A Shared Fate: The Political Implications of the Eurozone Crisis

Mueller_36.6_leadersJan-Werner Müller in The Boston Review:

Paul Krugman recently wondered whether it was possible to be “both terrified and bored” by the Eurozone crisis. It is indeed terrifying: the EU—the most important political innovation since the invention of the democratic welfare state—might break apart, or worse. Some are predicting the return of large-scale political violence; protesters on the streets of Athens are already comparing Greece, 2011 to Dachau, 1933. But the crisis is also boring, in that a sad pattern has predictably been repeating itself: markets jitter; politicians declare a make-or-break moment; national leaders host an all-night summit; bleary-eyed, they declare the crisis’s final resolution; the market-confidence fairy makes a brief appearance; and then the cycle starts all over again.

By now most people have settled on one of two economic solutions: either let the European Central Bank act as lender of last resort and issue Eurobonds (everyone’s view, it seems, except the German government’s) or impose discipline so as to avoid inflation and a permanent Southern European Mezzogiorno (the official German view).

In the economic debate, however, it is easy to lose sight of the political and, ultimately, moral stakes. While it’s true that much of the business of the EU is business—running a common market—European integration was always first and foremost a political project: its goals included enduring peace, the entrenchment of democracy in member states, and, most recently, moving toward “ever closer union.” The crisis may indeed require Europeans to get serious about political union, at least among the Eurozone countries. But political union will not work without some sense of democratic legitimacy, which the current proposal for tighter cooperation among national executives is unlikely to generate.