The EU’s Godfather, Jean Monnet, said “Europe will be forged in crisis”. A combination of the eurozone and covid crises will challenge that thesis.
We have argued that the EU must change but probably not as the theorists or high priests hope and intend. There are many challenges to tackle and these have always been seen as a spur to “more Europe” or “ever closer union”. So far this has worked, except that initial attempts at monetary union caused a crisis in the UK which probably cost the Conservatives a chance of winning four successive elections and later contributed to the country leaving the Union.
Were it not for the evisceration of Chancellor Norman Lamont perhaps his successor in the Labour government, Gordon Brown, would not have opposed joining the eurozone (EZ), which would have resulted in Brexit being even more difficult. But this is the situation that Italy and other vulnerable member states now face – there is no easy way out for them. Yet the stronger members face the EZ crisis from the other side – how to keep things together without subsidising the ‘losers’?
Well, the holy miracle happened when the Next Generation EU (NGEU) – or the ‘covid recovery fund’ – was agreed, albeit grudgingly in some cases. Collapse was avoided, or more likely just postponed because, despite the headline numbers, the “fund” is pretty small. It is around 5% of the EU’s GDP, half of it is in loans that will eventually fall on the shoulders of the weakest, it is spread over six years and comes with strict conditions, if not quite as demanding as those imposed on the Greeks after the banking crisis. So it’s a 1% EU-average fiscal expansion against a 15% average drop in GDP due to covid.
The Stability and Growth pact (SGP) required states to keep their budget deficits below 3% and their sovereign debts below 60% of GDP and is currently exceeded several times over by Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (the PIGS), . Germany has recently made clear, again, that the suspension of the SGP is temporary and its constitutional court, which challenged the NGEU agreement at the time, will certainly do so again if a further expansion is demanded. The German people will not stand for indefinite bailouts, nor will the citizens of other ‘frugal’ states. However, the situation is so serious that there is no realistic chance of recovery for the prodigals within the constraints of the common currency arrangements. Change will come, it could be very dangerous but hopefully will be carefully done with a sensible outcome, a structure which even the UK might find it easier to work with in harmony. God willing.
God Only Knows
We recently came across a suggestion (on the ‘Q&A’ website Quora) that Brexit was like a religion and its opponents were the atheists. We have always seen it the other way around, as the previous section suggests.
Here is an extract of what he Robert L. Gerrard wrote :
“‘Leave‘ was never a policy or a destination. It was a religious ideal. Just as religions have different ideas of what happens after death, and of what you have to do to be part of heaven, or nirvana, or wherever the faithful hope to end up, various Leaver ‘sects‘ had different ideas about what the UK would become by leaving the EU.… Actually the atheists (or Remainers) are in the majority … but the religious are in the majority and all hate the atheists so the atheists get the most hate and are most likely to have to compromise their position.“
By claiming a majority for both sides we think he means that despite Leave getting most votes the Remainers had a more consistent policy (simply stay in the EU) whereas any one Leave proposal had fewer adherents (disciples). He compares this with the many alternatives to Roman Catholicism that have arisen since Martin Luther’s challenge. He has a point but a rather trivial one considering that the majority were dissatisfied with the established authority and what they saw as its abuse of power (in the case of both the EU and the Pope). As to his assertion that Leavers hate Remainers, at worst that feeling is mutual, though we perceive the contempt with which many of the latter view the former (for their lower moral position or education standard) is closer to reality.
He also assumes that ‘just staying’ means no change, but there again we think he’s wrong and that there were many possible outcomes for both sides – there still are. And he further suggests that any of the Leave sects would have made a mess of everything and everything is a mess because of the actual Brexit choice. Next is a summary of our response:
The Bells of Hell
Interesting that you should regard Leave as a religion and Remain as atheism because we’ve always seen it the other way around. Even more so since the EU has been treating heretics who don’t share its faith with such contempt and nastiness. We’d have thought that if they had confidence in their vision they would be forgiving, in the certainty of its success (“in the sweet bye-and-bye”) rather than the need to frighten other potential doubters.
But you are also right that we Leavers too had faith, a belief that we would survive the break and hopefully prosper over time. We see evidence that the EU is declining in its global importance and is beset with probably-insurmountable difficulties that will cause a radical change of structure and direction, at best.
You have made us think, we are all believers and it takes a lot to lose our faith. We certainly haven’t yet felt the flames of hell that the prophets of doom preached at us. Meanwhile the EU maintains its bumpy path towards uniformity, though it’s pretty unclear to us how it can stay on track and smooth the Eurozone inequalities without a citizens’ revolt and a Reformation.
A Remain refrain
After the Referendum there was a constant chanting by the losers that a 52/48 vote split should not decide the outcome, though they were happy before when it seemed they couldn’t lose. How did they feel about Remain champion Obama winning the US presidential election by almost the same margin? Or Joe Biden winning by not much more and on a much lower turnout? Or even Trump losing on a closer score?
 Previously, both France and Germany have flouted the SGP rules when it suited them (see 2020 Vision?)