The fact that the euro is safe from collapse now seems to be taken for granted by the markets. The speculation against the euro, which last year jeopardised its very future, has ebbed away. This is thanks to the intervention of the European Central Bank and its president, Mario Draghi, who announced his determination to use the whole arsenal at his command to save the single currency. But now that the worst of the euro crisis is over, we are entering a worrying phase of political crisis. Tensions are rising, especially regarding the role of Germany, which is the target of mounting criticism in terms both of its actions and omissions.
Many Germans have been annoyed by the darts that Merkel’s economic policy has received, first from Washington, where the Treasury Department called the country’s trade surplus a source of instability for other members of the euro zone; and then from Brussels, which has set up a special vigilance procedure on the risks to the euro zone deriving from the excessive and persistent German surplus.
The confrontation is a political one, but so identity-linked as to assume an existential character. For many Germans, to be criticised for excessive saving and beefy exports is not only a frontal attack on the post-war German identity, but one more mark of the insensitivity of certain neighbours, who are not only disinclined to admire German-inspired economic reforms, implementing them with reluctance, laxity, and foot-dragging, but, what is worse, seem bent on destroying what they, the Germans, consider the continent’s only successful economic model. Meanwhile, outside, dissatisfaction is growing about a Germany that seems to be profiting from the euro and systematically blocking all those measures that could open up a path out of the crisis — yet pretends to be a victim of the squanderers in the South.
The German surplus is only one episode added to the tensions surrounding the issues of banking union, lower interest rates, and the prospect of deflation, all of these being crucial to the stability and the future of the euro zone. Germany still opposes the creation of a Europe-wide deposit-guarantee mechanism, preferring the co-ordination of existing national systems, which are clearly fragile and insufficient. Against authoritative legal advice, Germany argues that this would require treaty change, or referendum, which would delay such a mechanism and probably render it impossible.
More serious is the interested leakage, on the part of German, Austrian, Dutch, and Finnish ECB representatives, that they would vote against the recent lowering of interest rates, by which Draghi hopes to contain both the risk of deflation and an excessive appreciation of the euro. By publicising their vote, they not only weaken the institution, but tell the markets that the austerity bloc does not trust Draghi or his measures.
Now, six years after the crisis began, we do not seem to have advanced much on the crucial question of confidence. Disagreements, distrust about hidden agendas, and cultural stereotypes seem more alive than ever, with the rise of xenophobia and euroscepticism in the background.
At the end of the day, it seems that not even Germany has learned the lesson that the single currency cannot be based on lies. A single currency is all very well, but is not the only option. If the Europeans have it, surely it is because they want it. But what they cannot do is hurt each other, politically, economically, and socially, in the name of the euro. If we want the currency, we have to accept the consequences, which means being governed by institutions that represent the interests of all and are responsible to all of us — not ones that serve a few and are responsible to nobody.
Yes. This is called political union, and it is exactly the discussion we are not having. Why? Well, myopia.
This article first appeared in the English edition of “El País” on 15 November 2013.
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