Last week, the Euro zone’s seventeen national leaders agreed on a new broad package of measures to address the sovereign debt crisis in Greece and, in doing so, threw their weight behind greater European fiscal and economic integration, rather than less. They even raised expectations that federal governments can still solve big problems.
Officials actually circulated a draft communiqué that heralded a new “European Marshall Plan” for Greece. The term was dropped. It was too obvious a reference to Europe’s past reliance on the US. Furthermore, its resurrection by European’s would have probably only embarrassed the men and women in Washington who are having a such a difficult time acting as leaders themselves.
As with the European Recovery Program legislated in Washington sixty-four years ago, the Brussels agreement to rescue weaker parts of Europe and restore and strengthen their common market was undertaken by bi-partisan leadership—well ahead of popular opinion.
Tony Barber in the Financial Times described their accomplishment and the risks they are taking as professional politicians:
“All the same, the path to a closer economic union contains a potential pitfall – public opinion. Politicians in Germany and rich countries such as Austria, Finland and the Netherlands have never asked voters if they want a union that channels part of their wealth to other countries. According to a poll for ZDF public television, only 47 per cent of Germans want Greece to stay in the eurozone; just as many want Greece to get out.
“Similar tensions extend across the 27-nation EU. The rise of far-right and anti-euro parties is a reminder that the EU stirs disenchantment among millions, who see it as an elitist project incapable of tackling issues such as youth unemployment and illegal immigration. Pan-European institutions bore voters: turnout has fallen in every election for the European parliament since the first in 1979.
“Sooner rather than later, politicians must address the problem of legitimacy. The paradox is that the debt crisis is driving Europe’s leaders towards closer integration while simultaneously sapping the public’s faith in that same goal.”
North America may have less to learn from modern Europe about tolerance and political moderation than once was thought. However, last week, Europe’s leaders provided a fine, much needed, example of responsible political leadership.