Thursday, March 21, 2013

Union hangover

It's hard to deny it anymore. The European Union, at least as such, is, if not a failed experiment, then badly botched attempt. One after another, third-rate economies tarted up to be second-rate and bolted onto first-rate economies are having to be bailed out by those said first-raters. The taxpayers of the robust economies are getting understandably tired of doing this, especially when the taxpayers of the faltering economies have no interest in economizing or changing the ways that put them in dire straits in the first place. How can such a union persist, particularly when it's not actually even fixed together as a single political entity? I no longer really think it can.

Years ago the suggestion of a "two-speed Europe" was uttered sotto voco. I didn't care for the idea. Everyone should follow the same rules! Everyone should have the same standards! They all arrive together! I think that was the general feeling in the EU as well. It seems to me now that was unrealistic, and maybe those suggestions should have been said a bit louder and discussed more adamantly. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about an a la carte union, which the British want and I find unutterably self-serving. It has all the charm, maturity, and respect for your roomies as claiming the right to come over on Friday night, find a bed mate, raid the fridge, and half-heartedly dump some pocket change in the coffee jar before you bugger off again past the sinkful of dirty dishes. No, not the Anglo-Saxon conception of the EU. There would be two sets of rules, depending on the speed of your economy; a core set, and a starter set. The problem is membership in the EU has always been toss 'em into the deep end if they can pump their arms and legs; don't worry, they'll swim. Sure.

It struck me sometime in the 2000s that the experiment was running a little hot. The EU was admitting new members with all the alacrity and discretion of a beer hall manager. The more the merrier, hurry hurry hurry before all the kegs are empty! The criteria for joining were shoddy and economies that had emerged from communism a decade earlier were being ushered in if they had something like a pulse. Well, it wasn't hard to have a blazing economy if you were being stuffed to the gills by corporations eager to take advantage of the fact your workers were still dazzled by the prospect of making twenty bucks a day. But that didn't make it a robust economy, as we're seeing. Even back then, I was having misgivings. It seemed to me then, and even more so now, that admission to the European Union, particularly the eurozone, should have been golden carrot dangled before prospective members for at least a generation. Something to work for. Tighten their economies up, show that they can be fiscally responsible, demonstrate their staying power, and train the citizenry for the responsibilities admission entails and the obligations to the other members.

I'm tempted to think that the only way to save the EU is for it to nova. Explode, and the core shed the dead weight members. Let them continue to trade and keep free movement of labour, but divorce the sick economies. Force them to rebuild and work toward the stable currency the euro really represents when it's not forced to back economies like Greece, where tax evasion is a gold medal Olympic sport. And if they can't be bothered to shape up and reapply, that works too. But I'd make them pay the freight for forex if they wanted to trade with the core EU. Come to that, I'd make the UK do that for sticking to the pound. If Germany can fold the mark, the Brits can certainly fold the pound, and if they won't, I don't see why the core EU should have to enrich bankers for the dubious privilege of paying for British goods in pounds.

I don't know what's going to happen, but I've reached the point where I no longer expect to see the EU—or more specifically, the eurozone—emerge with its current membership. In fact, I'm at the point now where I'm not sure it would be a good thing if it did. Maybe some of these economies need a timeout. Some of their taxpayers certainly do need to sit in the corner with the dunce cap on, that's for damn sure.

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