Eurozonia: too big to fail, too small to succeed?

Saturday 29 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Lecture Theatre 1

The core European Union project of unity in diversity seems to be slowly sinking as a succession of shockwaves batter the good ship Eurozonia. Whether it is l’affaire Strauss-Kahn, the debt crisis swamping Greece, Ireland, Portugal and the euro itself, customs borders going back up in Denmark, the North African and Libyan refugee ‘human tsunami’, or the remarkable rise of populist anti-EU parties like the True Finns and the Dutch PVV, scarcely a day goes by without a new crisis for the captains of Europe. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, may call on national governments to resist the ‘populist temptation’ of ‘anti-European’ voices. But when Angela Merkel says people in countries like Portugal, Spain and Greece should not have more holidays, work less and retire earlier than Germans, the extent of the political and cultural crisis facing the EU is clear. The sense of failure in Brussels is palpable: everyone knows the bailouts are not working; everyone knows populist resentment to the EU is now widespread; some 30% of Germans – at the heart of the project from the beginning – now want an independent Germany and their D-Marks back. Is it conceivable that the euro could fail? And what would this mean for the EU itself?

Some argue the very logic of the EU project, long before monetary union, was such that it invited an eventual populist backlash. The EU was conceived after World War II as a means of ending conflict between European peoples – and seeing off the dangers of either Communism or Fascism. When French Planning Commission head Jean Monnet created the European Coal and Steel Community, French and German elites initiated a process of increasing integration – a common industrial market, common agricultural policy, monetary union – designed to lead to political union. But all this was agreed between technocrats rather than argued for in the public sphere. Consequently, national political leaders have long been known to use the putatively unaccountable EU as an excuse for imposing unpopular legislation on their electorates. And with the euro in crisis, new battle lines have emerged between centralisers and decentralisers, globalists and localists: lines that transcend left and right allegiances.

British commentator Martin Wolf argues the only alternative to default and at least partial dissolution of the Eurozone is deeper financial integration and fiscal support than anyone previously envisaged. So can the bureaucrats weather the storm, keeping populist and nationalist dissent to the margins while they do what needs to be done? Or can the European public be won over to the EU project just as it is faltering? Or finally, is the whole project doomed to failure?

Listen to session audio:


Philippe Legrain
visiting senior fellow, LSE’s European Institute; author, Immigrants: your country needs them and European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right

Simon Nixon
chief European commentator, Wall Street Journal; author, The Credit Crunch: how safe is your money?

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No

Phil Mullan
economist and business manager; author, Creative Destruction: How to start an economic renaissance

Produced by
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Recommended readings
Europe is turning back to national identity – and it's exhilarating

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Simon Jenkins, Guardian Comment is free, 15 September 2011

The end of Monnet: the debt crisis is exposing problems in the basic design of the European Union

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Bruno Waterfield, Telegraph, 21 July 2011

Making a crisis out of a Greek drama

To overcome the Eurozone crisis, we should declare war on the fatalist notion that sluggish growth is the ‘New Normal’.

Phil Mullan, spiked, 14 July 2011

Solution Is at Hand—With a Little Courage

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This is primarily a crisis of the banking system, not the euro

European leaders need to face facts: their strategy for tackling the crisis sweeping through the eurozone is failing dismally. Far from preventing contagion, it is spreading it. It is aggravating, not alleviating, Europe’s debt problems.

Philippe Legrain, EuroIntelligence, 13 January 2011

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