Tag Archives: susan watkins

Politics of the EU: “Vanity and Venality”

Summary: Today Britain votes on the same choice Americans face in November — choosing between a bad choice endorsed by ruling elites, and a leap into a probably worse unknown. Here’s a brilliant analysis of Europe by Susan Watson (from 2013, still the best brief I’ve seen about the EU’s politics). It reminds us why so many Brits want to leave the EU — and the role of the US government in its mismanaged crisis. Much of it reads as if written yesterday, showing how little reform the crisis has produced. No matter what the result today, the EU still serves its people poorly as its elites gather political power (reversing centuries of democratization) — and further crises lie in its future.

Flag of the European Union

Vanity and Venality

by Susan Watkins
London Review of Books
29 August 2013
Posted with her generous permission.

Books reviewed

All quiet on the euro front? Seen from Berlin, it looks as though the continent is now under control at last, after the macro-financial warfare of the last 3 years. A new authority, the Troika, is policing the countries that got themselves into trouble; governments are constitutionally bound to the principles of good housekeeping. Further measures will be needed for the banks – but all in good time. The euro has survived; order has been restored. The new status quo is already a significant achievement.

Seen from the besieged parliaments of Athens and Madrid, from the shuttered shops and boarded-up homes in Lisbon and Dublin, the single currency has turned into a monetary choke-lead …Why has the crisis taken such a severe form in Europe?

Part of the answer lies in the flawed construction of the European Union itself. Though Americans have been hard hit by the great recession, the US political system has not been shaken. In contrast to most European incumbents, Obama sailed through his re-election. Only in isolated pockets like Detroit has elected government been replaced by technocrats.

In Europe, private and public debt levels were generally lower before the financial crisis struck. But the polity of the European Union is a makeshift, designed in the 1950s to foster an industrial association embracing two large countries, France and Germany, with a population of about fifty million each, and their three small neighbours. It was then expanded, piecemeal fashion, to incorporate nearly 30 states, two-thirds of which adopted a shared currency at the height of the globalisation boom – a project aimed in part at preventing a significantly larger, reunified Germany from dominating the rest.

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