Saturday 18 July 2015

Nationalism is destroying the Eurozone

There is a recent example of a reasonably long lasting currency union between peoples who spoke different languages that is often forgotten. Not very long ago I could spend the same Rouble whether I lived in Moscow, Vilnius or Kiev. Further afield I could spend it in Yerevan or Tbilisi. This currency union endured for at least 70 years and if you count the time when these places were part of the Russian Empire it existed rather longer than that. What made this possible? The most important was that throughout all of these places there was a common language. While people spoke their own languages at home, at school and at work they spoke Russian. Not only this, but in every tiny Soviet town and village there was the same ideology. The streets were called the same sort of names such as Lenin Prospect, Marx Street etc. There were the same statues of Lenin stretching out his hand. People watched the same films and the same television. They more or less eat the same food and drank the same drink. They believed the same things and they were taught to think of themselves as one Soviet people. For this reason Roubles were transferred around the Soviet Union without anyone counting the cost. What the Soviet Union had the Eurozone lacks.

I followed the recent Greek crisis from afar. I was in a pretty little German town and every morning I would read the headlines in the German newspapers. There were two I particularly remember. One had Angela Merkel dressed up as Bismarck and called the Iron Chancellor. The other complained of bailing out Greece with “our money”. I think people have been pretty tough on Germany in recent days. I don’t think that people in the UK would be particularly keen on sending much of our money to Greece either. These are not trivial sums.  But if you think of it as "our money" you frankly should not be in a currency union with the people you think of as them.

But this is the problem altogether. People in the EU are not coming closer together they are moving further apart.  If the EU was serious about creating a single European state it would have made sure by now that everyone was working towards speaking the same language. It doesn’t matter much which one, but let there be one, or else free movement of people really means free movement of people to do menial labour. If we all grew up speaking the same language in school, then I really could work anywhere. As it is, in most EU countries I would only be able to clean floors.

But can we really imagine an EU with a common language and a common ideology, where people felt themselves to be part of one common European people? Can we imagine that Germans will willingly and gladly send money to Greece and think of Greeks as more or less the same sort of people as themselves? If this was going to happen it would have happened by now. This #Grexit crisis was the crisis that was supposed to bring about closer monetary union in the Eurozone.  Perhaps it will. Perhaps 10 or 20 years from now we will have a transfer union  and a full political union in the EU and this will be seen as the first step towards it. But no, I can’t see it.

Where I stayed in Germany there were German flags on every building in a way that would have been unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago. There was a statue of Frederick Barbarossa (1122-1190) standing next to Wilhelm the First (1797-1888). It was just fine to celebrate the First Reich (962-1806) and also the Second Reich (1871-1918), there was a gap and some things that were never to be mentioned, but then we could all just leap right over to a new Kaiser and a new Reich.

This is all, no doubt, terribly unfair to Germany, which remains one of the most pleasant, liberal places imaginable. It should be remembered that Germany had no vote on joining the Euro and the people would undoubtedly have preferred to keep the D-Mark. But they have been placed in the position of leadership of the Eurozone and that leadership role looks anything but democratic.

When Greece had its referendum on austerity, it was explained very clearly to them by the Eurozone leaders that voting No meant leaving the Euro and probably the EU. They voted No anyway. But guess what they got still more austerity and they still stayed in the Euro. There were two honourable courses of action that were possible for the Eurozone leaders at this point. Either they should have followed through on their threat and kicked Greece out of the Euro, or they should have recognised that the Eurozone must henceforth be a transfer union, where the words "our" and "your" no longer applied.  The EU has too frequently been ignoring the will of the people in recent years and governments, including the Greek Government, have too frequently cooperated. This really is turning the EU into some sort of modern Holy Roman Empire.

Something died last week. I have always been someone who was willing to go along with the EU as an ideal. I thought a democratic, equal EU was a reasonably good ideal. Let’s bring down borders rather than erect new ones. But that ideal has gone. The Soviet Union fell apart because of its own contradictions, it would be better if the EU did the same. In the end even with a common language and a common ideology the Soviet Union could not overcome the differences that existed in the peoples who lived there. That as much as anything split the whole thing apart. Yet those differences were small compared to the difference between a Greek and a German.

This is our problem. If Czechs cannot bear to live with Slovaks in the same country, if Scots cannot quite bear to live in the same country as English people, how on earth do we expect Greeks and Germans to become one people? The problem as always is nationalism. It is something instinctual and goes back to when Germans were tribes waiting to be united by a great leader. But what unites these self-same Germans today divides them from all others. Germans will give to Germans, but they won’t give to Greeks and this is for reasons that happened both in the 19th century and a thousand years ago.  

If we can’t find a sense of being the same people then it is hard see the EU surviving other than as an Empire held together by an undemocratic bureaucracy. An EU that is willing to crush democracy in Greece and ignore the will of the people living there is not a force for good. Until and unless it can show itself to be a force for good I want no part of it. If Scotland really thinks in terms of "ours" and "yours" with regard to the people in the other parts of the UK, then I want no part of that either. Either we are one British people who share without limit or in the end it would be better for those who don’t feel a part of our common journey to leave. Choose #Scexit, choose independence within the Fourth Reich, after all small countries do wonderfully well there, but I’ll not share it. I want no part of it.  

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