The euro crisis has caused an unprecedented realignment in European political geography. For decades, EU integration functioned as a chessboard in several dimensions: economic, political and strategic. In each there were various dynamics, but also balances that gave all participants some cause for satisfaction.
On the economic board, there have always been asymmetries in size and strength, but never such hegemony as to make anyone feel threatened. EU integration has functioned as a “good globalisation,” with transparent, equitable rules of the game, and authorities and institutions to enforce them. Each country has been able to seek its market niche, experiment with various socioeconomic models, and adjust them to its own satisfaction. All the EU members have had opportunities not only to grow, but to do so cohesively: both internally, creating social inclusion, and externally, shrinking the income differences between countries.
On the political board, things have been rather different, because the European vocations of France and Germany, though fundamentally different in origin, have always been complementary. But the best of the Franco-German “engine” has been that it led Europe without obliging others to align themselves with either Paris or Berlin. Thus countries like Spain have been able to play on both sides simultaneously. And then the United Kingdom has always offered a third door at which to call, frustrating any possible intention on the part of France and Germany to set themselves up as a duopoly.
On the strategic plane, the members of the EU have achieved something that — given their different traditions in foreign policy, and their attachment to sovereignty in security and defense matters — is not to be overlooked. In their foreign relations they have sworn off dividing the world into spheres of influence. Just as Spain aroused the EU’s interest in Latin America and the Mediterranean, but has never been able to impose its own particular viewpoints under the pretext of its intense interests in these regions, neither France, German, nor the United Kingdom have ventured to impose their strategic views (which do not coincide at all) on Russia, China, the United States and globalisation. They have been obliged to seek consensus.
These balances are now broken. In the economic area we have seen the emergence of central-peripheral dynamics, and unprecedented perceptions of winners and losers. The dominant feeling now is one of divergence rather than convergence, and of North-South and creditor-debtor imbalance. In the political sphere, too, there has been an emptying of EU power, and of the capacity of influence held by Paris, London, Madrid, Rome, Warsaw and others, in favour of Berlin; but since in Berlin there has not been leadership sufficient to administer that power in such a way as to generate cohesion or adhesion, the hegemony of Germany is far from being that which Europe needs. Lastly, the crisis has had a negative impact on the foreign policy of the EU, since nobody has the desire, or the political capital, to invest in forging the delicate balances that are needed if the EU is to be able to cope with the challenges posed by a Russia that is increasingly authoritarian, a China that is throwing its weight around, a United States that is turning its back on Europe, a Turkey that is drifting back into Asia, and an Arab Spring over which Europe has increasingly less influence.
With every year that goes by, these imbalances harden and solidify a little more. This is why, though the German elections and the ongoing economic stagnation are going to make 2013 a year of transition, the question that we ought to be asking as we view this new European political geography is, transition to what?
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