The European single market has been a good thing. It has enabled the free flow of labour across the continent (well, most of it), which has brought about innumerable economic and social benefits.
The European single currency, aka the Euro, has of late revealed itself as a flawed project.
A great deal of attention has been focussed on some of its more obvious problems:
- the collapse of the Greek economy
- the size of the bailouts required by Athens
- the threat of economic contagion (hello Italy, sorry… maybe I mean goodbye Italy)
- the growing influence of Germany, blah, blah, blah…..
But there is one thing that has been happening behind the scenes which I cannot help but feel is being allowed to go unnoticed.
By most measures, the Euro is in a mess.
Yet one of the long-lasting consequences of this will be the increasing influence of the European Central Bank. In effect, a completely undemocratic institution will soon be making decisions that will impact very directly on the everyday lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people in Europe.
How has this come about? Chiefly because of a collective failure on the part of the major European leaders. A failure to get to the heart of the Euro crisis, to take difficult/unpopular decisions and see them through to the end. Instead they have fallen into one of the old and familiar habits of the bureaucratic mind – allowing institutional influence a freer hand to deal with problems which existing instituions have already failed to deal with effectively.
I can’t think of many other walks of life when failure to deliver X means you have carte blanche to press on with X + 1.
Only in high finance.
Only in European politics.
Well, I’m only a simple soul, clearly. I’m sure there are very good reasons for this.
But as someone who has always been a supporter of the European project (although not of political and fiscal union) to see the gradual shift of democratically-elected powers from Europe’s capitals to the institution of Europe itself does little to bolster my sense of bon homie.
I’m not sure it’s for me to say whether there ought to be a federal Europe or not. I am sure there are excellent arguments both for and against. But should that day come, I would hope that it is something that the citizens of Europe’s many and varied nations get the chance to have their say on and not something that slips in unannounced while we are all distracted.