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The Europe of the two speeds
by Thanos Kalamidas
2013-08-23 12:25:52
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During the Greek Prime Minister’s Antonis Samaras visit to the White House, Barack Obama after congratulating and showing his empathy to the Greek people for all the effect done the last three years to turn the financial situation, he pointed in the most emphatic way that you don’t fight recession with austerity policies. The Greek prime minister nodded in agreement with Angela Merkel’s voice thundering in his mind and left knowing that the American president might be right but this minute Angela holds Europe hostage to her monolithic policies.

But the crisis is not just economic. Actually and I have wrote a few articles about it in the past, the economic crisis is just the peak of the iceberg. The European crisis is mainly political and it comes in two levels. In the decisions that the Union is not taking and the decisions the Union does take.

The Union practicing the policy wait and see hasn’t taken the necessary political decisions the right moment losing the momentum that could have saved the continent from the economic crisis. And then when the crisis hit four Eurozone states the Union took decisions under pressure and without a plan or at least a plan B. As a result growth is in coma in the entire Eurozone – except Germany of course – and the Europeans are distance themselves as far as possible from the European dream. According to a latest survey in Europe only 30% of the European citizens still believe in the European dream and trust the Union as the future of the European states. Compare to 48% in 2009 when the crisis was starting the results are more than disappointing.

According to the survey again while most of the issues the European citizens were worrying about involved unemployment, finances, immigration, taxation and crime there was one new issue that was added in their worries, the position of the states inside the Union. This translates into the infamous European member states solidarity. And yes, old prejudice surfaced again and yes the gap between north and south looks deeper but watching what happened in Greece, Portugal and Spain most of the Europeans felt that if something serious happens to them they might as well forget help from the European brothers and look for solidarity somewhere else.

Despite cultural or political excuses the real reasoning for the Union and that new countries want to join are in the fundamentals of the European Economic Community. The unison in the market offers better economic opportunities and a common currency increases dramatically these opportunities and possibilities.

The introduction of the common currency, the euro was supposed to be the essence of all the planning and preparation. And it was supposed that in unison with the cultural and the political influences among the European states that it will lead from a common market to common economics, common policies, internal and external and final to a common defence policy. Again while there was a plan – actually a one way plan – what needed was the political determination the founders and the first generation of the European leadership had.

Even in periods where the European leadership included personalities like Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Schmidt, the most contradict personas ideologically, politically and in personal agendas, the aim for a Union that would lead to a confederation remained the same despite the differences.

But while aims remained the same the practises showed the first signs of the coming division between north and south and that again despite old prejudices. In theory there was a strong common market that sold Mercedes Benz from the north and potatoes from the south and the example might sound very simplistic but in real values it shows what really happened and reality the south would not survive if the union could not find a formula that would share profits since the profits from the Mercedes Benz are very different from the profits a kilo of potatoes leaves. Again this demanded political decisions. But now Mitterrand, Thatcher and Schmidt were replaced not form visionaries but opportunistic with political and personal agendas. Berlusconi in Italy, Sarkozy in France and Angela Merkel in Germany. These are the people who were called to establish and apply the common currency that would supposedly work as the united force to create a Union. Petty personalities that worried more for their re-election than the future of the union and its citizens.

While the south was diving into a recession that brought before the WWII memories, the north and especially Germany was profiting first harmonizing the Union to the German needs and therefore creating a market in-EU and abroad accordingly to the German production planning and secondly Germany profited investing in the money market between the partners and the loans. According to some actually German economists the profit only from Greece the last three years has reached the 130million Euros.

A lot talk about Angela Merkel’s Thatcherism referring to the strict rules she has applied on the problematic states to save the Euro. When Margaret Thatcher took over the British government, the United Kingdom was coming out from a very long period that has lasted for centuries were the empire and the colonies were offering unlimited resources and a controlled market that expanded in seven continents. With the end of the empire years, the end of the cheap resources and the constant flow of products recession came and it was natural the first measure Thatcher had to take is to limit a state made to serve an empire (again because it is important, with endless resources) and not a country with accountable resources and unclear and constantly increasing needs.

I didn’t agree with her measures but I can understand the need to apply some of them. Perhaps my disagreement is that she expanded her austerity to the welfare state and everything she considered “hippy” including culture. However while Thatcher applied austerity in a decreasing empire, Markel applied the same principals – including the welfare state – to an empire on a rise and expansion killing in the end the dream and most importantly the trust of the people who were expected to build this dream.

Ironically, perhaps the solution is back in Margaret Thatches’ words. Perhaps the secret for a recovery is back in the foundation of the European Economic Community where the aim was simply the common market with common rules. And that in combination of Thatcher’s idea that the only way this market would work with the obvious gap between the agricultural south and the industrial north and the different agendas this lays is to create a Europe of two speeds where the poor south would follow with smaller and more careful steps while the north would have every so often to slow its pace when necessary for the south to catch up.

When Thatcher was talking about the Europe of the two speeds, there was no Euro in the horizon and a pan-European economic crisis was only a possible scenario for table games among economists. Actually she was talking about the European core that was basically Britain, France, Italy and Germany with Holland, Austria and Belgium their satellites and then the rest. Thirty years after wit a lot of things having changed and Euro as the critical element perhaps there is another way to se the Europe of the two speeds. A eurozone around Germany with Austria, Holland and perhaps Finland even though lately more start talking about the Finnish economic bubble, perhaps France and Belgium and then the rest with a euro that will be able to deflate and help their markets growth while make their international debt affordable.

Then politicians and citizens will be more relaxed to search in culture, tradition and history what unites them and rebuild the dream of a united Europe instead of wasting their efforts in antagonisms and the things that keep them apart. And perhaps then they will understand that there are many ways to keep the dream alive and Europe United in solidarity apart from Mekrel’s not Thatcherisms but Merkelisms.

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