Eurogeddon

The euro meltdown would make a great Hollywood blockbuster. It involves big money, features colourful, conflicting characters and evokes an atmosphere of looming menace that fits neatly into the disaster movie genre.

The movie would, of course, be directed by Roland Emmerich – who has previously made films about aliens invading earth (‘Independence Day,’) seas swamping the planet (‘The Day After Tomorrow’) and a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world (‘2012.’)

Hiring a scriptwriter for the film would be easy. Given their recent pronouncements on the fate of the euro, leading EU politicians appear to have a very vivid imagination and are perfectly capable of drafting a scenario where the currency’s collapse would trigger a disaster of apocalyptic proportions.

Former European Commission president Jacques Delors, one of the architects of the euro, has talked about Europe being on the “edge of an abyss,” while French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently warned: “Allowing the destruction of the euro is to risk the destruction of Europe. Those who destroy Europe and the euro will bear responsibility for the resurgence of conflict and division on our continent.”

In the British sitcom ‘Fawlty Towers,’ the hotel manager played by John Cleese famously advises his waitress “Don’t mention the war” when serving German guests. Nowadays, it seems like a reference to Europe’s darkest hour is almost obligatory for politicians warning of the euro’s disintegration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that Europe is facing its “biggest crisis since World War II” and that that the collapse of the euro would spell the end of the EU. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe cautions: “The dissolution of the eurozone is not acceptable, because it would also be the dissolution of Europe. If that happens, then everything is possible. Young people seem to believe that peace is guaranteed for all time.”

Even journalists are at it. A front-page teaser for a Roger Cohen op-ed in the International Herald Tribune ahead of the crunch euro crisis summit in late October asked: “What’s saving Europe from Hell? The E.U.”

All this apocalyptic talk reminds me of reading ‘Leviathan’ as a student in the late 1980’s. In his classic treatise on power, Thomas Hobbes claimed that without a strong sovereign power man is reduced to a state of nature in which life is “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” Or as indy-rock group ‘The Smiths’ sang at about the same time: “If it’s not love then it’s the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb that will bring us together.”

Nobody doubts the euro is facing a serious, possibly terminal, crisis. But to make a causal link between the end of the euro, the demise of the EU and war on the continent is both an insult to the public’s intelligence and terrible PR for a bloc desperately struggling to calm jittery markets.

There was no fighting between EU members before the euro and there will not be if we return to national currencies. Liberal free market democracies tend not go to war with each other and the ties that bind EU nations together are unlikely to be unravelled if the euro disappears. A customs union, the single market, progressive social and environmental legislation and the right of goods, people, capital and services to move freely across borders existed before the euro and there is no logical reason to suppose they would vanish after it.

A second reason why it is not sensible to indulge in doomsday scenarios is that dire predictions have a habit of becoming reality if they are repeated often enough – and no action is taken to counteract them. In any media training course participants are told on day one not to repeat negatives when answering questions. Use the word ‘collapse’ or ‘calamity’ often enough and the public – and the markets – will start to believe the euro is about to fall apart and that this would spell calamity for Europe.

In the epic disaster film ‘The Towering Inferno,’ firefighters repeatedly fail to put out the blaze until they plump for the ‘big bazooka’ option of detonating a one million gallon water tank at the top of the skyscraper. In contrast, instead of extinguishing the fire threatening to bring down their carefully-constructed edifice, EU leaders are acting more like firemen staring at a burning building and warning passers-by it is about to collapse while they debate what hose to use and how much water to spare.

Image attribution: Flickr Creative Commons Sharealike License.

 

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