Monday, October 1, 2012

Blame the great men for Europe’s crisis

by Gideon Rachman

Financial Times
October 1, 2012

“This is what you have to do, if you want the people to build statues of you on horseback.” Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was doubtless being whimsical when he urged his colleagues to make bold decisions about the future of Europe. But the former French president’s remark offers a telling insight into the mentality that created the great euro-mess of today.

The EU is now having to deal with the consequences of the hubris of the “great Europeans” of a previous generation. The people who created the euro – men such as Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, and Jacques Delors, the one-time head of the European Commission – shared Giscard d’Estaing’s eye for the history books. But their dream of leaving a legacy of a United Europe, with a single currency at its core, has turned into a nightmare.

In the middle of a full-blown economic and political crisis it might seem pointless – or even vindictive – to criticise the statesmen of yesterday. But answering the question “who is to blame?” will be important in resolving the euro crisis. The country or groups that end up shouldering most of the odium for the crisis will emerge with their interests and worldview damaged and in retreat. Broadly speaking, there are three groups competing to be the villain of the piece: the Germans, the southern Europeans and the “Anglo-Saxons”.

Resentment against Germany is rife in southern Europe. A vivid recent example came in Italy, when Il Giornale ran a front page that screamed about a German “Fourth Reich”. But savage criticism of the Germans is not confined to southern Europe. Anatole Kaletsky, a much-respected UK economic commentator, wrote a column in June that stated: “Nobody should be surprised that Germany has become the greatest threat to Europe. After all, this has happened twice before since 1914.”


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