Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gabor Steingart: Optimistic Europhile

Gabor Steingart
(Image from Homepage)

Readers will probably recall my post yesterday on the way in which the European Union's crisis over the euro has pushed the heads of state in Europe to press the European Central Bank for action to stabilize the European economy. I argued that this will require greater political centralization for the European Union but also result in a larger democratic deficit, unless the EU undertakes further political reform.

After posting that argument, I happened to read yesterday's hard copy of the International Herald Tribune -- delivered to my apartment here in Seoul -- and discovered that the German journalist and author Gabor Steingart holds an opinion very similar to mine, albeit from a more optimistic perspective. His online article, "It Takes a Crisis to Make a Continent," which appeared over the weekend (May 21, 2010), makes the following points:
[H]istorians will likely look back to May 9 as a turning point. That is when, in a conference room in Brussels, European leaders announced a blanket guarantee of 750 billion euros (about $1 trillion) for the countries on the euro zone's southern flank. Even the European Central Bank, which until then had been regarded as an independent body, silently stepped in to bail out the troubled states. Though they would never admit it, the men and women who sat in Brussels formed the first European economic cabinet, making policy on the fly, just as in a regular state.

Yes, the rules governing the euro are being breached every day, causing panic in the market. But this is part of a movement forward, not dissolution. According to the monetary union treaty signed in 1999, member states were never meant to take on the debts of a fellow member state, and the European Central Bank, modeled on the German Bundesbank, was meant to ensure monetary stability at all cost. But, at this critical moment, Europe decided that monetary unity was not enough, that it was worth breaking the rules to bring its members closer together as a political unit.
Mr. Steingart doesn't explain how this "policy on the fly" adds up to a "regular state," nor does he discuss the need for a more centralized system to offset the danger of instability if powerful European nations should happen to fundamentally disagree over the European Central Bank's policies, but he must have some inkling of the need for a more centralized political structure to make political and economic decisions, for he offers a further point that reveals his own recognition of the inherent 'democratic deficit':
Having forced itself into an era of continental policymaking, Europe must now play catch-up with its democratic system. Millions of Europeans already feel alienated by Brussels; if the achievements of this crisis are to survive, European leaders must figure out how to make sure the people are heard in the political process. Europe as a decision-making body is a fact; now it has to become more democratic.
My point may sound contradictory, namely, that if the European Union is to survive, it will need both more centralization and greater democratization, but I think that's precisely what survival requires. One possible way of attempting to achieve both would be for the President of the European Parliament to assume the role of President of the European Council and act as a prime minister formulating economic, political, and even foreign policy. Mr. Steingart has already referred to the European Council as an acting "economic cabinet," with the European heads of state acting as cabinet members, and a cabinet surely needs a prime minister who represents not just one state but the whole of Europe. Yet, how to integrate the heads of state on that council, if such a president is to have effective power, poses the big headache, for a prime minister typically selects the cabinet, rather than inherit one. Are powerful heads of state likely to subordinate themselves to a party in the European Parliament?

I'm neither Europhile nor Europhobe, but you can put me down as a Euroskeptic for now because I'd like to hear the solution to that issue.

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