Forgive me, father, for I have sinned – it has been pretty much three months since my last post. This is the longest I’ve gone without updating this place since mid-2004.
Why? Mostly the real world – I’ve just got back from a month shunting aroung the US (for work) and Japan (for pleasure), with other work trips to Dublin, Athens and elsewhere during the last few months as the day job’s got more and more demanding (and interesting).
But it’s also got a fair amount to do with exasperation. The EU as a whole remains in crisis – and remains singularly incapable of doing anything constructive to deal with it. Or, at least, not without a great deal of petty member-state level bickering and infantile knee-jerking to minor issues that have been blown out of all proportion. Nationalist parties are on the rise. There’s a threat of reintroducing border controls. The ongoing euro crisis is still bubbling away, with some countries now (supposedly) considering a return to national currencies.
The European Union exists to make prosperous times more porsperous, but also to prevent crises turning into disasters. The way the various member state politicians have been pathetically beating their patriotic, xenophobic, blame-anyone-but-us drums of late, this latter bit seems to have been forgotten. Instead, the EU – or the euro – is being used as a scapegoat for a whole raft of problems which are almost exclusively due to the incompetence of national-level politicians. Hell – the problems in Greece and Portugal are prime examples: both due to cock-ups on a national level, and neither country (Greece especially) should have been allowed to join the euro in the first place.
In the past I’ve always said that I’ll avoid writing about economics here, as I’ve never felt sufficiently qualified. It’s becoming increasingly clear that neither is anyone else. The sheer idiocy on display whenever I read of yet another British idiot arguing that the UK shouldn’t contribute to the Irish/Greek/Portugese bailouts – desplaying either shocking ignorance of the vast amounts of British money that would be at risk if any of those countries defaulted, or an insane desire to bring about continent-wide economic collapse far worse than anything seen since the hyperinflation of the 1920s/30s – has led me to realise that I actually know rather more about economics than I previously thought.
This is, of course, not so much due to learning much more (though I have been reading a fair few books on international macroeconomics and trade of late, being a total spod) – it’s more that the standards of economic analysis everywhere outside the Economist and Financial Times (neither of which are exactly ideologically neutral) has fallen to historically dire levels of mediocrity.
And the saddest thing? So much of what’s currently happening could so easily have been prevented if anyone had bothered to take a longer view than the usual 5 year timescales in which most politicians seem to think. Greece? An economic basket-case? We’ve known that for decades, FFS. A continental currency with no common fiscal policy not being overly flexible in times of crisis? Who would have guessed? Politicians blaming foreigners as soon as times get tough? Never would have thought it…
Yet the current EU has been built primarily in either economic good times or post-Cold War periods of optimism. When things seem to be going well, there’s little incentive to get ambitious in case you do something to harm the status quo. But as soon as you enter a crisis period, the political will to collaborate starts to fade away.
Am I pessimistic for the future of the EU? Not overly. Not even for the future of the eurozone. If anything, I’m increasingly hopeful that this crisis may continue long enough to finally start pushing at least *some* EU member states towards the kind of radical reforms that I’ve long argued are necessary. But this may yet take a while – and there may well be a few casualties along the way. The eurozone can survive this crisis – the question is whether it should be allowed to without some fundamental reforms. The EU *will* survive the crisis – the question is whether it will survive with its internal relations intact.
We could be on the verge of a major round of reforms, or we could be about to backtrack and stagnate for another decade as everyone tries to recover. It’s very hard to call – and extremely frustrating to watch politician after politician spew out the usual populist nonsense in the meantime.
Which is the other major reason I’ve been quiet here of late – EU watching is usually fairly dull, but for the last few months it’s also been incredibly frustrating and predictable. That’s too much even for my patience to cope with.