Saturday, August 11, 2012

Long List of Disillusionment: Europe’s Olympian vision of its future has dimmed to a flicker

Europe’s Olympian vision of its future — great power plus universal indispensability as a beacon of reason — has dimmed to a flicker
writes John Vinocur in his International Herald Tribune column.
Without willingness to accept a dare or two, the situation is unlikely to brighten soon.
The European Union’s debt and deficit grief, compounded by a crisis of political will, is much more than a bad moment that puts progress temporarily on hold.
The community’s faster-higher- stronger thread of grand ambitions has frayed. And the vision meant to give it direction, an independent political role — and to project Europe to the world as something wiser and more responsible than other great powers — has faded.
There are no doubts tingeing the European Union’s exceptional practical achievements, like a single regulatory system or open internal borders. And no one could disparage smaller successes — on the order of reduced mobile phone roaming charges, which save the average E.U. business traveler €1,000 annually. The problem involves once-great-notions associated with Europe that now seem empty and overreaching, shaking confidence in its claim to unlimited promise.
Beyond concern for the euro’s permanence, the list of disillusionment is long.
[And since the year 2000], Europe’s notions of becoming a geopolitical co-equal of the United States and China have shriveled.
With France doing most of the imagining — and successfully attaching a European nameplate to its own strategic goals — the Continent was cast as a pole of power in a notional construct called a multipolar world that was aimed at counterbalancing the weight of the United States. This still sounds very visionary, but has become unrealistic — as did a French-inspired plan, supported by the Russians, to rival the dollar as the world’s single reserve currency through a basket of other currencies featuring the euro.
Neither concept has weathered the reality of Europe’s incapacity to bring a convincing close to its debt and deficit misery. The G-20 summit meetings, a French idea and a pop-up showroom for multipolarity since 2008, have markedly declined in significance. In parallel, the French-German blueprint to build a European defense force, a symbol-to-be of its independence from an American-led NATO, is no longer a priority.
Germany, in turn, has focused almost all its visionary energy on Germany. Since reunification, and with the founding of the euro, it has regarded itself as “normalized,” or no longer required to play the role of its partners’ constant benefactor.
… all the same, an important initiative could take shape with enough credibility and ambition to make Europe look alive, bolder and in refocus mode: a trans-Atlantic free trade zone.
Advocacy of such a goal by E.U. leaders is a political dare because it exposes the time-wasting hollowness of Europe’s desires concerning multipolarity and reserve currencies.
… Could [Angela] Merkel, François Hollande, and David Cameron — all of whom would have a hard time turning their backs on a shot at some real economic renewal and job growth — jointly put this year’s American presidential candidates on the spot and propose a trans-Atlantic free trade pact?