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Is Europe really on the brink?

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Yet unlike the first round of postwar European integration, which was achieved by its founders "on the sly," as it is said – in which for decades institutions were mashed together, forcing different peoples to work with a common purpose – the "next step" of integration will have to be a more conscious decision, analysts say, taken in full public view.

At the center of the issue is Germany. Postwar Germany was the most European of EU states as it confronted its Nazi past. But times have changed; it is unclear whether the public in Europe's most dynamic and unified country is willing to shoulder more of the burden. (More on this later.)

Without clear solidarity in Europe, and with economies contracting under an EU prescription of austerity, bond markets attack weak or debtor nations. Without a mutual feeling of states helping each other, a new cynicism is taking root among ordinary people and elites alike.

Since the 2010 Greek trauma, the EU has held no fewer than 19 mind-numbing crisis talks in Brussels, out of which 27 state leaders have spun their own often widely differing interpretations. Financial markets have not been impressed. Five governments have fallen.

Spain, the fourth-largest economy in the eurozone, is still looking into the abyss. Its unemployment rate stands at 24 percent – 53 percent among youths. The positions and solvency of Portugal, Ireland, and Italy remain tenuous. New French President François Hollande faces 3 million unemployed.

A surly spirit seems to pervade everything. Greeks call Germans Nazis, and German tabloids mock Greeks as lazy. Newspapers and corporations fret about China and Brazil eclipsing Europe. Brussels, the EU capital, is depicted as a heartless technocratic machine.

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