With TINA at the helm
4 November 2011
Ever since the debt crisis began to threaten the stability of the single currency, the “Merkozy” duo has taken over the bridge of the good ship Euro. Not by virtue of any agreement among the member states, but due to a simple conclusion: “There Is No Alternative” – T.I.N.A., to quote a certain Iron Lady.
Or perhaps there is. There’s the European Commission, guardian of the treaties and of the “economic government” of the EU, as its President, Jose Manuel Barroso, recently repeated. But when it comes to the eurozone, it’s the Eurogroup – the Ministers of Economy, i.e. national governments – that has taken over. Again, therefore, Paris and Berlin.
The recent appointment of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy as “Mr. Euro”, with the blessing of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, strengthens the role of member states in the economic governance of “Euroland”, with Germany and France in the lead.
The catch is that this set-up isn’t based on any agreement and that the decisions taken by “Merkozy” seem increasingly to be evading any debate, even within the eurozone itself. Indeed, no other country is able to influence the discussions or to act as counterweight to a steamroller increasingly unencumbered by courtesies when addressing one’s peers, as shown by the angry and hostile tone in which the proposed referendum in Greece was greeted by “Merkozy”.
Among the other “big” countries, Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, finds itself in the hot seat because of the precariousness of its government and its public finances. Meanwhile Spain, in the middle of an election campaign, is not out of the rut yet.
Hammered by the debt crisis, they are, like Portugal and Ireland, well distant from the “triple A” of the rating agencies that seems to confer supernatural powers on countries that still have it. Which, incidentally, explains why the French president is obsessed with keeping his country in the most prized circle of the moment. In the eurozone, the other members of this triple-A club – Austria, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – either pack a light punch or are aligned with the Franco-German duo.
While Merkel and Sarkozy may be able to avoid the most threatening whirlpools, however, they seem to have no clear idea of where they want to steer the good ship Euro – and they have no mandate for it either. This lack of clarity and legitimacy weighs heavily over the uncharted course of the crisis and gives the impression that they’re navigating by sight. Steering through the storm, we’re not willing to hand the helm over unless those who take it can guide the ship and crew safely to harbour.
Translated from the French by Anton Baer