Thursday, February 23, 2012

Europe says goodbye to solidarity

by Philip Stephens

Financial Times

February 23, 2012

Some words are the property of continental Europeans. You do not hear many Brits or Americans talking about “solidarity”. The expression belongs to the soggy (to Anglo-Saxon minds) consensualism of social market capitalism and to prophets of European unity. What’s happened lately is that solidarity has dissolved. This explains why the euro, and the European Union, are in so much trouble.

Another week, another sticking plaster. The deal to prop up Greece has bought some more time. The important thing – or so we are led to believe – is that the wound has been cauterised. Again. Yet, it should be blindingly obvious to all that, in the great scheme of things, the latest bail-out is a sideshow.

Two things are needed if Greece is to avoid catastrophic economic and social collapse. They apply whether it stays in or leaves the euro. The first is sufficient political resolve within Greece to reform radically the state and economy; the second is a reciprocal willingness among other Europeans to foot a sizeable bill for the failures and fraud of past Greek governments.

The pertinent question is whether such a bargain is available. The omens are not encouraging. Behind the name-calling that marks out Greece’s relationship with its eurozone partners lies a complete breakdown of trust. Many Europeans – and I am not talking only about Germans – do not believe that politicians in Athens will keep their promises; many Greeks think that the draconian austerity demanded as the price of debt relief is calculated to punish rather than rehabilitate. A fair observer would probably say that both sides have a point.


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