The European Union’s journey towards ever-closer union has screeched to a halt
By admitting that an exit from the euro for Greece is possible, the EU has abandoned its founding doctrine.
Once upon a time, we were taught that visitors came humbly to Europe to wonder at the magnificence of the white man’s civilisation. Now, the caricature is reversed. This week, three leading non-Europeans, one black, one brown and one yellow-skinned, arrived in Cannes. The President of the United States, the Prime Minister of India and the Premier of China certainly looked puzzled by what they found, but whatever they were lost in, it was not admiration.
In the dim, distant days of last week, President Nicolas Sarkozy must have felt happy that he would be the host of the G20 summit just as he was gearing up for his re-election campaign. In his view, and that, briefly, of the markets, he had (with a little help from eurozone colleagues) pulled off a plan to save the euro, recapitalise the banks and sort out Greece. He might be a small chap, but he had at last got his hands on the “big bazooka” which David Cameron said was needed, and was firing it like Rambo.
But by the time the world statesmen gathered in Cannes, the threat that the people of Greece might be consulted at the ballot box about their own future was causing panic. The dignitaries ignored one another’s speeches and sat checking their BlackBerrys for news from the Greek parliament. Even when, in the course of Thursday, Mr Papandreou decided not, after all, to try out a spot of the democracy which his country invented, there was little relief. Everyone could see that the mighty of the eurozone were not in control of events.
This week must have been the first in history when Eastern leaders arrived in the European continent and saw a system of economic management markedly inferior to their own. We know that some of them expressed disquiet. The Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, worried in public about “the known deficiencies in having a monetary union without a fiscal union”.
What about in private? I wonder if Dr Singh formed up to his host and asked him a few simple questions like, “So when you Europeans started this monetary union, how did you think it could work without a lender of last resort?”, or, “These Greeks - what ever made you think they qualified in the first place?”. I wonder if Wen Jiabao, of China, asked: “Since you won’t put enough of your own money into your own zone, why are you asking me to do so?” I wonder if Mr Sarkozy and Angela Merkel didn’t feel a bit humiliated. Mr Sarkozy certainly looked very tetchy.