The European Union has had one incontestable advantage that is hard to describe without using babyish language. It is “nice”. It is “good”. To be against the European project makes you a prejudiced nationalist at best and a supporter of the wars and genocides that destroyed Europe in the 20th century at worst. If you think I am exaggerating, recall the advert Dutch supporters of European project produced, which implied that opponents of ever-greater union endorsed Auschwitz and Srebrenica.
To be in favour of the Euro, by contrast, is morally uplifting. All at once, you announce that you are a supporter of peace, cooperation and mutual understanding.
Who would not want to be a good person rather than a bad person? Support for the European Union has become the 21st equivalent of going to church and saying your prayers. A failure to pay homage proves your wickedness.
I had no objection with that view until the invention of the Euro. For people trying to escape the legacy of fascism in western Europe, of fascism and communism in eastern Europe, and the small but squalid dictatorships of Spain, Portugal and Greece in southern Europe, the European Union was indeed a salvation. A bit bureaucratic and boring, but the experience of the 20th century taught us that there is a great deal to be said for boring bureaucracies.
The worst thing the European Union did was to take the idealism and hope for a better world the peoples of Europe gave it and throw it away on a cruel and unworkable currency union. As the elite experiment of forcing a straitjacket over the continent produces ever-greater misery, I wonder how long the default view that the European Union is a benign institution last – particularly on the European left.
For the moment, defending the Euro remains the position of otherwise sensible centre-leftists. When I last visited Paris, I reduced a room to pained silence when I criticised the Euro. My doubts automatically made me a right-wing crank, and possible neo-fascist. I have spoken to Greek left-wing politicians, who fought the dictatorship of the colonels in the 1970s, and still cannot admit that the European project they saw as a blessing is now a curse.
Their faith surely cannot last. From a left-wing point of view, the Euro is doing the right’s work for it. The Eurozone denies countries the ability to devalue their currency or to increase demand by printing money. The only option it leaves for its weaker members is “internal devaluation”. They must cut workers’ wages and cut back on welfare states to restore competitiveness. To put it another way, the Eurozone is tearing up protections European social democrats have struggled for a century to achieve, all in the name of solidarity and progress.
Youth unemployment in Greece stands at 64 per cent. In Spain there are two million household where every member of the family is out of work. When the regional government in Andalucía tried to stop the banks seizing homes, the European Commission told local politicians that they may be violating the terms of Spain’s EMU bank bail-out. “If that is so, it is not worth being part of Europe,” said Jose Antonio Grinan, Andalucia’s socialist leader.
The moment of the EU’s greatest danger will come when other left-of-centre leaders belatedly reach the same conclusion. The European left is not in a strong state, but it retains a powerful capacity to moralise and to damn. Until now it has supported the European project with a religious fervour. Soon I suspect that same fervour will be turned against it.