-clad soul. We heartily recommend viewing the video, by the way (particularly the earnest facial expressions from 1:18 onwards):
There is a reason for this musical interlude other than a love of big hair and glam rock. It’s all the commentary around nowadays that Europe is suffering its own final countdown and is doomed. Doomed, they say! According to this narrative, it’s over for the West in general and Europe in particular, where sovereign and banking debt threaten to drown the collective economies, leading to hunger, starvation and war (no, really, some people are saying that).
It’s tough to argue with the idea that Europe has shafted itself royally with its crazy luxuries such as labour rights and wacky socialist ideas like a welfare system. And when comparing economic growth rates of, say, East Asia (ex Japan) with the eurozone, obviously there’s a sense that economic power is shifting from west to east as the old imperial powers decline.
But we here at the DLR are contrarians and break out in hives when consensus forms. We would, therefore, like to offer an alternative, if utopian, narrative. This is a sylvan glen of a future, populated with daisies of hope and dandelions of calm. Rather than the current common perception, which foresees a disunited Europe failing to stem the debt death spiral that it’s entering, leading to a secession of certain states from the euro or the creation of a northerneuro and southerneuro, this alternative suggests a Europe galvanised by the current crisis.
The problem with the EU has always been the lack of shared strategic goals and common political aims. Countries have often been unwilling to cede their national sovereignty and hand it over for free to the bureaucratic beast that is Brussels. This has led to a complex series of bodies and institutions making policy that is ineffective or difficult to pass. Three treaties (Maastricht, Rome and Lisbon) have barely touched the sides in terms of forging a capable, streamlined policy- and decision-making process. Hence the current concern that the EU is too unwieldy to forge a unified and comprehensive response to the crisis and will bicker while Rome burns.
But the situation now is exactly the kind of moment needed to bring together the disparate policies and economies of Europe (or, at least, the eurozone). An existential threat to the common currency, and a grave threat to every European economy, finally there is something that all EU countries can agree on: this needs to be sorted. Sure, there are still plenty of different opinions on how this needs to be sorted, but acknowledgement is the first step in the DLR’s patented 12-step Plan for A Well-functioning Europe Soon to Overcome its Mire of Ennui (Plan AWESOME).
What’s more, the way out of the debt crisis will inevitably mean closer fiscal union. The problem with the euro thus far has been that its has been a form of monetary union (that is, a central bank and money supply) but a total lack of fiscal union (that is, tax collection and expenditure). It means that some countries that shall remain nameless (*cough* Greece *cough*) have spent like billy-o beyond their means (while also lying about their accounts), and are unable to change their interest rate and currency policy when it all goes tits up. Gradually moving towards fiscal union (with, for instance, a Tobin tax and eurobonds) could create a stronger, more united Europe able to deal with crises more efficiently, while those pesky Mediterranean and Atlantic countries would need to take Teutonic levels of fiscal discipline.
And let’s not forget that the EU, if counted as one entity against nation states, is already the world’s largest economy with the third largest population. And it continues to expand: Croatia is set to join in 2013, Iceland may well be soon afterwards and other Balkan countries are lined up for future enlargement as well. The EU’s foreign policy is slowly harmonising, with Lisbon introducing a high representative for foreign affairs and a Common Security and Defence Policy allowing for tentative deployments of military forces overseas under the EU banner (with eight ongoing or completed EU operations, such as the counter-piracy EUNAVFOR or EUFOR Tchad). The current era of austerity in defence spending is also helping bring previously wary militaries closer together. Witness the Anglo-French agreement in November 2010.
Our narrative, then, suggests eurozone states are able to pull a fudge out of the bag that tastes sweet enough to get them through the debt pickle they’re in over the next few years, with greater fiscal union combining with a slowly harmonising foreign and defence policy. Of course, it all relies on the EU being able to conjure up a solution to the debt crisis, and we will know a lot more about that after the weekend. But if it does, and if the US stumbles or wanes, this would put the EU in an excellent position to take over the role of global hegemon, turning the current consensus of a ‘Chinese century’ on its head. This might not be the probable outcome currently, but it is a viable future and one that we europhile Dalstonians think is très bon.