I vaguely remember listening to a very
interesting program on the radio probably thirty or more years
ago. It was about something which was called the European
. The idea was that, like it or not, southern
Europe is inhabited by people who view the world differently
from those in the north. The program set out to discover
precisely where that change occurred.
I can't remember the conclusion precisely, and it seems to me
that a re-hearing of that program would be timely, but that
fault line is there. While there were individual countries
with sovereign governments those governments could govern
according to the habits and customs of their jurisdiction.
With life across the EU, and specifically across the eurozone,
being ordered from Brussels, with the ECB effectively
headquartered in Germany, you have, right from the word go, an
area governed from one side of that fault line, and the folks
on the other side can't adjust.
What has happened is that the south side has seen an
opportunity to get hand-outs, but the fiscal attitudes don't
run to the concept of paying back those loans, or changing
their ways. It is obvious to me that the habits of centuries
are not going to change over the course of a generation or
two, if at all. Sooner rather than later, someone is going to
have to accept that a fault line exists, and it can't be
bridged with a monetary union even if a political union is
achievable with appropriate caveats.
South of the fault line institutions rely on falling
currencies to bail them out of financial difficulties. It
allows them to avoid having to reform their economy in painful
Those in the north tend to prefer fiscal stability coupled
with economic reform. The two approaches are irreconcilable.
The southern attitude leads to bouts of exchange rate cuts.
Unfortunately, you can't sort out the southerners' problems by
trashing the currency because that would disturb the northern
economies. The two sides of the divide are irreconcilable.
There are two problems we have to learn to live with. The
first is accepting the reality as something which is unlikely
to change in the foreseeable future. This requires a far more
flexible approach to the union, rather than a rush towards
more and more integration. This latter route is going to put
people's backs up and create more discord. It is not the way
forward. It also means that a single currency is not going to
function in the way it currently does.
I spent some time living in Central America. We are talking
about several countries. Let's just talk about the ones I've
lived in, that includes Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
Interestingly, the ATMs in these countries dispense two
currencies. Panama has a local currency which is acceptable
throughout the country, but US dollars are also legal tender.
A similar situation extends across the other countries in the
zone. This system seems to work well. Why can't it work in
Europe? It seems to me to be the only way in which the euro
can survive across the existing diverse countries.
The folks currently running the show are no doubt very
intelligent people, but they appear to be blinkered by the
obsession of creating a federal Europe. Guys, it isn't going
to happen in the foreseeable future. Wise up, and fit your
fiscal system to achievable aims, and simple functionality.
The alternative is a massive crash, and a splitting apart of
the whole system.
And here we see where the problem with the EU lies; the
politics. Sadly, the politicians are in charge, but they are
in charge of a massive crash. Someone needs to put the breaks
on before we all come to grief.
And the second problem?
Ah yes, that fault line. Where exactly does it run?
The far north is obvious. The far south is obvious. But where
is the actual divide? I always placed France in the northern
culture, but current feelings show it to be aligning itself
with the south.
For years there was a saying that Africa begins the other side
of the Pyrenees. Spain has clearly changed, and the odd thing
is that Catalonia, and maybe the Basque country, are both
northern in attitude, while the rest of Spain is definitely
south of the divide.
Austria is probably north while northern Italy may also be
north of that divide, but the rest of Italy is most definitely
I could go on but the further east I go, the more confused I
get, but one thing is for sure: it's a mess, folks. I don't
think things will improve until this reality is faced, and the
whole idea of a federal Europe is shelved until such time as
there really is no divide, if that state of affairs ever does
materialise. After all, we are more likely to remain friends
if we aren't bullied or blackmailed by our neighbours. I have
always maintained that you cant force folks to be friends, and
that is what the concept of a federal Europe is all about, and
look where it is leading us.