April 19, 2011
In today’s Wall Street Journal we argue,
“When European Union leaders forged their monetary union without a full political and economic merger, they gambled on two vital factors: That economic forces could be kept in check, and that national democracies could be managed.
Over the past 16 months, we have been reminded time and again exactly how big and how irresponsible those gambles were. Sunday’s was arguably the strongest reminder yet, courtesy of the anti-euro True Finns party that may hold the balance of power in the next Finnish government. Paris, Berlin and Brussels seem not to have factored Nordic populism into their grand plans for the euro. But ultimately the euro zone is about politics, and politics remain as local as they ever were.”
We go on,
“The True Finns’ success will not change European politics overnight, and the party may not even succeed in blocking Finland’s participation in future bailouts. But, irrespective of what we think of the True Finns, the election does highlight how powerfully a euro-zone crisis can contribute to shaping national politics. Euro bailouts were also an important issue in Slovakia’s elections last year, and helped to deliver a new governing coalition that refused to take part in Europe’s Greek bailout. That government only reluctantly kicked in later to help create the temporary bailout fund that euro leaders are now looking to replace after 2013.
This year the True Finns asked voters to consider the same question that Slovaks did last year: Why should they work harder and retire later to pay for the mistakes and wasteful habits of southern European governments? This “triple-A populism” has proven a powerful force in a number of countries with sparkling credit ratings, including Germany. Writ large, this weekend’s Finnish elections are a rebuke of one of the euro zone’s central, and fatal, conceits: that political ambition can trump economic and democratic realities.”
Looking at EU leaders’ gamble on being able to keep economic forces in check, we note,
“Markets have now finally woken up to the fact that Greece and Germany are poles apart; it is time for EU leaders to do so as well. Ireland, Greece and Portugal have made all too clear that economic forces can rarely be predicted, let alone contained.
Some particularly federal-minded EU leaders took this as a pretext to push even harder for a full-fledged fiscal union. Former European Commission President Romano Prodi wrote in an op-ed in the Financial Times last May that “When the euro was born everyone knew that sooner or later a crisis would occur. . . . I was warning years ago that, through no one’s fault in particular, extraordinary events could occur that would force joint co-ordination of fiscal policies.”
That sentiment spurred EU leaders to take their next major gamble, which was even riskier than the first: They bet that once they did start to effect robust economic and political union, national voters and parliaments would play along and vote the “right” way. So last year, when the EU elites decided to break their own treaties and turn the euro zone into a de facto debt union, they forced taxpayers in some countries to take on the liabilities of foreign governments in other countries—without the possibility of voting these governments out of office. But taxpayers are now showing signs of revolt. “
Author : Open Europe blog team
“Will EU politicians’ second gamble turn out as ill-judged as their first? Time will tell. But one thing is clear. The political price that European leaders are paying to keep their flawed project afloat continues to rise.”