The world needs a strong, united Europe
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August 30th, 2011
08:38 AM ET

The world needs a strong, united Europe

Editor's Note: Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice-chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years. For more from Fischer, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

By Joschka FischerProject Syndicate

BERLIN – Slowly, word is getting round – even in Germany – that the financial crisis could destroy the European unification project in its entirety, because it demonstrates, quite relentlessly, the weaknesses of the eurozone and its construction. Those weaknesses are less financial or economic than political.

The Maastricht Treaty established a monetary union, but the political union that is an indispensable precondition for the common currency’s success remained a mere promise. The euro, and the countries that adopted it, are now paying the price. The eurozone now rests on the shaky basis of a confederation of states that are committed both to a monetary union and to retaining their fiscal sovereignty. At a time of crisis, that cannot work.

At the beginning of the crisis, in 2007-2008, the eurozone’s fundamental flaws could have been corrected had Germany been willing to support a joint European crisis response. But German officials preferred to maintain national primacy – and thus a confederational approach to Europe.

Throughout history, confederations have never really worked, because the question of sovereignty (and thus of power and legitimacy) remains unresolved. The United States is a case in point. After winning independence, the American colonies united loosely under the Articles of Confederation. But that arrangement failed financially and economically, and the US soon moved towards a full federation.

Today, Europe – or, more precisely, the eurozone – faces an almost identical situation, except that the historical conditions for further integration are much more complex and difficult than they were in post-independence America.

Europe has three choices. Muddling through as before would only escalate and prolong the crisis. Ending the monetary union would end the European project itself, and wreak unmanageable havoc. Finally, Europe could move forward to real economic and political integration – a step that today’s leaders lack the confidence to take, because they don’t believe that they have the necessary public support at home.

Much, therefore, speaks for starting with a combination of the first and second options. Then, once the European project is halfway over the cliff, the federalist moment might arrive. But the operative word is “might”: a headlong plunge into the abyss might prove equally likely.

Europe’s do-nothing approach to the crisis has already produced visibly adverse consequences. Elected officials’ passivity has stoked popular mistrust, which now threatens the European project. Indeed, the crisis is beginning to erode the very foundations – the Franco-German and transatlantic partnerships – of a post-war European order that has ensured a period of peace and prosperity without precedent in the history of the continent.

Financial-market pressure has now reached France, and poses a danger that is far from over. If France is brought to its knees and Germany doesn’t stand by its partner unwaveringly and with everything that it has to offer, the European catastrophe will be complete. And that could happen sooner rather than later: France cannot and will not give up on the Mediterranean region, so the exit fantasies entertained by rich northern Europeans (Germans, above all) endanger the Franco-German pillar of European peace.

Across the Atlantic, America’s fiscal crisis and weak economic growth will force it to reduce its global military commitments. Moreover, the US will orient itself increasingly towards the Pacific rather than the Atlantic. For Europeans, with our turbulent eastern and southern neighborhoods, this presents an additional security challenge for which we are materially and intellectually unprepared. Even today, Europe’s military weakness is working to undermine the transatlantic relationship.

An additional threat to the transatlantic alliance arises from the emerging new world order. The coming years, indeed decades, will be characterized by an increasingly aggressive US-Chinese dualism as China becomes stronger and America’s weakness persists. While this rivalry will have a military component, as evidenced by China’s enormous military buildup, it will manifest itself primarily in terms of economic, political, and normative spheres of influence. East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific will play the central role here.

But China will try to draw Europe into this new global game. Indeed, it has already begun to do so. The recent visits by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Europe’s crisis countries, to which he offered generous loans and assistance, made this strikingly clear. And America’s weakness, the growing dependence of European (especially German) exports on the Chinese market, and the enticements of the Far East more generally, will nurture a new and promising Eurasian perspective as Transatlanticism declines.

European illusions about Asia will no longer be directed at Russia, which, apart from its natural resources, will simply have nothing to offer. No, this time, the temptation will spring from China, which well understands Europe’s significance in its emerging geopolitical contest with (and against) the US.

As with Germany vis-à-vis France, here, too, Europe must stand unwaveringly by its transatlantic partner to avoid putting itself in great jeopardy. The two foundations of Europe’s seven decades of peace are cracking. Repairing them requires nothing less than pressing ahead, at long last, toward a strong, united Europe.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Joschka Fischer. Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences, 2011. 

