The tide of history is now flowing against the euro
There has been a fundamental change in the way the European Union is thought about – and the change has happened not just in Britain, but across all member states. A decade ago, the almost universal assumption was that “ever closer union” was inevitable: the tide of history was pulling inexorably in that direction, because the world was coalescing into vast political and economic blocs – of which Europe was one.
To mourn the passing of individual European nations as significant political entities was futile: the equivalent of army officers lamenting the passing of the cavalry charge in the age of the machine gun or the tank. The movement towards a united Europe was simply a fact – so we should stop whining, and get used to it. Nations, such as Britain, that held out against the euro for reasons of pure sentimentality, would sooner or later join in the project that would bind all of Europe’s nations together irrevocably.
The “tide of history” argument wasn’t founded on reason or evidence, but it had a peculiar power. People were genuinely frightened about being left behind. And it is the collapse of that fear that has done more than anything to transform the terms of the debate about Europe – not least because everyone now is a lot more frightened of being stuck inside the euro, despite the German finance minister’s claim last week that every EU country secretly longs to join it.
As the daily demonstrations and riots in Athens show, Greece’s voters – though not yet its political class – have come to the conclusion that their membership of the euro now means their impoverishment, and their subservience to a programme of ever-greater austerity imposed by Eurocrats whom they cannot hold to account. Political parties in Holland, Finland and Austria – all founder members of the euro, and all with strong economies – are openly wondering whether joining wasn’t a colossal mistake.
In Holland, the party that favours a referendum on continued euro membership is crucial to the survival of the coalition government, so it may actually force the issue. In Austria, the Freedom Party, which advocates pulling out of the single currency, is running neck and neck in the polls with the ruling Social Democrats. more