Thursday, January 29, 2015

European Unity

Events in Greece in recent days—the election of Alexis Tsipras as Prime Minister followed by his party’s immediate actions to lift the policies of austerity still in place a week ago in Greece—reminded me of a trip I once took to Luxembourg to visit the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1956. I was in the U.S. Army in Europe then; the circumstances for this visit are lost. What does remains sharply imprinted on my memory were the presentations and graphics shown us in briefings. I saw projected there the first picture of a united Europe. That was roughly 58 years ago. The ECSC—made up of France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands—was indeed the original of the European Union; the whole of it, as it eventually emerged, was already clearly visible to ECSC’s founders. The idea surprised me. I’d only been gone from Europe then some five years; now I was back. And the concept of a United States of Europe was right there, projected on a screen in Luxembourg.

The current news and related comments swirling around Greece are not exactly encouraging. Tsipras appears to think that the European Union will continue to bail out Greece in order to save the Eurozone. As for that, we shall see. The problem with the union is that it is only a fragile and partial unity, as I’ve argued on LaMarotte three years ago (link). Part of me inclines in a negative direction, meaning that Greece may be expelled; in most ways we are now living in an era of political decentralization , at least within the old Christendom. A part of me is still there in Luxembourg marveling at the vision of a greater collective. The ECSC was known, back in my time, as the Montanunion. Montan means “montane,” thus referring to mountains. The word in practice then referred to the industries of the mountain, namely the mining of metal ores and coal. Mountains don’t fall apart, but they can erode.

One of the most notable aspects of voluntary unions of nations is that they tend to hold together only while a very dominant state, in Europe’s case that is Germany, retains the effective clout (but without sovereign power over other members) to hold things together. When that power fails—whether from within or through counter-pressure from without—pieces start to fall off. How long will Chancellor Merkel be able to hold on?

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