Martin Feldstein, the renowned Harvard economist, once predicted that the euro could lead to renewed conflict in Europe, raising the risk of US intervention to prevent “more serious confrontations”. His article in Foreign Affairs, published a year before the launch of the single currency in 1999, triggered a furore in Europe where officials indignantly rejected the idea of a third world war on the continent.
More than 15 years on, Professor Feldstein’s forecast has proved to be more accurate than many of his critics expected. The euro may not have unleashed hostilities in the old war theatres east and west of the Rhine, but the sovereign debt crisis following the financial crisis created extraordinary confrontation and recrimination among Europe’s leaders – as described in this week’s in-depth series in the Financial Times.
The series featured shouting French presidents, manoeuvres to unseat the prime ministers of Greece and Italy, and even a tearful Angela Merkel, German chancellor and the leading actor in Europe’s political psychodrama. And yet, in the end, these conflicts – perhaps the most intense since the Treaty of Rome was signed six decades ago – were settled not on the battlefield but in the conference room.
The euro was saved – but is it secure? Nearly two years after Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, announced he would do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, the acute phase of the crisis appears over. Italian and Spanish borrowing costs are at the lowest levels since the euro’s launch. Ireland and Portugal have left bailout programmes without the safety blanket of an EU credit line. Even Greece is insisting it will survive without a third rescue when its EU programme ends later this year.
Yet many of the underlying weaknesses remain unresolved. First, the project to create a fiscal union, which many economists believe is the sine qua non for a working monetary union, remains unfinished. There is no federal eurozone budget to provide buffers for countries going through temporary economic setbacks, no commonly backed eurozone bonds to level out borrowing costs, no large-scale harmonisation of national economic policies. And countries such as Greece, Ireland, Italy and Portugal remain heavily indebted.
With the return of market calm, many of those most closely involved in the years of crisis-fighting lament that reform fatigue is not limited to bailout countries such as Greece and Portugal. At March’s EU summit in Brussels, the last before next week’s European Parliament elections, an effort by Ms Merkel to take the next step towards fiscal union – binding contracts that would harmonise fiscal reform programmes – was set aside after most other leaders complained they had already done enough.
More worrying, many in Brussels and Frankfurt fret that EU leaders are not only unwilling to continue down the road of eurozone repair but have instead gone into full reverse: governments in Ireland, Portugal and Greece are making policy decisions based on the assumption that the current market euphoria will last. As Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, said this week: “Those who say the European economy is recovering are smoking something.”
The official response is that the crisis has created a new European “architecture”, which has replaced the flawed halfway house of the Maastricht treaty that paved the way for the euro. There are new firefighting mechanisms and new rules to curb fiscal indiscipline. Still, the question on the eve of European Parliament elections is whether the monetary union is now politically sustainable.
The present arrangements look precarious. It is no longer just Greece and Ireland and Portugal that are having their budgets shaped by international monitors. Just ask Fran?ois Hollande or Matteo Renzi. Both the French president and Italian prime minister are struggling to generate economic growth, only to risk running foul of tough German-inspired budget rules adopted in the early months of the crisis.
To the federalists in Brussels, the solution is “more Europe”. And in many ways, their arguments are unassailable. If voters do not like the way Brussels is implementing budget rules, they should be able to elect new European commissioners who will do things differently. An elected, polyglot European government running the EU from Brussels would have the democratic credibility and accountability to create a fully fledged economic and monetary union.
However, at a time when anti-EU sentiment is at an all-time high in nearly every eurozone country – and anti-Brussels parties are forecast to finish first or second in next week’s vote in three of the union’s six founding members (France, Italy and the Netherlands) – nobody believes “more Europe” is a realistic solution.
So what are we left with? Has the eurozone crisis moved into a chronic phase where tough budget rules demanding debt reduction, regardless of the economic circumstances, doom some southern EU countries to austerity and anaemic growth for years? And, if so, can mainstream parties continue to hold power indefinitely, even as voters become increasingly disillusioned that their elected governments no longer fully control that most basic sovereign function, taxing and spending?
The present generation of European leaders deserves credit for holding its nerve and keeping the eurozone together with a mixture of political courage and deft improvisation. How the next crop copes with the new Europe – one in which the euro has been saved but economic stagnation and political insurgency are the order of the day – could be as bracing a challenge as the last one.
哈佛大学(Harvard University)著名经济学家马丁?费尔德斯坦(Martin Feldstein)曾预测，欧元可能在欧洲引发新的冲突，引发美国出手干预以阻止“更严重对抗”的风险。这篇文章发表在1999年的《外交事务》(Foreign Affairs)上，正值欧元推出一年之前。此文在欧洲引起一片哗然，官员们愤怒地驳斥欧洲将爆发第三次世界大战的想法。
该系列报道描绘了大发雷霆的法国总统，试图把希腊和意大利总理赶下台的幕后动作，甚至还有德国总理、欧洲政治/心理剧“主角”安格拉?默克尔(Angela Merkel)落泪的一幕。但最后，或许是60年前《罗马条约》(Treaty of Rome)签署以来最为激烈的冲突并未导致兵戎相见，而是在会议室得到解决。
目前的安排看上去有点悬。预算受到国际监督者过问的国家不只有希腊、爱尔兰和葡萄牙。问问弗朗索瓦?奥朗德(Fran?ois Hollande)或马特奥?伦齐(Matteo Renzi)就知道了。法国总统和意大利总理都竭力推动经济增长，却都有可能触犯危机最初几个月期间在德国倡导下出台的严厉预算规则。