Stefan Auer in Eurozine:
Europe's better times were meant to be ahead of it. Not so long ago, “the European dream” was believed to have provided the best “vision of the future”; Europe was going to “run the twenty-first century”, having created “an entirely new species of human organization, the likes of which the world has never seen”. If the West – and most of the world – was American in the twentieth century, the twenty-first was going to be European. But not in any crude, old-fashioned, imperial, my-values-are-better-than-yours kind of way; rather in an open and open-ended reflexive, self-critical, you-are-as-good-as-or-better-than-me way. Europe was going to lead the world by example; do it gently. “Soft power Europe” would rule without anyone noticing but everyone benefiting. All these assumptions proved hubristic: Europe's turn of fortune is humbling, humiliating and, perhaps, irreversible.
What went wrong, and when? Europe's most audacious moment occurred some time between 1989 and 1991. That short period of time encapsulated both the demise of communism in central and eastern Europe – from Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1989 to the Soviet Union in 1991 – and the bold step forward on the path towards an “ever-closer union” in western Europe. Twenty years later, the significant failures of economic and political integration have forced Europeans to re-consider the underpinnings of their project.
Though it appeared in different shapes and sizes, and had numerous causes outside Europe (e.g. the US sub-prime crisis), the economic crisis of 2010-2011 has also manifested itself as a crisis of European democracy. The creation of a monetary union with a shared currency, the euro, is a project that, in many ways, arose out of the events of 1989-1990, in particular, the perceived need to anchor a reunified Germany more firmly within Europe. The common currency was always much more than a transnational medium of exchange. From its inception, it was intended to be the symbol of united Europe par excellence. Rather than achieving this, the eurozone crisis has reinforced latent suspicions, if not hostilities, between EU nations.