Opinion

Mark Leonard

In 2013, the great global unraveling

Mark Leonard
Dec 30, 2012 12:14 UTC

The disparate prospects of each continent have little in common. To the extent that they can be linked by a single theme in 2013, however, it is the idea of the unraveling of the global economy and the political integration that supported it. After two decades of globalization, this year will see each of the big political theaters re-erecting barriers and focusing more on domestic repairs than on global expansion. The unraveling has its roots in longer-term trends, but it is set to step up in the next year.

There has been a remarkable stabilization within the euro zone since European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s intervention in the summer of 2012. But even as the euro zone integrates, the politics and economics of the wider European Union are likely to diverge. In practice, the measures toward an integrated banking union, increased parliamentary accountability and more incentives for reform could go hand in hand with the de facto economic and political disintegration of the EU. Economically, as Sebastian Dullien argues in a paper, “Why the euro crisis threatens the EU single market,” there is a significant risk of a gradual unraveling of the EU’s single-market system. A full euro zone breakup would shatter the euro, while a great leap toward political union could see shrinkage of the single market, as countries such as the United Kingdom withdraw from the heart of Europe.

Even muddling through the crisis seems likely to diminish the depth of the single market. In recent months, banks in the euro zone have withdrawn from trans-border business. Even poorly-managed German companies are paying significantly less interest on capital than well-managed Spanish companies. These new barriers between euro zone members will lead to a renewed focus on domestic markets. For Europe, this means less competition, less growth and higher prices for consumers.

Europe’s economic unraveling will be matched by a new political geography. The continent is already seeing a reshuffling of its elite, as the traditional political forces in many countries – from Greece to Italy to Finland to Austria – find themselves besieged by an emerging anti-political class of populists from left and right. There is also a renegotiation of the relationship between the “core” and the “periphery” – with many EU member states, including larger nations such as the UK, Poland and Spain, deeply concerned that integration is forcing them to the periphery of the European project.

Most worrying is the fragmentation of the core itself, with possibly irreconcilable differences emerging between Paris and Berlin over the future shape of the EU polity.

Europe will leave G20 with a unilateral future

Mark Leonard
Jun 20, 2012 21:08 UTC

It may have been championed by European leaders such as Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, but the G20 is increasingly seen as a disaster for Europe’s vision of global order. “We are not coming here to take lessons on democracy or on how to handle the economy,” said EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso ahead of the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, where the euro zone crisis was expected to play a central part in discussions.

But after years of being on the receiving end of lectures from Europeans about how to run their affairs, the leaders of the world’s largest economies, including the “BRICS” nations (Brazil, India, Russia, China and now also South Africa) are seizing the chance to return the favor.

The EU’s lack of solidarity in the face of the debt crisis has squandered its moral high ground and engineered the region’s marginalization. Europeans are strongly in favor of global governance when it is a process they inflict on others, but they are not so keen when others comment on Europe’s affairs.

from The Great Debate:

The dark flip side of European technocracy

Mark Leonard
May 31, 2012 16:23 UTC

How many countries will Germany need to bail out before it has erased the guilt of the Holocaust? That is the provocative question posed by Thilo Sarrazin, a publicity-hungry maverick whose 2010 book attacking immigration shattered Germany’s political consensus and sold more than 1 million copies. Last week he returned to the scene of the crime with a new book called Why Europe Doesn't Need the Euro. In a much-quoted passage, he says supporters of eurobonds are driven “by that very German reflex according to which atonement for the holocaust and the world wars will never be complete until we have delivered our entire public interest, and even our money, into European hands.” This title has raced to the top of best-seller lists and sent jittery markets into panic. Sarrazin is a narcissist who is more interested in self-promotion than serious analysis. But his views on Europe – as well as the political class’s reaction to them – tell us a lot about how the euro’s political travails have come about, as well as how they are likely to unfold.

An opinion poll last week provides just the latest proof that Sarrazin has his finger on the national pulse: Over half of Germans think their country has suffered by joining the euro, while 79 percent reject eurobonds as a solution to the crisis. Sarrazin – a former regional politician and Bundesbank governor who was stripped of his official positions because of his views on immigration – is not a man to do things by halves. His book breaks not one but two German taboos by linking Holocaust guilt with questions about the sustainability of the euro. (It is designed to be a refutation of Angela Merkel's argument that the breakup of the euro would lead to the breakup of the EU.) But although – or rather because – Sarrazin is so good at mirroring public opinion, the German political establishment is falling over itself to bury his arguments: Peer Steinbrueck, the former finance minister (and possible candidate for chancellor), described it as “bullshit”; while the current finance minister, Wolfgang Schaueble, described it as "appalling nonsense."

The antics of Thilo Sarrazin are a product of the constrained, elitist nature of German politics where – after the experience of National Socialism – many topics are declared outside the realm of political competition. As a result, all mainstream parties are in favor of Europe, the euro and the Atlantic alliance, and against war, inflation and nationalism. The result is a restricted political sphere where politicians have often been able to act against public opinion without fear of challenge – including the decision to replace the über-popular Deutschmark with the strikingly unpopular euro. But those who dare cross the threshold of political correctness – as Sarrazin has repeatedly done – tap into a vast reservoir of pent-up popular frustration. And because the establishment cartel turns them into outcasts rather than arguing with their views, this reservoir continues to grow.

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