Levels of frustration, discontent, tension and anxiety are growing, and forces pulling areas of Europe apart are intensifying. Our common currency is going through the hardest test in its history and it has become clear that it is greatly challenging our mutual feeling of Europeanness.
In her latest statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave us an answer to what we all have been asking in the past months across Europe: “is there an end in sight?” According to Merkel, the euro crisis cannot be fixed in the next one or two years but will take at least five more years – or even longer. Taking a quick glance at the recent headlines of the euro zone’s misfortunes, Chancellor Merkel cannot be completely wrong. The crisis is still very much there and visible to us, like photos of the chaos on the streets in Athens as a result of the new austerity measures by the Greek parliament demonstrate. But it is not only Southern Europe, where we are directing our concerns – the map of the crisis has spread to unspoken areas, to non-euro countries Hungary and Romania or Slovenia, which might become the sixth euro member requesting a bailout.
Levels of frustration, discontent, tension and anxiety are growing, and forces pulling areas of Europe apart are intensifying. Our common currency is going through the hardest test in its history and it has become clear that it is greatly challenging our mutual feeling of Europeanness. In the most recent Eurobarometer survey investigating the European public’s opinion of the euro, 52% were for it, with a one per cent decrease to 2011, and an 11% decrease to the pre-crisis year 2007.1 Matthias Kaelberer stated already in 2004: “while a successful euro may forge greater levels of European identity, a badly managed euro would produce exactly the opposite effect”.2 Even though so little has been said about the relationship between money and identity, it is obvious that the greater the degree to which the currency ‘works’, the more positive impact it has on the European identity. Is “one money, one nation” a credible goal? Could we consider the role of the euro as a social relation rather than as an economic or material entity? Or is money still essentially associated with the notions of sovereignty and state power?
The common currency may not be the force to unite the citizens of Europe, yet the financial crisis has called into question the very existence of the European project as a whole. The old Cold War division between the East and the West has been replaced, at least in some ways, by the North-South divide, between the prudent Northern A-rated countries and the indebted Southern states. Critical views would also suggest that an increasing euroscepticism and a realisation that Europe is “too diverse to be united” have now superseded the 1973 idea “united in diversity” introduced in the Copenhagen Declaration. The euro crisis is not just about costs and prices but also about the plurality of cultures. In addition to the challenges posed by the heterogeneity of the union, the crisis has also demonstrated that cooperation and (financial) solidarity among the European states can only go so far.
The question that can be asked now is how long we have to wait and how far we have to go before we can start talking about European unity again. I think at least two aspects have become clear over the course of the crisis: firstly, as Angela Merkel stated already last year, “the euro is the guarantee of a united Europe; if the euro fails, then Europe fails”. Hence, we have to be patient and believe in the power of money as a unifying force. Secondly, deeper political integration is necessary. Further implications on the core-periphery differences need to be addressed as well as a reliable institutional framework for the euro zone needs to be constructed. In the EU’s current formation it is impossible to pursue democracy, national determination and economic globalisation simultaneously, and in this scenario, a federalist Europe would be the most desirable outcome of the crisis.
I would like to believe that even though the crisis has turned out to be divisive and challenged our visions of mutual solidarity and feelings of Europeanness, if the euro survives the crisis and a sturdier foundation for the euro zone is established, the euro has got the potential to forge greater levels of European identity. I also hope that Merkel is wrong in her estimations. The longer the crisis lasts, the more challenging the task to bridge the gaps of the polarised Europe will become. News reports from the streets of Athens, on the one hand, or the danger of yet another euro zone state requesting bailout, on the other, spread feelings of frustration and desperation that the project is never moving forward. At the same time, strengthening a feeling of Europeanness should not include great sacrifices or “blood, sweat and tears” –strategies of solidarity. Europe can go only so far, especially if Merkel is right about the crisis lasting for many more years.
This blog post is based on my Honours Dissertation in International Relations, “The Euro and European Identity”, at the University of St Andrews, Scotland (2011)
- European Commission, ”Standard Eurobarometer 77 – Spring 2012”, Accessed at: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/index_en.htm
- Matthias Kaelberer,”The Euro and European Identity: symbols, power and the politics of European Monetary Union”, Review of International Studies, vol. 30 (2004), p. 24