May 16, 2011

THERE IS NO EUROPE:

The Old World’s Growing Pains (SCOTT MALCOMSON, 5/14/11, NY Times Magazine)

At one level, the problem is that the eurozone does not allow national economies to be their quirky selves — or to pay the appropriate prices for their quirks. This made it hard to accurately value assets in one country or another, and for a while the markets optimistically decided that there weren’t national differences — that, in essence, all European countries were either Germany or proto-Germanies. When, in recession, this was clearly shown to be false, the pendulum swung the other way, and a consensus grew that Greece (as the extreme example) would never, ever, ever be Germany. This puts Greece in an impossible position. As a eurozone country it cannot default, so it faces austerity and unemployment with moments of chaos, on into the future, and a deep sense of having lost control of its own destiny.

Germany, of course, feels that if it is forced to continue rescuing prodigals like Greece, it will also lose control of its destiny. That is one through line: both the givers and the takers feel put upon, at best. It is not a recipe for happy union.

The other through line is fear of immigrants.

Conceptually, the overlap with the euro is only partial. There is no racial equivalent of the euro, no “eurorace,” so to speak, that you can join, and that confers benefits and exacts losses — no real equivalent of whiteness in 19th-century America. There is, however, a connection between anger over the loss of control over one’s national economy and anger over the loss of control over one’s national identity (and perhaps over one’s national foreign policy). This is why people are so interested in the True Finns party, which for the moment has encapsulated the anxiety that national populist politics and anti-E.U. politics could be brought together in a viable form that would put the European Union into a permanently suspended state.

So far, national populism in one or another European country has tended to focus on fear of “non-Europeans” in the somewhat baggy Western-civ sense — in particular, lately, of Muslims and Gypsies — rather than fellow Europeans and their institutional expression, the E.U. That could be changing, because one crucial aspect of E.U. legislation is free movement of people within the Union — a borderless continent. People, like euros, were to flow unimpeded throughout the Union, going wherever desire and opportunity took them, and leading to the maximally profitable uses of both. And it is precisely at the moment when national economies are again being differentiated that national peoples are being differentiated too.

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Posted by at May 16, 2011 6:02 AM
  

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