Ambrose Pritchard-Evans – Telegraph.co.uk November 16, 2010
The entire European Project is now at risk of disintegration, with strategic and economic consequences that are very hard to predict.
In a speech this morning, EU President Herman Van Rompuy (poet, and writer of Japanese and Latin verse) warned that if Europe’s leaders mishandle the current crisis and allow the eurozone to break up, they will destroy the European Union itself.
“We’re in a survival crisis. We all have to work together in order to survive with the euro zone, because if we don’t survive with the euro zone we will not survive with the European Union,” he said.
Well, well. This theme is all too familiar to readers of The Daily Telegraph, but it comes as something of a shock to hear such a confession after all these years from Europe’s president.
He is admitting that the gamble of launching a premature and dysfunctional currency without a central treasury, or debt union, or economic government, to back it up – and before the economies, legal systems, wage bargaining practices, productivity growth, and interest rate sensitivity, of North and South Europe had come anywhere near sustainable convergence – may now backfire horribly.
Jacques Delors and fellow fathers of EMU were told by Commission economists in the early 1990s that this reckless adventure could not work as constructed, and would lead to a traumatic crisis. They shrugged off the warnings.
They were told too that currency unions do not eliminate risk: they merely switch it from currency risk to default risk. For that reason it was all the more important to have a workable mechanism for sovereign defaults and bondholder haircuts in place from the beginning, with clear rules to establish the proper pricing of that risk.
But no, the EU masters would hear none of it. There could be no defaults, and no preparations were made or even permitted for such an entirely predictable outcome. Political faith alone was enough. Investors who should have known better walked straight into the trap, buying Greek, Portuguese, and Irish debt at 25-35 basis points over Bunds. At the top of boom funds were buying Spanish bonds at a spread of 4 basis points. Now we are seeing what happens when you build such moral hazard into the system, and shut down the warning thermostat.
Mr Delors told colleagues that any crisis would be a “beneficial crisis”, allowing the EU to break down resistance to fiscal federalism, and to accumulate fresh power. The purpose of EMU was political, not economic, so the objections of economists could happily be disregarded. Once the currency was in existence, EU states would have give up national sovereignty to make it work over time. It would lead ineluctably to the Monnet dream of a fully-fledged EU state. Bring the crisis on.
Behind this gamble, of course, was the assumption that any crisis could be contained at a tolerable cost once the imbalances of EMU’s one-size-fits-none monetary system had already reached catastrophic levels, and once the credit bubbles of Club Med and Ireland had collapsed. It assumed too that Germany, The Netherlands, and Finland would ultimately – under much protest – agree to foot the bill for a ‘Transferunion’.
We may soon find out whether either assumption is correct. Far from binding Europe together, monetary union is leading to acrimony and mutual recriminations. We had the first eruption earlier this year when Greece’s deputy premier accused the Germans of stealing Greek gold from the vaults of the central bank and killing 300,000 people during the Nazi occupation.
Greece is now under an EU protectorate, or the “Memorandum” as they call it. This has prompted pin-prick terrorist attacks against anybody associated with EU rule. Ireland and Portugal are further behind on this road to serfdom, but they are already facing policy dictates from Brussels, but will soon be under formal protectorates as well in any case. Spain has more or less been forced to cut public wages by 5pc to comply with EU demands made in May. All are having to knuckle down to Europe’s agenda of austerity, without the offsetting relief of devaluation and looser monetary policy.
As this continues into next year, with unemployment stuck at depression levels or even creeping higher, it starts to matter who has political “ownership” over these policies. Is there full democratic consent, or is this suffering being imposed by foreign over-lords with an ideological aim? It does not take much imagination to see what this is going to do to concord in Europe.
My own view is that the EU became illegitimate when it refused to accept the rejection of the European Constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005. There can be no justification for reviving the text as the Lisbon Treaty and ramming it through by parliamentary procedure without referenda, in what amounted to an authoritarian Putsch. (Yes, the national parliaments were themselves elected – so don’t write indignant comments pointing this out – but what was their motive for denying their own peoples a vote in this specific instance? Elected leaders can violate democracy as well. There was a corporal from Austria … but let’s not get into that).
Ireland was the one country forced to hold a vote by its constitutional court. When this lonely electorate also voted no, the EU again disregarded the result and intimidated Ireland into voting a second time to get it “right”.
This is the behaviour of a proto-Fascist organization, so if Ireland now – by historic irony, and in condign retribution – sets off the chain-reaction that destroys the eurozone and the European Union, it will be hard to resist the temptation of opening a bottle of Connemara whisky and enjoying the moment. But resist one must. The cataclysm will not be pretty.
My one thought for all those old friends still working for the EU institutions is what will happen to their euro pensions if Mr Van Rompuy is right?