It’s the Euro or Götterdämmerung all over again

Only two months ago European Commission president José Manuel Barroso was in Australia to praise Prime Minister Julia Gillard and say, ‘no worries’, there was no chance of a recession in Europe. Now, all bets are off. According to Barroso, it’s Götterdämmerung all over again. A Eurozone meltdown will send the continent into a 1930s depression, with all the historical imputations of rampant nationalism run amok.

Barroso’s Chicken Little brain snap came after it was revealed France and Germany had given some thought to disinviting some of the Eurozone’s less financially prudent. Barroso’s response is that Europe should double down on its Euro bets and deepen integration further.

According to the  former Portuguese prime minister’s reasoning – which represents so much of euro class elite received wisdom – either Europe is more tightly centralised, with more and more decision-making shifted away from democratically controlled national and local governments to Brussels Brahmans or else plagues of locusts will descend upon the continent.

One would expect this either-or argument from a former Maoist leader (Barroso claims he joined the Maoists in university to fight another communist group). But why should the worst happen? Greece is not too big to fail – were it not for the Euro, the market and devaluation would have accomplished long ago what all the coy communiqués – implausibly denying more IMF cash really isn’t to prop up spendthrift Greece and the Euro – have not so far been able to do: impose fiscal discipline on indolent and incontinent continentals.

Europe lived without the Euro or political union for most of its post-war history without inducing the end times. The rationale for free trade, deregulation, denationalisation and practical intergovernmental cooperation was always evident in post-war Europe, from the European Coal and Steel Community to the Common Market.

But a perfect union of so many disparate economic and political cultures was an exercise in dangerous political futility; what William Buckley would call, immanentizing the eschaton. That is, the attempt to create heaven on Earth – really just a utopian eurocratic centraliser’s wet dream more likely to provoke what Barroso fears: an undemocratic, dysfunctional, alienating, extremist breeding dystopia where everyone and no-one gets to have a say about everything. Think Occupy with a budget and power.

Who hasn’t heard the joke that Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and it is all organised by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and it is all organised by the Italians.

The problem with too much European togetherness is that the more all of Europe – or more precisely, a select, insulated official European cadre – should decide how all Europeans should live every facet of their lives, the closer it is to hell on Earth than Heaven.

Europeans will be fine with less Europe in their lives, not more. Frenchman, Germans, Danes and Brits don’t need Brussels bureaucrats to tell them how to make wine and love. And they don’t need a Brussels to tell them how to tax and spend. They have national governments that are directly accountable to their citizens and a financial market which will judge profligacy harshly.

The Euro debate in Australia – who knew until now anyone had a view? – has also neatly exposed the physiological differences between the Liberal and Labor brain stems. The Gillard Government twitch response to a call on IMF members was to pony-up while repeating mantra-like the platitude that Europe should ‘get its house in order’. Get its house in order or what? ‘I shall have to borrow some more money for you’?

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has, on the other hand, instinctively made it clear that Australia’s backing of an IMF Eurozone bailout must be highly conditional. In criticising the Gillard Government’s unconditional willingness to incur more debt to underwrite Europe’s, Abbott emphasised that Australia should not contribute more “unless we are absolutely confident that Europe and Greece in particular have done everything they possibly can to put their house in order”.

Suddenly, the Treasurer Wayne Swan – forever the deer in the headlights of slow moving events – has got religion and has now dropped the charade that extra IMF funding is not for a Euro bailout and says an Australian contribution is conditional. Praise be.

You want a real nightmare scenario? Imagine Kevin Rudd’s Asia-Pacific community fantasy becoming reality.

Alan R.M. Jones was an adviser in the government of John Howard

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