The End of the Euro And Have Entitlements Become Human Rights?
The champions of the European Union once touted it as a “bold new experiment in living” and “the best hope in an insecure age.” But these days “fear is coursing through the corridors of Brussels,” as the B.B.C. reported in September. Such fear is justified, for the nations of Europe are struggling with fiscal problems that challenge the integrity of the whole E.U.-topian ideal. Greece teetering on the brink of default on its debts, E.U. nations squabbling about how to deal with the crisis, debt levels approaching 100 percent of GDP even in economic-powerhouse countries like Germany and France, and European banks exposed to depreciating government bonds are some of the signposts on the road to decline.
A monetary union comprising independent states, each with its own peculiar economic and political interests, histories, cultural norms, laws, and fiscal systems, was bound to end up in the current crisis. All that borrowed money, however, was necessary for funding the lavish social welfare entitlements and employment benefits that once impressed champions of the “European Dream.” Yet, despite the greater fiscal integration created by the E.U., sluggish, over-regulated, over-taxed economies could not generate enough money to pay for such amenities. Now, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, admits, “We can’t finance our social model.”
This financial crisis means the government-financed dolce vita lifestyle once brandished as a reproach to work-obsessed America is facing cutbacks and austerity programs immensely unpopular among Europeans otherwise used to amenities like France’s 35-hour work week, or Greece’s two extra months of pay, or England’s generous housing subsidies that cost $34.4 billion a year. No surprise, then, that from Athens’ Syntagma Square to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, austerity measures attempting to scale back government spending have been met with strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, and protests, some violent, on the part of citizens for whom such government entitlements have become human rights. In fact, such transfers of wealth have been formalized as rights in Articles 34 and 35 of the E.U.’s Charter of Fundamental Human Rights…
Economically sounder Eurozone countries may approve stopgap measures such as increasing the European Financial Stability Facility by $600 billion, as happened recently. But they will find it politically difficult to cede even more national sovereignty and control over their economies to Brussels in order to find a long-term solution to the structural problems bedeviling the Eurozone economies. As economist Robert Samuelson says of this crisis, “Political paralysis meets economic drift.”
The reason for this paralysis exposes the fundamental flaw underlying the E.U.––the notion that nationalist loyalties and identities could be subordinated to a transnational institution run by elites unaccountable to the citizens. Long before Nazism demonstrated the destructive excesses of nationalism, the idea arose that a “federation of free states,” as Immanuel Kant imagined in his 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace,” could create global peace and order by transcending the zero-sum interests of different states and peoples.
In Europe, entitlements have become human rights.
In the nineteenth-century, communication and transport technologies like the telegraph, railroad, and steamship facilitated a global trade and exchange of ideas that seemingly brought people together into a “solidarity which unites the members of the society of civilized nations,” as the Preamble to the First Hague Convention put it in 1899. For many, what Kant called the “progress of the human mind” meant creating a global community of shared values and aims that could be codified in international laws and institutions presumably superior to the parochial cultures, irrational customs, and retrograde values of any individual country or people.