It should be no surprise to non-European observers that
the current economic and political crisis of the European
Union (EU) is so repetitive and prolonged.
The EU, like the United Nations, came as an aftermath to
two brutal world wars, much of them fought on European
soil, and so costly in human suffering. There was an
understandable and praiseworthy impulse in the EU’s
creation, but its device was, alas, bureaucratic and abstract,
and it failed to take vitally into account at least a millennium
of very complicated peoples, languages, traditions, religions
and identities. It was, in short, to be imposed on the European
population by its political elites. Further, its initial and positive
design as an economic union was pushed by these political
elites to become much more, a political union, and to unite
politically much more rapidly than its subjects and their various
groups could tolerate and absorb.
On the positive side, most of Europe, including nations which
are formally part of the EU and those which are not, has become
more thoroughly democratic, especially after the end of the Cold
War and the Soviet domination of eastern Europe. Although
several European countries have adopted variations, in part, of
socialistic theories in some of their economic institutions,
free market capitalism prevails in important other parts of their
Fifty years of social welfarism, however, have taken a singular
toll throughout much of the EU and its continental neighbors,
and it is this toll, unequally distributed in the European countries
and among its populations which now drives the chronic instability
and crisis on the continent.
Interestingly, the leading nations and economies of the current
post-war period are very similar in their relationships that existed
before World Wars I and II. At the beginning of the 20th century,
Great Britain, Germany and France were the dominant powers of
Europe along with imperial Austro-Hungary and tsarist Russia.
The latter two no longer exist in their original configurations,
but today Great Britain, Germany and France are again the leading
members of the EU. Germany, the loser in the two world wars, is now
uncontestedly the strongest economy in Europe. The smaller nations
of Greece, Portugal, and Italy have problematic economies, and
remain as chronic sources of the EU crisis. Although Spain was not
a serious power in Europe after it lost most of its colonies, it did
emerge in the post-war period after the death of dictator Franco as
a major player in economic Europe. Today, however, Spain is beset
again by its own crises as it has lurched to the left.
The latest headlines are about Greece. This is not the first time this
Mediterranean nation has precipitated an EU crisis. It might, or
might not, be the last time. There appears to be a certain fatigue
about Greece among the larger EU nations. It is not clear that, if
Greece defaults and exits the EU, it will begin to unravel the
post-war group of European nations.
The problems brought on by enlarging entitlement economics and
thus creating huge public debts are not limited to Europe. In the
United States and Canada, notably, the growth of entitlements has
brought new strains to these more homogeneous economies and
populations. but these problems are less complicated than in their
European counterparts (although probably equally problematic in
the long term).
One of the most troublesome components of the European crisis
is the resurgence of the kind of divisive nationalism which has
characterized this continent for at least a thousand years.
Existing nation states, some of their borders created as a result
of the 20th century’s two world wars, are breaking apart.
Czechoslovakia is now two nations, the Czech Republic and
Slovakia. The former Balkan Yugoslavia is now several independent
states, including Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Macedonia.
Ukraine has separated from Russia, as have other former Soviet
regions. Areas of Italy, such as the region around Venice, now want
their independence. Spain has serious nationalistic movements in its
Basque, Catalan and Galician regions. Belgium is divided, as are
parts of The Netherlands. Scottish nationalism continues to threaten the
entity of the United Kingdom. These nationalisms are founded in
language, religion, ethnicity and culture.
Those who have created the EU and the new Europe are
understandably holding on for their very existence. Powerful new
economic and political interests have a huge stake in the status
quo and its ambition for ultimate political union. They are resisting
the populist and popular uprisings now growing with obfuscation and
They will not go away quietly.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.