In the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a creeping sensation that I might be more deluded than usual. As befits my historical institutionalist leanings, I tend to think that things look like they used to look, and will look like they look now: not quite homeostasis, but at least self-stabilising. At the level of the EU, that plays out as saying that even in the face of a crisis, the Union comes out the other side looking pretty much like it did before. It’s coped with Empty Chairs, Eurosclerosis, Thatcher’s handbagging, and the end of the Cold War; always moving on its trajectory to a mixed system of national and supranational governance. It’s not been pretty and it’s not been immediately obvious at the time, but it’s muddled through.
My possible delusion relates (of course) to the eurozone crisis. For months, I’ve been telling everyone that it’ll sort itself out and we’ll end up with some changes around the edges and that’ll be that. But my confidence in such a resolution is fading. As time has passed, my sense of anyone being in control, or of ‘playing a long game’, fades. With each new development, the solutions become ever more costly (both politically and economically) and the impact on the Union’s future path ever greater. This is not like the 1970s, where the EEC was moribund, but still relevant; nor it is like the 1990s when the political commitment to the new Union (both for EMU and for enlargement) was sorely tested. Instead, we face a situation where the whole logic of integration is called into question, just as the economic fundamentals impose a massive strain on member states’ resources.
Around and around I look for leadership, for a credible plan. It makes me anxious when The Economist appears to offer the most thoughtful ideas, and when Mario Monti also positions himself against a potential solution. When one can sketch out an outcome that involves the end of the EU itself, without too much straining of one’s critical faculties, then one has to wonder how on earth anyone let it get to this.
But perhaps I worry too much. Perhaps this is all a cunning plan to spread fiscal rectitude across the continent, a stunning demonstration of the necessity of European integration in a globalised world. Perhaps, but right now, it doesn’t feel like it.