Sunday, February 19, 2012

Europia

Four months. That's the shortest, feasible amount of time it would take to replace one currency in a given country with another. Say, replacing the euro with the drachma. More typically, such changeovers take at least 12-18 months. These and other gems of insight into Europe's future are covered in the latest episode of the BBC's excellent Analysis programme, cheerfully entitled: Preparing for Eurogeddon.

Co-incidentally I have been in Paris for a few days. Several things struck me: 1) it's very expensive - even at its 'bubbliest' Dublin did not come close to Parisian price levels (especially city-centre property prices); 2) Paris is very rich - there are generations upon generations of wealth accumulated in Paris (as evident in the architecture), and still more money is pouring in (every other building site - and there were many - seemed to be financed by either a Middle Eastern or Asian bank). Which left me with a third thought: Ireland doesn't matter to France, nor does Greece nor even Portugal. If the euro really was about tying France's economic fortunes to Germany's then it has been a success. Whether it has been a success for everyone else is besides the point.

When Czechoslovakia broke up after 75 years in 1993, the Slovaks started off by using the old Czech currency but with stickers attached to the notes to differentiate them as Slovakian currency until a new, replacement currency came into circulation. The Slovakian currency weakened rapidly against the Czech currency so wily Slovakians took to peeling off the stickers... Eventually they got their own currency of course, and indeed they ended up in the eurozone in 2009. Good timing.

But nothing lasts forever: and these days 75 years is a good innings, politically speaking. The European Union has been going - in one guise or another - for nearly fifty five years. That's longer than Yugoslavia (45 years), though not as long as Czechoslovakia. It seems to be the European way - we don't do unity for long (despite our motto: united in diversity). George Handlery observes that:
To its own peril and to the detriment of international stability, the praxis behind “Europe” is degenerating. Europe has a tradition of resistance to centralism. This applies to Charles the Great, the Sun King, Bonaparte, Hitler, and Stalin. Bureaucratic centralism’s project is unlikely to fare better once its fig leaf covering is welted. Wanting to force Europe, through administrative constraints, into a mold that ignores its organically determined pre-disposition, is not accidental. The attempt reflects the inclinations and political shrewdness of the West’s ’68-ers. Their left-collectivistic program is best realized through “Brussels” where they can act for the “masses” without having to consult them. The growing power of the center is exercised without a real democratic mandate and it is legitimized by an abstract and therefore stage-manageable idea. Accountability does not exist as the system is run without the endorsement of voters empowered to dismiss their “leaders”.  
'Europia' may well go the way of its many empires before it. But France will go on. Perhaps that is why, to my surprise, so many receipts in shops and restaurants still give the equivalent total amount in francs alongside the actual price in euro. Ten years after the currency came into circulation, the French are still keeping their options open. I don't blame them.

Image credit: Mapping Stereotypes

2 comments:

  1. Some excellent points here, Gerard. The EU is a noble ideal, but it has indeed been 'stage-managed' to the point of collapse.

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  2. On Handlery's observation - I always understood the principle underlying Europe as subsidiarity, not centralism. Am I wrong?

    ReplyDelete

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