The “federalist plot”
8 June 2012
In recent weeks, the abysmal performance of "bailout + austerity" therapy (until now, the sole remedy deployed to treat the euro crisis) has dispelled all lingering doubts. The patient that is the monetary union cannot remain on its feet without support from a budgetary and banking union.
These are the two crutches that have not been available due to unfavourable political circumstances, and in particular voters’ rejection of the European Constitution in the 2005 referendums in France and the Netherlands. If the monetary union is to be governable, we cannot afford to cut back on political union which will have to be successfully delivered in the near future. And it is on this basis that a United States of Europe, until now dismissed as a fairytale, may in fact become a reality.
Circulating in blogs and also in more authoritative sources, the theory of a plot has begun to take hold. The gist of the theory is as follows: given that without austerity and the fear of the economic collapse there would be no prospect of overcoming national electorates’ resistance to the political union that would culminate a process that has dragged on for nearly 60 years, could it be that European political elites have deliberately allowed the Eurozone crisis to come to a head so that they can take advantage of the situation to push for federalism in a situation where TINA – "There is no alternative" – prevails?
British historian Niall Ferguson is convinced this is the case: “I believe that the architects of monetary union already knew that their model [which was imperfect and did not allow for withdrawal] would result in a crisis that would pave the way for a federalist solution", he remarked in an interview with The Sunday Times as quoted by Italian daily Il Foglio. “It was the only way to introduce federalism.”
The theory of "necessary shock" is standard counter-cultural fare, and the main tenet in a range of supposed conspiracies – Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are often mentioned in this regard. It has also featured in a number of bestsellers, including Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (2007), but more importantly the phenomenon has been recognised by highly respected political figures, among them Jean Monnet.
Faced with the turmoil that surrounded the European project in the 1950s, Europe’s most celebrated founding father famously remarked: "Change will only be accepted if there is necessity, and without a crisis there is no perception of necessity" (Jean Monnet, Mémoires, Fayard). And in the light of the current situation, there is no denying the gloomy prescience of these words. Monnet set the tone for later generations of European technocrats, and an administrative utopia that would of necessity have to contend with political constraints. Today the technocrats have once again come to the fore and Monnet’s vision may become a reality.
Only future historians will be able to establish the degree of truth in these theories. But for the sake of argument, if we imagine that they are true, the Machiavellian federalists will still have to cope with significant resistance from a German population which has yet to experience the hardship that has become part of life elsewhere in Europe. If the crisis reaches a point where it becomes a threat to the continent’s most robust economy, and if the fortifications they have built to protect their savings appear to be weakening, it is possible that the Germans may bite the bullet and a accept a "union of transfers". At that point we may have very little to celebrate in the new United States of Europe.