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Opinion

EURO-Trashed?

Dear Readers:

The ancient Greek historian Thucydides wrote: “War is a violent teacher.” Almost 2,500 years later, the two world wars of the twentieth century ravaged Europe in merely three decades’ time. From the rubble emerged a generation of Europeans who believed they had finally learned war’s cruel lessons, and that power politics had to be cast aside in favor of an entirely new international architecture. For the past half-century, Europeanists have identified the Continent’s salvation in national integration. On its website the European Union claims to be a “unique economic and political partnership” that aims at “peace, prosperity and freedom for its 498 million citizens—in a fairer, safer world.” This ideal has resonated with many in Europe and around the world, who have touted the EU as a model to be followed.

After World War II, most European nations turned away from militarism in favor of a focus on economic development. As the nations one-by-one outsourced their major security concerns to the United States and NATO, it became clear that post-war Europe would seek international influence in the power of the purse. With the end of the Cold War and the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in the early 1990s, the Europeanists’ conception seemed to be coming to fruition. Economic competition would supplant military competition on the center stage of international politics, and the European Union would lead the world into a far more peaceful future. This has been the Europeanist paradigm for the past twenty years. But recent upheavals have filled even the most optimistic Europeanists with doubts.

The European Union’s key problem is common to all supranational entities: where does national sovereignty end and the organization’s begin? What has long been a theoretical quandary was made actual by Greece’s debt crisis. With a budget deficit of 12.7% of GDP, Greece has called on its fellow EU member-states for an emergency bailout. As other EU nations struggle with financial woes of their own, it is clear that the Union’s more solvent nations—namely Germany and France—will have to shoulder the lion’s share of any aid package. Unsurprisingly, many Germans and Frenchmen are uneasy with the situation and what it might mean for the future. Would a Greek bailout create a “bailout culture,” in which other small EU member-states believe that financial irresponsibility carries no significant penalties? Could it create a domino effect, with Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and maybe others demanding bailouts?

Such fears have led banks such as Morgan Stanley to predict that Germany might pull out of the eurozone, striking a deathblow to the Europeanist dream. Greece meanwhile has tried to sell itself as an “emerging market” and entered talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In the midst of all this tumult, a recent Newsweek article declared, “Western financial supremacy is hardly the natural order of things.”

The problem of national and organizational sovereignty is not confined to economics. The appointment of Britain’s Catherine Ashton as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy signaled Europeanist efforts at a unified EU foreign policy. Many Europeans, concerned with the Continent’s waning power, believe that the only way for Europe to retain its global influence is to operate as a unit in international affairs. But it is hard for Poland, for example, with its historical suspicion of Russia, to agree to the same policy as Germany, which covets Russia’s vast energy resources. It is inescapable situations like this one that make formulating a truly unified EU foreign policy seem impossible.

In the present issue of The Politic, we attempt to untangle some of these complexities and examine closely Europe’s predicaments. Daniel Hamilton, Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, discusses the big picture in Europe as well as the EU’s relationship with the United States. David Cameron, the Director of the Yale Program in European Union Studies, offers his take on the EU’s financial problems. Finally, two Yale College students, Andrew Feldman and Thomas König, write on EU foreign policy and the potential consequences of the Greek crisis, respectively.

Otto von Bismarck, one of Europe’s handful of erstwhile international architects, once said: “As long as he lives the statesmen is always unprepared.” While it would be foolish for us to think that this issue of the The Politic could fully prepare its readers for Europe’s uncertain future, we hope that it sheds light on existing problems and stimulates new questions about the long-term development of the international system.

Edward Fishman & Mathew Andrews
Editors-in-Chief
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THE POLITIC — April 2010.