Debate: The euro of our discontent
2 August 2012
Designed to end a half a millennium of conflicts, today European political unity faces an uncertain future. This is because Europeans no longer share the same vision and because the United States will not accept the existence of the euro, says Portuguese writer Eduardo Lourenço.
In the aftermath of two suicidal wars in the 20th century, three of the belligerents, out of desperation, dreamed of a new Europe. The world wars – Europe's double suicide – marked the culmination of a pitiless struggle: half a millennium of a quest for supremacy between Spain, France, England and the Netherlands joined by Austria, Prussia and Russia. Occasionally Sweden, then marginal, and Portugal would participate as an ally to one or the other of the major players.
It would thus not be a calumny to European history to see it as a long, on-again, off-again “civil war”. All of these nations have a certain common culture. Inherited from Antiquity and of Christian origin (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) it has, since the fall of Constantinople, been in opposition to other cultures and religious affiliations.
Faced with such a complex past, it is not surprising that Western Europe stumbled over so many difficulties on the path to realising its European Utopia, its first serious and democratic attempt at building something of international scope. Unfortunately, and in spite of the urgency of the European project, it could not be attempted outside of the Cold War context: the United States and the Soviet Union each claimed to establish its supremacy on the world and, for them, Europe was (already) a coveted area. Torn between the United States and Russia, Europe was then split; since the fall of the Berlin Wall it has changed radically.
One could argue, especially today, that the creation of the euro shook up the fetish that is the US dollar. Until then, it was the only imperial single currency of the globalised zone – or rather of the political, economic, financial, technological and, especially, cultural Americanisation of the world. Perhaps the euro, its assertiveness and its (excessive?) success troubled the world monetary system from the start. A system for which the dollar and its absolute dominance are the supreme weapon, the one that makes it possible to buy that other weapon – petrol – and to control the world market.
No ideological-financial plot needs to be conjured up to explain the nearly-universal crisis pervading the core of capitalism in the digital era. Nor is one needed to imagine an attack to destabilise the euro and, through it, any project of political autonomy in the new Europe, with the aim of ensuring its historic subjugation. NATO is, in strategic terms, what the weakening of the euro (or even its eventual disappearance) is at the economic and financial level: the single currency symbolises and incarnates the post-1989 Europe. But who, in Europe, still wants Europe?
We do not need anyone to save us
Paradoxically, the most pro-European of the major nations, in spite of its ethical and political constraints, is none other than Germany. The country of the former Deutschmark is the euro's new International Monetary Fund. Only Germany (despite being disarmed or perhaps because of it) still has enough economic clout to preserve the European “utopia” from the dark influences that, yesteryear, dragged it towards the abyss. It alone still has sufficient historical aura to take on the major role that destiny has assigned it, or which it assigned to itself. Who, if not Germany, can, despite the terrifying ghosts this idea awakens, attract “Europeans” such as Ukraine and Greater Russia to the European area? Or Turkey, to which Germany is closer than any other country?
Yet it is from the homeland of Voltaire, and not that of Luther, that we may expect a historical commitment in favour of an exemplary Europe. One as exemplary as France once was in many areas. For a long time, France by itself incarnated Europe. For many, it was the “nation” of reference, as opposed to the “world island” that is England. It is undoubtedly for this reason that France has balked, from the beginning, at transcending its borders in order to draw on a dynamic incarnation of Europe. Historic heirs of an insurmountable rivalry, neither England nor France feel the need for Europe. They are extras.
In Southern and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the European dream is alive and well. But these areas are limited and marginal, if not marginalised. The North, for its part, seems to belong to a continent whose dreams were frozen long ago.
Perhaps Europe never needed to go anywhere. Did not need to provide itself with a historic, political, ideological and cultural status other than that of the multiplicity of ethnic groups it has always been. This is where the modern world was forged, as was the modernity of the world. Let us not forget that. We do not need anyone to save us. We need to save ourselves and that's no small feat. Whatever happens, we are not for sale.