From its inception Dante has been a multicultural publication. One of the anchors of this composite, international identity is a strong Pan-European sentiment. It isn’t that we fail to cross the Atlantic well, or to go further afield to consider the larger world on every continent. On the contrary, Dante is and shall remain a global citizen with a multitude of voices and perspectives. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent we can’t imagine being any other way.
But in this instance we want to consider matters close to home, in our own backyard. The situation we contemplate doesn’t rise to the seriousness of the Great Depression. It has not reached the breadth of destruction that the Second World War wrought. It is not yet as arduous a task as that of the reconstruction that followed the war, nor is it yet as threatening as the specter of the Cold War that hung over the continent like a dark shadow for so long. But Europe is ailing deeply and seems increasingly uncertain of itself: indecisive, divided, charting an unknown course, as its collective financial crisis only deepens. If anything is certain, it is that events will almost surely worsen before they improve.
So we’d like to offer our vote of confidence in Europe, our hope in Europe, our belief in Europe. We have confidence in a Europe, united in a common purpose, sharing a universal vision for prosperity and economic recovery, not leaving a single country behind, nor silencing the legitimate aspirations of those that are hurting the most. It is an hour of great adversity for all of Europe, a time of seemingly insuperable challenges. How best to meet them, to overcome them? It is the European Union after all; let us then be united in our approach to problem-solving.
We all know the outlook is grim. Greece has descended into an abyss of bankruptcy, dysfunction and near anarchy that sends a chilling fear across the continent over who might be next. Portugal is stagnant and impoverished. The level of unemployment in Spain for those under twenty-five has reached fifty percent, while Madrid has pretended to deliberate its options. And in the end it has had to go the Irish route, and has secured a €125 billion loan from the European Central Bank – a loan which it stubbornly refuses to call a bailout. And that still may not be sufficient if we consider that the Irish street is still as restive and angry as much of the continent.
Italy is in almost complete disarray and the new technocratic government has not thus far shown any particular brilliance in mending the state of affairs. Italy continues to tumble downwards. On the surface of things France is better off, but peek beneath the façade of calm under pressure and it is soon evident that the French economy is merely limping along.
François Hollande gained the French Presidency on a pledge that he would stimulate growth, curb unemployment and reject the draconian belt tightening that Germany, as the financial heavyweight and undisputed economic powerhouse in the Union, is demanding as the sole path to recovery. Hollande stated a firm “NON” to the harsh austerity that Chancellor Angela Merkel insists is vital. Will reality catch up with the promises of Hollande’s electoral campaign? How will the French stimulate growth and bring fresh investment when the treasury is running low and is so deeply in debt, mortgaged to the hilt, like so many of its even worse-hit neighbours?
It remains clear that a solid Franco-German entente on how to best grapple with the crisis is the only way forward, even if the onus falls more heavily on Germany. And if France doesn’t march to the German tune, what consequences would it face? Would Germany force such a vital ally to the sidelines and isolate it, punish it for non-compliance? Where do purely economic necessity and financial logic meet social justice? Is it even viable for Germany to preserve its own financial strength in a European context, seemingly at the expense of all other players, if those players will not adopt the ruthless austerity Germany demands? And the legions of the unemployed, the pensioners who have lost all, the young graduates who see no avenue to the future, the growing numbers of homeless – what of them? Can they be written off as the necessary casualties of recovery? Is this a recovery at all costs? Where is the middle ground? Must Germany be so intransigent, so inflexible?
If Germany will not budge, are we perhaps truly looking at the earliest beginning of the end for the European Union, a slow and agonising dissolution? Of course if the euro is truly allowed to collapse, there will be plenty of blame to share – including no small amount of blame for the knock-on effect of the disastrous banking practices in the United States, which arguably precipitated the whole crisis at point of origin. But then European banks on the whole have played just as fast and loose as their trans-Atlantic counterparts. Perhaps Merkel is the voice of reason. Perhaps it is tough love she prescribes, and everyone must take heed.
In fairness there is even in Germany a growing discontentment in having to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden; the vox populi on the German street asks, “Why is it left to us to carry them all?” A blunt response might be because others did so when you needed it, therefore you should and are morally bound to do so – not in an irrational, reckless, self-defeating way, but as one good neighbour helps another. Lest we forget, France and Germany, in their mutual hour of need, relaxed the Maastricht Treaty parameters easily when it suited them. If your neighbour’s house is on fire, you’d do well to help fight the flames lest they reach your own home.
It is a logic, incidentally that Bill Clinton did not ignore when Mexico teetered on the brink of economic collapse. Washington swiftly saved the day with a massive rescue package during his presidency. Thus, Germany will prosper if all of Europe prospers. If Germany insists that her less powerful neighbours endure measures she would not countenance for herself – that the German people would balk at readily – is it not ultimately, a slow moving form of self-harm to tell those neighbours “do as I say not as I do?” Yes, Germany must lead, and France must help her find the path. But this needs to be equitable for everyone. Europa unite, go forth together. United we stand, divided we fall.
Dante and Beatrice
(Alias the editors)