Speak now to an intelligent European politician (having assured him or her that the conversation is off the record) and you will discover a deeply worried representative — and one who leaves you in a similar state. Whether they are in the European parliament or a national legislature, European politicians are now constrained to contemplate their powerlessness. And ours.
Ordinary members of parliaments often feel like that. But ministers, even of small states, who have been elected to represent, propose, plan and legislate, now feel it too, and more acutely. Especially in the countries that remain devoted to the idea that the state should protect its people from the hardships and, in some cases, the vicissitudes of life, people have been accustomed to expect much more in the way of protection. But politicians must now offer less. For many citizens, that provision, coupled with security, was the point of government. But now, as each week brings little respite, ministers, prime ministers and presidents feel powerless.
In part this is because one state, Germany, emasculates all others. It acts — nominally — with France, but the latter’s weakened economy and politically weaker president, Nicolas Sarkozy, makes the duopoly at the apex of the European Union one of the weak providing political cover for the strong more than a true meeting of equals. On Angela Merkel’s decisions, and those of the German parliament, hangs the fate of nations. She has not wished it so: Those who make the parallel between the Nazi savagery of 70 years ago and Germany’s present power indulge in a facile radicalism that owes nothing to observable reality. Yet however reluctantly, she disposes for a continent.
This reduces politicians in other states to colonial administrators, constrained to follow the policies determined by Berlin, endorsed by France, and proclaimed as inevitable by prevailing economic opinion. It means that when their unions demonstrate, their small businesses cry for help, their students grow hopeless about jobs and careers, and their vulnerable and aging citizens grow fearful for their supports and pensions, they can only say: It will pass, we will return to growth and the good times will roll once more. And yet they don’t know if it’s true.
They are paralyzed, caught between two sets of headlights bearing down upon them. Germany has decreed that all members of the euro zone sign on to a pact that will make the economic and financial levers of national governance dependent on a central EU power — a move on which the European citizens are not to be consulted and that comes at a time when there is a gathering revulsion against the Union.