By the skin of their teeth… Watching on French television the gloomy faces of the alleged winners one could not help feeling there was an element of defeat in their victory. François Mitterrand, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Jacques Chirac had ganged up with the vast majority of the political establishment to impose the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. They had the backing of the moneybags and the mighty industrial lobby, the support of the bulk of the media and of celebrities speaking for them. When the situation became critical, they called on the French managing director of the I.M.F. and on the governor of the Bank of France to warn the population about the dire consequences of nonratification. It worked. The “disastrous” rejection was avoided.
But with barely 51 percent of the votes cast, theirs was a Pyrrhic victory. With Gaul divided into two parts and the entire European Community so obviously split, the architects of Maastricht will not be able to proceed with their construction as originally planned. Indeed, the central piece is now missing. The treaty contained various vague proposals for possible common policies in such areas as defense, foreign affairs and social needs. It included, however, only one crucial concrete project: forming a monetary union based on a single currency and a European Central Bank. In last week’s fantastic financial turmoil–which sank the peseta, drowned the lira and smashed the pound despite up to £15 billion spent on its abortive defense–the European Monetary System with its so-called ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism, designed to keep the currencies of member countries floating within a defined narrow band) was shattered. The next stage, the European Monetary Union, which was scheduled for the end of the millennium, now glimmers ever more distantly on the horizon.
How did the Eurocrats and their masters produce a document that received such a cool response in a country that was, and still is in a broader sense, predominantly pro-European? Leaving aside the arrogance of the mighty, who cannot even conceive of resistance from below, and the blindness of the technocrats, who failed to provide for a rejection like the Danish veto, there are three major causes for the general change of mood in Western Europe.
The first is the end of the cold war. The alleged threat from the East had been used for years to spur Europe’s integration. The second, and closely connected, cause is Germany’s reunification. Even on its own the Federal Republic was economically the strongest member of the E.C.; now Germany looks like a potentially domineering one. And the way it is financing its eastern expansion, forcing other members of the community to keep their interest rates up, has led to resentful talk about the dictatorship of “Buba”–the Bundesbank. Last but not least, there is the economic crisis. European integration was more popular when it coincided with an unprecedented age of expansion than today, when it is coupled with the longest period of depression since World War 11. France’s 3 million jobless represent one-tenth of the labor force. Not surprisingly, the map showing their concentrations matches that of the strongholds of the non.
Besides its deeper, systemic foundations, the current depression has its specific European causes. The German government, trying to attract capital to finance its Drang nach Osten and to keep inflation under control, was raising its interest rates. Its partners, caught in the capital movements caused by the contrast between the high German rates and the low American ones, were compelled to apply deflationary cures, even when these were unjustified by the state of their economies. What this Maastricht-inspired search for “convergence” in matters of inflation rates and deficits could do to weaker economies was shown quite dramatically in Italy, where the new Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, recently asked in quick succession for three years of special economic powers to rule by decree; a postponement by five years of the age when one is entitled to a pension; and cuts in health services.
Advocates of Maastricht rightly reply that criticism is directed less against the treaty than against the way European integration has proceeded for quite a number of years. They add, tongue in cheek, that even if the treaty were discarded, the capitalist lions would not be converted overnight into progressive lambs. They argue, less convincingly, that although the deutsche mark may be dominant today, it will be less so in the context of the new monetary union. This argument lies at the heart of the Maastricht debate and really rests on the assumption that what is good for Buba is good for the European Community.
The Germans agreed to merge their mark into a single European currency on condition that the proposed European Central Bank, with its six directors, each appointed for an eight-year term, should be as independent of governments as the Bundesbank allegedly is. That independence is debatable. I would argue that the central bank, representing the long-term interests of capital, may in certain circumstances oppose ex-Yugoslav republics called for the establishment of a permanent Peace and Human Rights Forum, to be given official status as part of the ongoing negotiation process in Geneva. This demand conforms with the establishment this month of a Peace and Reconciliation Forum under the sponsorship of Alexander Langer, a Green Member of the European Parliament; and the organization of a Citizens’ Peace Conference under the sponsorship of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, to be held in Macedonia in November. These initiatives, scattered and weak though they are, prove that fresh voices do exist, and that they are working for tolerant politics and challenging the idea that the warmongering nationalists speak for all members of their respective ethnic groups.
The great symbol of multlculturalism that was Sarajevo may be gone, but the spread of war in the region can be stopped if the international community learns to act against the dangers of aggressive nationalism. Past errors limit today’s options, but even now the nightmare can be interrupted.