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Topics: Economy • Europe

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Fischer must be a political chameleon. He was a radical and took part in the student riots in the early 1970s, hence he was anti-American and pro Palestine. Nevertheless as foreign minister, he managed a good balance between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Though critical at times, he still treasures the transatlantic relationship. Now the Americans are preoccupied with their domestic affairs. Fischer urges the Europeans to stand on their own feet. Don’t look east and resist the Chinese financial enticement was his advice. A weak European Union would "endanger the Franco-German pillar of European peace". Is he afraid of a war?

    August 30, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply
  2. Onesmallvoice

    Actually, the exact opposite is true. The unification of Europe is now ruining the economies of many of these countries and had a detrimental effect on even the economies of bot France and Germany. The idea of a united Europe has never and never will be a good one! In fact, both Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte tried it and both have failed miserably!!!

    August 30, 2011 at 11:32 am | Reply
    • Kerry

      Thank you, Onesmallvoice. You seem to be the only one here who knows where it's at. What the rest of these bloggers here are thinking is truly beyond me!

      August 30, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  3. Kaan

    How about a vote, Joschka? I know, democracy is not popular among EU-Ideologues!

    August 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  4. clau2002

    What about the famous motto"DIVIDE ET IMPERA"?All over the Anglo-Saxon media this seems to be the mantra!The question is :Who is afraid of a united Europe?Should I name the present day empire?

    August 31, 2011 at 7:24 am | Reply
  5. Gulden

    In principle Fischer is right. However, the enthusiasm has waned due to evident causes. GB trailing first, but today utterly hostile towards anything EU. Newcomer countries who want to benefit but who don't want to fit the rules. Worst of it all is the arrogance of large nations towards the smaller nations, which on an economical and global scale may not be so 'small' at all. Count that up with the increased and costly bureaucracy and we see now – as we see in the US – a waxing distrust of 'the Federal Govt' (in as far Brussels and Washington are comparable). It could be solved. Europe needs a President John F. Kennedy who challenges us to go to Mars and get Europeans on that soil before anyone else does – or a similar positive challenge. Because, indeed, unity is what is needed most, right now. With arrogant Brits and Greeks inside, and a paranoid US and China outside, it ain't going to happen anytime soon.

    August 31, 2011 at 11:36 am | Reply
  6. Tony

    Europe will never be united with nationalism fresh on their minds.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  7. kc

    Strong europ-Bull sh–t!!!!! fukc china!!!! united europe –NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! strong uk strong germany --- a rising china a united europe------end of the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! armageddon!

    August 31, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  8. kc

    Strong europe-Bull sh–t!!!!! fukc china!!!! united europe –NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! strong uk strong germany --- a rising china a united europe------end of the world!! armageddon!

    August 31, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Reply
    • Buzkashi

      Please make real comments.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  9. David

    Is it just me does it sound funny to hear this again coming from a German?

    September 1, 2011 at 2:25 am | Reply
  10. David Prosser

    The reason why the Eurozone is failing is because it is poorly structured and not wide enough. When all economic systems are linked together as if in a chain then surely a union which only encompasses Europe is sure to fail. The idea of the Eurozone isn’t sound because today the only way for countries to truly come out of economic turmoil is for them to put the needs of the world as a whole into their actions.

    If each country were to do this then all of these economic problems could be surpassed but as it is today the reason everyone is undergoing economic crises is because each country is hedging itself against all the others. So Europe is connected through a single currency. That still means that they are just Europe and their union is pretty shaky with countries like Germany threatening at times to pull out.

    The way economies are currently structured is unsustainable. Laughably we like to think the opposite is true but all of our examples to their sustainability come from the past. But it doesn’t take a scientist to tell each of us that the world has finite resources and this makes economic growth ultimately unsustainable.

    The world is undergoing major crises in all facets of life: education, culture, economics, ecology, etc.. Today these problems affect the whole world and thus have the ability of uniting the whole world. Only global solutions will now work in these areas since every nation’s single actions will cause ripple affects which either benefit the whole system or hurt it.

    And actions which are aimed at one country benefiting over all the others…

    September 1, 2011 at 2:42 am | Reply

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