It looks as though the eurozone may be in decisive meltdown, which is just fine in my book. The sooner we get back to francs, lire, punts, drachmas and the rest of the old sovereign currencies, the better in the long run. It used to be as much a part of going to France as choking on Gauloises smoke to change money and be handed a bundle of notes featuring the devious Cardinal Richelieu, instead of the characterless but somehow always expensive euros.
The argument against the eurozone is that hard-faced Eurobankers—their killer instincts honed at Goldman Sachs, Wall Street’s School of the Americas—have the power to act as the bullyboys of international capital and impose austerity regimes from Dublin to Athens, scalping the poor to bail out the rich.
Now, the end of the eurozone does not mean the end of the European Union. They’re different. There are seventeen nations in the former, twenty-seven in the latter. Britain, for example, has never been in the eurozone, which is why the currency exchange in London will, in return for your worthless dollars, hand you bank notes with the Queen’s portrait on them.
At the moment the European Union has virtually no tax-collecting powers. Its annual haul is about 1 percent of the EU’s gross domestic product. By comparison, the US government collects about 20–24 percent of GDP.
Throughout the entire Eurocrisis there has been a basso profundo chorus from the Eurocrats that what’s needed is a lot more centralizing—in the words of Wolfgang Münchau in the November 27 Financial Times, “a fiscal union”: “This would involve a partial loss of national sovereignty, and the creation of a credible institutional framework to deal with fiscal policy, and hopefully wider economic policy issues as well.”
I’ve read many editorial paragraphs with this same bullying timbre—that what the whole European enterprise needs is an impregnable fortress of Eurocrats dispatching its disciplinary legions, first technocrats and then, if necessary, NATO’s shock troops to crush all resistance.
Two generations ago, when Britain shook with acrid debates about the pros and cons of joining the EU, a big chunk of the left was in favor of joining, the notion basically being that in terms of potential for socialist advance, EU membership would at least offer a shot at liberating the sceptered isle from the suffocating, reactionary constrictions of postimperial infarction. (Also, Gaullism—meaning in this case defiance of the United States—was translated into a hope that the EU would be a left counterbalance to the American Empire.) Here we are forty years on, with social democrats across Europe toiling even more diligently than their nominally more right-wing rivals to bail out the rich and grind down the poor at the behest of the bankers and panic-stricken bondholders.